TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

April 30, 2013

Youth Movement

Young Panthers continue to improve as regular season begins to wind down

By Chris Parsons
TheTimesTribune.com, Corbin, KY

KNOX CENTRAL — If you ask Knox Central baseball coach Brandon Hillard, attitude is everything.

Though his squad sits at 12-14 on the season, the Panthers are 3-0 in district play, which means his team has the No. 1 seed for the upcoming 51st District Tournament.

When the season started, Hillard said that he felt like his was the team to beat in the district and that the Panthers would do all they could to have a say in the 13th Region Tournament.

With just nine games remaining in the regular season, Hillard is still preaching the importance of a positive attitude to his players.

“It’s all about attitude and I think our kids are starting to believe that they can play with anybody on the schedule,” Hillard said. “I told my boys the other day that the man who believes in nothing can lead nothing and I truly believe that.

“If our kids will believe in what we’re doing and believe in each other, we can do great things,” he added. “These kids have been a blast to coach lately because they have started to believe in each other and when you have that, it can lead to nothing but wins for your team.”

Though they’ve only had 12 wins on the season, a good number of the 12 have come against some of the region’s top teams in Harlan County, Clay County and Whitley County. The Panthers have also lost their share against regional foes.

Hillard’s squad has hit the ball well, while pitching has also been a strong suit. While the Panthers’ defense has been questionable at times, he said the team has improved of late and says experience and getting used to the level of play is a big reason.

“At the beginning of the year, the speed of the game and the power of the hitters definitely changed compared to what they were used to,” Hillard said. “Early on, we were bitten by the error bug a little too often, but as of late we have improved quite a bit.

“I think the improvements came as a result of being on the field and just getting used to the speed,” he added.

As far as pitching goes, the Panthers have a team ERA of 3.91, something Hillard is especially proud of, considering the youth of the squad and the level of competition his team has faced.

“Pitching has been great for us this year with a team ERA under four,” Hillard said.  “With the amount of young kids we have thrown out there, that’s something that I’m really proud of as a coach.

“Aaron Patterson has pitched great for us as a junior and that’s the kind of leadership you look for out of kids,” he added.

When it comes to hitting the baseball, Hillard said his team is starting to make strides at the plate and understanding roles and certain situations.

Jake Nelson and Hunter Mcright lead the team in hitting, with batting averages of .387 and .309, respectively, and 15 RBIs apiece.

“Jake (Nelson) and Hunter (Mcright) have done well for us from the start of the season and some other guys are starting to come around,” Hillard said. “If the other guys continue to progress like they have, when we put it all together, we’re going to be pretty good.”

As the season winds down, Hillard said the one thing he will no longer accept is the excuse that his team is young. With the number of games so far this season, he said there comes a time when players must learn accountability and there’s no time like the present.

“The easy way out is to constantly say that we’re a young team,” Hillard said. “I appreciate everyone letting us off the hook with that, but at some point you have to grow and accept responsibility.

“These guys can either do that now, or wait until they are seniors and there’s no time to do anything about it,” he added. “Hopefully we continue to progress and get better as the season winds down.”