Editor’s Note: This story appeared in the print edition of the Shelby County Herald prior to the school district’s decision to suspend classes and activities beginning on Thursday, March 19.
By Troy Treasure
North Shelby begins its slated 15-game regular-season baseball schedule Monday, March 23 hosting Canton at 5 p.m.
The Raiders have 10 home games on tap, weather permitting, including two against Clarence Cannon Conference schools Monroe City and Highland. Highlighting the road contests are an April 2 game versus another CCC squad, South Shelby, and a May 8 tilt with perennially strong La Plata.
NS finished 8-8 last season. Scott Gaines, beginning his 14th year as head coach, indicated the team has 22 players participating this year consisting of six seniors, two juniors, eight sophomores and six freshmen.
“We always want to be competitive. We lost Mason Uhlmeyer and Kirby Latimer from last year. They were the heart and soul of the team and four-year starters. Mason was our ace on the mound and they were two of our better hitters, so that’s a pretty big blow to try to replace all of their production that they had given us,” Gaines said.
“But I’ve got a good young core of kids,” he continued. “Outside of them being young and making some lack-of-experience mistakes, I’m looking for those guys to really step up and shoulder the load since we are sophomore and freshman heavy as a team.”
Gaines won’t have to worry about inexperience at two outfield positions. Senior Dayton Mettes will patrol center while fellow senior Rowdy Vanskike covers right.
“He does a really nice job and every year he has played, his offense has gotten better,” Gaines said of Mettes. “As he’s filled out and gotten stronger, he’s really started hitting the ball that much harder. He’s going to be one of our middle-of-the-lineup hitters, that 3-4 spot.
“Rowdy Vanskike, this will be his second year starting out there for me,” Gaines continued. “Having those guys in the outfield with some experience, it’s kind of nice to not have to worry about a couple of areas on the field because you know that they can go out there and do their job.”
As always, pitching depth is paramount. Gaines is expecting junior Josh Hunolt, sophomores Kyle Smith, Cale Stoneburner and Robert Uhlmeyer, as well as freshman Casey Shockley to get innings.
“It’s a chess match anymore with the pitch count rules,” Gaines said. “You’ve got to really mind your Ps and Qs and be on top of it so you don’t run into any trouble with MSHSAA for kids throwing too many pitches or pitching on a day they are not supposed to. I understand the logic behind the rule, but I think it could be tweaked a little bit.
“I understand, they want to save kids’ arms and they don’t want kids abused, but I’ve never been the type to abuse a pitcher by making them go out and throw 150 or 160 pitches in a game. That’s just not good for a high school kid,” Gaines, a former college pitcher, added.
Gaines indicated the catching position is a work in progress. Shockley will likely catch to start the season, when he’s not pitching. The coach stated Shockley receives the ball well, considering his minimal experience behind the plate, and has a good arm. He will need to continue improving his footwork and blocking techniques.
The infield will be a mix-and-match determined by pitching. Hunolt will play first. Gaines likes the versatility Smith, Uhlmeyer, Ethan Epperson, J.D. Rich and Landon Bender provide at the other infield positions.