Last week, the Owen Warhorses’ baseball team dropped a pair of 8-3 decisions to conference rivals Madison and Mitchell. Prior to that the team won back-to-back games, including a convincing 12-2 win over Mountain Heritage. Heading into this week, the Warhorses were 2-5 on the young season.
The Black Mountain News recently caught up with head coach and athletic director Anthony Lee to ask about this year’s team and what fans can look for in a young squad that posted a 6-12 overall mark and a 6-9 conference record in 2018. The interview was edited for length and clarity.
BMN: Who do you picture as your number 1 starter on the mound this season?
Lee: I’m not exactly sure yet who my number 1 is because it’s still so early in the year, but Caleb Scott is a guy that I’ve leaned on. Another one of our main pitchers this year is Jaylen Allen, but he’s just coming back from being sick.
Caleb, prior to the Madison Game, threw a two-hitter and struck out eight and we beat Mountain Heritage. Caleb has come a long way – he’s just a sophomore and is still growing as a pitcher. I think that in the long run he’ll be a top pitcher at our school and maybe in Western North Carolina.
BMN: How is the team shaping up defensively?
Lee: We’re young at third base with Landin Favrot, a sophomore, playing there. He’s done a good job for us at third and pitching. He’s experiencing that varsity baseball is a little bit faster than JV baseball. But he’s done a good job along with our three guys rotating up the middle between Jaylen Allen, Trent Smith, and Ty Creasman. Creasman is what I call my utility player – he can play anywhere.
He’s been hitting the ball well for us and we’ve got him leading off. He’s a good contact hitter and runs the bases extremely well. He’s somebody that as a sophomore has done a great job for us to this point.
My first baseman, [senior] Jackson Shaw, has played only two games because he had labrum surgery last fall. So, he’s finally gotten released to play, and he can play defense at first. He’s getting his arm strength back to where it needs to be and we’re hoping he’s going to keep getting better each day.
Then we have a senior behind the plate in Trenton Messer. He’s done a good job receiving balls and as far as hitting he’s putting the ball in play a lot better this year. We need to work on his arm strength a little bit more and throwing people out, but I believe a lot of people steal bases not on our catcher, but as much on our pitchers by not doing a good job being quick to the plate or not doing a good job holding runners on. We’re still trying to get better there.
BMN: It looks like you’ve got a lot of room on your home field behind home plate, so your catcher has to do a good job handling pitches. Is it roomier than most parks back there?
Lee: There’s one other school in the conference that’s like us; everybody else is a little bit shorter. It is a challenge. It used to be ten-feet further back. We moved it in because you could score from second base on a passed ball. At least now it’s only one base.
BMN: How does the outfield look?
Lee: In the outfield I have a senior, Tyler Williams, whose playing right field for us and started for us last year. Tyler is my most consistent guy. You’ll always get solid play out of him defensively and offensively. He knows the game and he pitches for us. When he’s on the mound he’s always going to be around the plate. He’s not overpowering but he doesn’t walk people and he makes people put it in play.
Then we have Sean Henderson and Cody Rickets as two other outfielders that we’ll rotate in and out there whether its left field or right field, depending on whose pitching for us. Caleb’s our starting centerfielder.
BMN: What’s a good roster size for you and how often will you bring up JV’s?
Lee: Right now, we have a solid 11 and then I’ll will move up some JV’s periodically. You’ve got to keep an eye on how many games they play. Each player can’t play more than 23, so I rotate some guys around, and that gives us a little bit of depth in case I need a catcher or pitcher or whatever.
We like to go into a game with at least 12 or 13 players. I think the key thing to know is we’re still a young baseball team this year. We’ve got a lot of sophomores in the lineup and there’s not a whole lot of depth.
BMN: Offensively, teams typically fall somewhere between station-to-station baseball and small ball depending on their personnel and their coach’s approach. Where do you fall in that range?
Lee: I think right now we’re probably somewhere in the middle. Trent Messer has been a deep ball threat and puts the ball in the gaps. Jackson Shaw was our power hitter last year and is still getting his swing bat. He’s being really patient at the plate. It’s still early and Jackson will come through and be able to drive the baseball for us. As far as our lineup, if you look at the one through seven spots, I feel like we’ve got a little bit of power in there and speed and we’ve got some small ball players if we need to. I think for us we can be pretty balanced. We don’t have to rely on small ball, but we can do it if we need to and we can drive the baseball at times.
BMN: With the weather improving and the team now able to practice more outdoors and get games in, what are you seeing?
Lee: Every game we’ve gotten better swinging the bat as far as putting the ball in play.
It may not always show up as hits, but we hit the ball really well against Mountain Heritage. We hit the ball really well against East Henderson in a win, and I felt like against Madison the other night we started off a little slow, then around the third inning we started putting the ball in play more.
The Warhorses are back play at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, March 29, when they host Polk, followed by a Tuesday, April 2 home game against Mountain Heritage at 6 p.m.