By ANTHONY STEVENS
Bluefield Daily Telegraph
HONAKER, Va. —
After a state championship season in 2011 the Tigers came back to earth in 2012.
They won the Black Diamond District regular season and tournament championships but lost to Gate City in the opening round of the Region D, Division 2 tournament.
They graduated four players off a 14-9 team but return a strong nucleus.
“We have the potential, it ís just a matter for performance,” Honaker head coach Tom Harding said. “We had some problems within last year and hopefully we wonít have to battle through that this season.
“We have three seniors, itís not a big class but the one’s we have arereally good ones. I really expect us to be very competitive.”
Honaker returns 11 players with varsity experience, including seven starters. After basically losing their pitching staff a couple of years ago and rebuilding it last year it returns intact this season.
They graduated less than four innings of 130 innings of work last year.
Three starters return. Payton Ball (2-4, 3.57 era) was the workhorse, throwing 45 innings and appears primed for a big season.
“I didnít think experience was that important until last year,” Ball said. “We had depended on Murph (Derrick Murphy) and Chaz (Miller) my sophomore year when we won state and then it was all up to us last season. Itís a big role and it takes a lot of preparation.
“I think the year of experience is valuable, we know what is ahead of us and what we are up against.”
Another senior Travis Price (4-1, 1.59) threw well and junior Austin Kiser (2-3, 3.66) was solid until he was sidetracked with an injury.
Senior Jordan Hess, and sophomores Jacob Coleman and Austin Ray also received some valuable experience. Hunter Meade (jr.) could also see some action on the mound.
“Our pitching experience is tremendous, especially with the new pitching regulations we have,” Harding said. “When you have three games or more in a week, its huge when you have four or five kids you can put out there.”
The offense should also be strong. In the middle of the order will be Ball who hit .294 with 22 runs driven in and can play in the infield or outfield. Kiser who ripped a .538 average with 15 RBIs at second base, third baseman MacKenzie Phillips (.447, 23 RBIs) and first baseman Chandler Miller (.409, 14 RBIs).
“They are all big, strong and should be very capable in the middle,” Harding said. “We have to find some table setters and then produce.”
Sophomore Hunter Lester (.319, 13 RBIs) will move to shortstop and catcher Jacob Mitchell (.281) also return. Hess (.370) will probably hit at the top of the lineup. Tyler Hale (jr.) will be in the outfield.
Mathew Hutchinson (so.), Derek Gilbert (fr.), and Avin Parrott (fr.) will also be in the mix.
“Defense should be one of our strongest points,” Harding said. “With the bad weather, itís been hard to get time on the field to work. When we settle in and get work on the field, we should be good defensively.”
The Tigers will again be odds on favorites to win the BDD. They want to be in the elite in D2 and will face some stiff competition at the regional level.
“We should be in the mix,” stated Harding. “Virginia High and Lebanon will be tough in the Clinch Mountain. You just never know when you’re dealing with 15, 16 and 17-year old kids.
“You just never know. 2011 was a pretty good indication of what can happen when you get hot at the right time of year. I have kids that are hard workers and I feel good about this season.”