Veteran Fieldcrest skipper Mark Brown wants his Knights to enjoy playing the game of baseball again, while in the process returning to their winning ways out on the diamond this coming spring.
Brown, in his 16th season at the helm of the FHS program (229-188 record), welcomes back seven starters who endured a disappointing 9-18 campaign last year. A bumper crop of ninth-graders joins those returnees.
"We've all made a commitment (a season like that is) not happening again," said Brown, who's been emphasizing to the players about taking more ownership of the team and holding themselves accountable. "We kind of anticipated some bumps in the road last year, but now that they've got a full season under their belt — (four of the starters) were sophomores — their expectations have risen. And (the freshmen have) brought a whole new energy. The kids all jell. Right now, I really like our team chemistry.
"We've got some experience and good leadership within the junior and senior classes. And we'll be a little bit young, but even our younger kids have big-game experience from when they were in junior high (the current freshmen placed third in the IESA State Tournament as eighth-graders, a ballclub coached by Brown). The practices have been competitive so far."
The junior trio of second baseman Hayden Carls, catcher Derek May and speedy center fielder Michael Morse will need to step up their play and lead, according to Brown. Twelfth-graders Matthew Cook (1B), Travis Cook (LF) and Zach Moritz (RF), along with junior Ryan Naas (SS/OF), are the other starters back.
Newcomers of note include ninth-graders McKoy Allen (IF/P), a hard-throwing southpaw, and Jordan Hoechecker (IF/C/P).
"I think defensively we've got to be cleaner than we were last year," Brown said, "but the nice thing is a lot of our position players are back, so, hopefully, maturity will set in and that will help us. Offensively, I like our team speed, and I think we're going to take advantage of that. We've got a couple kids that have good pop in their bat. Pitching-wise, we've got kids that are going to push each other for that one, two or three spot in the rotation.
"(The pitchers) just have to throw strikes, and, you know, the defense is going to have to pick them up, and then get our bats going and make our opportunities count."
Brown has been harping aggressiveness instead of passiveness in the field and at the plate.
While having fun is being stressed, the goal is getting "W"s.
"I think last year it was almost like (the kids) were trying too hard ... so we're trying to lighten that up a little bit," Brown said. "(The kids just need to) relax and play the game the way they know how and wins will take care of themselves.
"But, you know, we've got to get back to winning games. So that's become our goal."