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By Troy Treasure
North Shelby was 8-8 in 2019 losing to Canton in the district semifinals.
The 2020 season was lost just prior to its scheduled start due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Optimism is the word for the current baseball Raiders.
“We were kind of in this boat last year. We got several practices in when it all broke loose,” head coach Scott Gaines said recently.
“It’s been really nice to get the guys back together and to know this year, I mean I guess unless something catastrophic would happen, that we’re going to get to play.”
Gaines likes the quality and depth of North Shelby’s pitching staff.
“Right now, I’m looking at four guys that I’m hoping will be able to eat the majority of varsity innings,” Gaines said. “It’s more than I’m used to varsity-wise. Having not played in games for so long, the last time some of these guys pitched they were freshmen.”
Gaines described junior Rob Uhlmeyer as the de facto ace. Senior Josh Hunolt, junior Kyle Smith and sophomore Casey Shockley are also in the rotation.
“We may have Landon Bender and J.D. Rich get some innings here and there, depending on the pitch count rules, all that good stuff,” Gaines said. “The more, the merrier. You’ve got to be prepared for any situation. I feel like I’ve got a pretty solid four-to-six depending on the day.”
The No. 1 catcher is Shockley with Uhlmeyer the back-up.
Gaines said going into the ill-fated 2020 season, he didn’t know who his catcher was going to be.
“I was trying out some other guys and had Casey get back there,” he recalled. “The first couple of pitches he caught, I’m like, ‘Well, he looks like a catcher. He’s already got good feel for it.’
“It would be amazing to control the running game. He’s got the arm to be able to do that,” Gaines continued. “I’m excited to see what he can do – and he’s young. I could have a catcher possibly for the next three years.
“But, as he gets older, he may have to pitch more. There’s going to have to be another guy in the wings and I’m not sure who that is yet,” Gaines emphasized.
Gaines characterized the Raiders’ infield as “a bunch of utility guys” who can flex – when they are not pitching. For Gaines, it’s plug-and-play. When one individual is on the hill, three others might have to move to
Heading into the season, Smith and Bender will man third base. Hunolt will handle first base. Uhlmeyer is the primary shortstop. Rich and Bender can play the middle-infield positions.
“It’s kind of a luxury to have so much positional flexibility; to be able to move those guys around,” Gaines said. “Even when I’m coaching my kids’ summer league team, I try to tell them the more positions you can play, the better chance you have to be out there.”
In the outfield, junior center fielder and middle-of-the-lineup hitter Cale Stoneburner could miss the entire season due to a hand injury. Gaines said he’s looking at juniors Justin Lunsford in left and Carson Orr in center. Junior Luke Schwanke, Bender and Rich may platoon in right.
Orr is out for baseball for the first time since his upper-elementary years.
“I’ve been really impressed with his progress from the first day of practice,” the coach said. “Between him and Justin, they can cover some ground.”
Gaines, a baseball lifer, reiterated that the thought of actually getting to play spring baseball again is reinvigorating. However, he hasn’t forgotten what was lost.
“It’s weird being away from it for a year. You feel like you didn’t accomplish anything and we really didn’t,” he reflected. “It penalized the kids a year of playing a sport and a year of development.
“I think they’re going to be fine, but they missed out on an entire year of playing a sport that most of them love.”