‘Leaving a legacy’: Cougars looking for stronger season

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GREENFIELD — Last year was admittedly a bit of a down year for the Greenfield-Central baseball program.

The Cougars followed up a regional run in 2017 with a first-game sectional elimination in 2018. That loss, a shutout against a county rival, lit a bit of a fire.

“Last season, falling to Mt. Vernon in the first game, 1-0, was kind of a disappointment after winning the sectional and losing to Cathedral in regional two years ago,” senior infielder Nick Atwood said. “Maybe a little bit of a disappointment last year, but I think we can build off of that and have a really good chance at conference and sectionals this year.”

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After a 14-13 season, and a 7-7 Hoosier Heritage Conference finish, good enough for fourth place, the Cougars bring back a large portion of their lineup, with only two every-game starters having graduated.

There’s a change at the top, though. Former coach Robbie Miller is out, and longtime Greenfield-Central assistant Mark Vail has taken the reins for 2019.

Vail has spent 12 years with the Cougars and was a head coach in Hancock County before, for 12 years at Eastern Hancock.

“As an assistant, you look at things you might do a little differently, but for the most part, the program has been taken care of really well,” Vail said. “It’s exciting, yeah. I’m glad to be in charge for a while.”

The Cougars’ new head coach inherits a team that should be strong both in pitching and defense.

He also has two all-county players back in junior pitcher Adam Hutchison and Atwood, who is expected to catch and play third base.

Hutchison will be the team’s No. 1 pitcher, a year after boasting a county-best 1.66 ERA with 56 strikeouts in 38 innings pitched. Behind him in the pitching rotation will be three seniors, Bradley McDowell, Blake Wilson and Lucas Scroggins, along with a few younger players, including junior Brady Mundell.

“We feel pretty good about our starting pitchers and our defense,” Vail said. “Last year, we struggled at the plate, so we’ve spent a lot of time this winter working on that. We’re hoping that makes a difference for us in collecting a few more wins, being a little more successful. We really struggled with getting runners home last year.”

“I think our pitching is a strength. I really think our defense has always been a strength,” Atwood added. “The four years I’ve been here, we’ve always been really defensively oriented and defensively strong. This past year we’ve focused more towards the hitting side of things. The past couple of years haven’t been really good, hitting-wise. Since Drey (Jameson) left, we’ve kind of fallen off, our team batting average.”

Last year, Greenfield-Central hit just .273 as a team and had only 100 RBIs among the team. They averaged just over five runs scored per game, but gave up only 4.5 runs a contest.

Only two Cougars hit above .300 last year — Hutchison at .409 and Atwood at .324. Nobody on the team had more than 16 RBIs or scored more than 17 runs.

The defense has been strong. The pitching has been good. The offense needed work, so that’s what the Cougars have been focusing on.

“We really just want to be better offensively,” Vail said. “We want to be more aggressive on the bases, better quality at-bats. We haven’t talked about wins and losses. We’ve talked about them taking care of themselves if we do things the right way.”

While they are senior-heavy, the Cougars have a large sophomore contingent that Vail expects to compete for jobs at the varsity level. Sophomore Carson Gibson is back as the team’s starting shortstop, strengthening the left side of the infield with Atwood.

The right side of the infield is more of a question mark at this point, with the team trying to find the right pieces to slot in at second and first base. The Cougars also haven’t settled on a full-time catcher, as Atwood, junior Jacob Hauser and several others are currently working in that position.

The team travels to Tennessee to open its season with several road games before an April 2 home opener against Roncalli.

“We’re ready to get started and to see what we have,” Vail said. “(The trip) will have some good competition and a chance for the kids to spend three or four days bonding together.”

Team chemistry should be another strength of the team this year, Atwood said, and the senior group hopes to utilize their years of experience playing together to have a successful final season.

“I think just building off of last year and leaving a legacy,” Atwood said of the seniors’ mindset. “The seniors need to leave a legacy for the people that are coming behind us. Obviously our goal is to win a championship. That’s our final goal.”

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Greenfield-Central Cougars

Coach: Mark Vail (1st year)

Last season: 14-13, 7-7 HHC; L 1-0 to Mt. Vernon in sectional opener

Key returnees: 3B/C Nick Atwood (.324, 4 HR, 12 RBI), P Bradley McDowell (.295, 6 RBI, 2.40 ERA, 17 K), P Lucas Scroggins (5.65 ERA, 4 K), P Blake Wilson (.261, 1 HR, 8 RBI, 0.00 ERA, 7 K in 5 IP), seniors; P Adam Hutchison (.409, 3 HR, 16 RBI, 1.66 ERA, 56 K), junior; SS Carson Gibson (.250, 10 RBI), sophomore

Top newcomer: C Jacob Hauser, junior

Outlook: Greenfield-Central has the benefit of returning a large core of the team from last season, and despite the coaching change, the Cougars are very familiar with Vail, who has been an assistant with the team for over a decade. With two standouts back in Hutchison and Atwood and a lot of experience surrounding them, Greenfield-Central should be above .500 again and could see a rise in conference standings. The defense and pitching figure to be strong again. How well the Cougars’ bats do will determine how far the team can go.

Notable: The Cougars were affected the least by graduation among Hancock County teams, returning a large majority of their team. Hutchison, the team’s No. 1 pitcher, was one of the county’s best in 2018 and also had a big year at the plate, hitting .409. Greenfield-Central ties New Palestine in returning two all-county players. Mt. Vernon brings back one while Eastern Hancock returns zero.

Schedule

Date;Opponent;Time

March 27;at Monarchs (Tenn.);5:30 p.m.

March 29;at Orange High (Tenn.);12:30 p.m.

March 30;at Antioch (Tenn.);1 p.m.

April 2;Roncalli;6 p.m.

April 6;at New Castle;10 a.m.

April 8;at Beech Grove;5:30 p.m.

April 9;at Fishers;6 p.m.

April 12;at Delta;5:30 p.m.

April 19;at Yorktown;5:30 p.m.

April 25;at Knightstown;5:30 p.m.

April 26;New Palestine;5:30 p.m.

April 30;Connersville;6 p.m.

May 3;Pendleton Heights;5:30 p.m.

May 6;Lebanon;6 p.m.

May 10;Mt. Vernon;5:30 p.m.

May 14;Tri High;6 p.m.

May 15;at Franklin Central;6 p.m.

May 17;at Shelbyville;5:30 p.m.

May 20;at Triton Central;5:30 p.m.

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