Jaguars look to build on first-year success
On paper, Carl Garrett's goal for the Mill Valley baseball team is simple. In its execution, it's much more difficult.
"We talked about starting a tradition at the first meeting we ever had two years ago," Garrett said. "We want to be the Shawnee Mission South or the Bishop Ward of 4A. When people talk high school baseball in Kansas, we want them to talk Mill Valley."
Going 16-6 in the school's first-ever season went a long way in establishing that goal. But doing so in the school's second season after losing the No. 1, No. 2, No. 4 and No. 6 hitters from the lineup would go even further.
Fortunately for this year's Jaguars, Garrett isn't even thinking about putting that kind of pressure on his squad.
"We don't have to win 17 games this year to consider it a success," Garrett said. "We could win 15, and if we win league that would be a successful season. First and foremost, our goal is to win league. That's the one we're going to focus on."
Leading the team into battle will be a group of five seniors who have been around baseball most of their lives.
Doug Antilla and Matt Mauzey will provide the Jags with a solid left side of the infield, playing shortstop and third base, respectively, while Sam Bevan and Alex Shepard will anchor the outfield.
The fifth senior is catcher Dustin Stinnett. Stinnett hit clean up last season, but an injury during the wrestling season leaves his baseball season in doubt. His loss might be difficult for the Jags to overcome.
"I've coached baseball for 11 years in high school, and last year Dustin hit the highest anybody has ever hit for me," Garrett said. "He's our four-hitter and our starting catcher, and he's possibly gone for the season. We're just going to keep our fingers crossed and see what happens."
If Stinnett, who hit .576 during his junior season, is not able to play, Garrett said he'd look to the other seniors to pick up the slack.
Included among the seniors is the bulk of the Mill Valley pitching staff. Garrett said Antilla and Mauzey are battling for the No. 1 position in the rotation and Bevan pitches some as well.
Those three hurlers, Garrett said, will provide the Jags with a strong enough rotation to win a lot of games.
"We've got three seniors who will put us in a position to win a lot of games," Garrett said. "Our pitching is probably our strength because we have quite a few question marks in other places."
One concern comes at the plate, but Garrett said he anticipated the emergence of younger ballplayers to pick up the offensive slack.
"Our biggest question mark is our offense," Garrett said. "Losing four or five sticks from last year's lineup could hurt us, but guys will have to step up to fill that void, and I'm confident they will. Every practice so far, every hitter on our team has gotten better."
With the pitching and hitting addressed, Garrett said the main focus day in and day out would be on defense. He said a strong defensive team can make up for a lot of question marks in other areas, and he's hoping his group will realize that as the season kicks off.
"If you look at our league, you know that every day we'll have to bring our absolute best game if we want to win," Garrett said. "That's a tremendous challenge for us, but it's one we're looking forward to."
That's also the same kind of challenge that Bishop Ward and Shawnee Mission South face every year. Maybe Garrett's not far from reaching that goal after all.
The Jaguars will open the season Thursday at home against Turner.