The league’s coaches took the time to reflect on the positive aspects of a season lost.
Coach Clay Colley: “We started the season 2-0 and had great pitching performances in both games. And that was going to be the strength of this team. We finally had pitching depth. We talked on several occasions, and I truly believed in it, that anything less than third place in the conference and a chance to get into the regional would be a disappointment.
“We really had a chance to be the best Central team in quite some time this year. So that is extremely disappointing.”
Colley said the senior class was memorable.
“What made this class so special is, with the exception of one who missed a season rehabbing an arm injury, every senior has played for four years,” he said. “They bought in as freshmen and have all been contributing at the varsity level since their sophomore season, and some earlier. This group worked really hard in the offseason to get ready. So I feel terrible for these guys: Ethan Bombailey, Mason Buckland, Jacob Fields, Isaac Hood, Trey Sells and Zac Winstead.”
Coach Mike Breuninger: “We were excited about the season. We lost some key position players from last season but had most of our pitching back, so we felt we could compete. We had a good mix of experience and youth in the starting lineup. I was excited to see some of the younger ones get better as the season progressed, which didn’t happen of course. They start putting in the work back in the fall and then don’t get the opportunity to compete.
“Obviously you hate it most for the seniors.”
Breuninger said senior Perry Casaday was on track for a big year.
“He had been a varsity player since he was a freshman and was off to a great start. He was hitting .900 (9-for-10). He could have had a monster season,” his coach said.
Others seniors were Dylan White, a three-year starter in center field; Isaac Hudlow, the starter at second base; pitcher Alex Hawk, who “performed well against Unicoi County”; and catcher Jett Jones, a “good bat off the bench.”
Coach Anthony Richardson: “We were looking forward to seeing what this group could do. It would have been nice to try and compete for a district championship. I believe there were several teams in this area that could have made a run to the state.”
Richardson said his seniors set good examples for the program.
“Peyton Stanley was one of our starting pitchers and played outfield. Jacob Light was a starting pitcher while Austin Rader was a relief pitcher. Brodie Frew was a relief pitcher,” he added.
Richardson also mentioned courtesy runner Brandon Mullins and utility man Cole Layne.
“It was a great group of individuals who worked very hard and showed the younger players how things should be done,” the coach said.
Coach Ryan Presnell: “I honestly believe we had a shot to win it all, but doesn’t everyone? Our guys were seasoned and experienced. And after an incredible offseason, we really expected to have a realistic shot at being back at Murfreesboro again. We had a long way to go to get there, but these guys knew what it would take and I have zero doubt they would have done whatever it took to give themselves the best chance to be in the substate game with a chance to go back. And once you get there, anything can happen.”
The program, coming off back-to-back trips to the state tournament, was boosted this year by key seniors.
“The loss of these seniors is immeasurable. Between Karson Dillard and Evan Carter, we are losing an incredible amount of innings on the mound and offensive production,” Presnell said.
“Nico Ashley had become a stalwart in our outfield, a guy we could always count on to carry the load. Carter Williams had also come into his own as a reliever we could count on out of the bullpen in some really tough situations. Chris King, Cole Hubbard and Carson Stresemann are the type of kids you build a program around, leaders in every sense of the word.
“But their impact will be felt for years to come as these younger guys pick up the banner and move it forward!”
Coach Chad Gillis: “I believe we had a good team this year. We played loose and had fun playing the game. It really was a great group of kids who had a desire to be successful.”
Gillis said Peyton Whitson didn’t waste time showing he was ready to roll: “Peyton Whitson proved in Game 2 he was going to dominate on the mound.”
Other Blue Devils seniors were also hitting their stride.
“Ramon Avila played well at second base and successfully filled his role on the mound in that first week. LJ Mitchell, who also had a good Week 1, was filling his outfield role very well,” Gillis said. “And Darren Soulier executed two great offensive plays in our last game and also made some great plays in the outfield.”
Coach Todd Caldwell: “The biggest thing I think this team was doing was creating a new mindset for Happy Valley baseball. With the leadership we had from our seniors — Jacob Absher, Casey Blevins, Will Tittle and Dylan Willis — the guys were buying in and working together as a team toward a common goal.
“We may not have been able to finish the season, but the impact this team has made on Happy Valley baseball, especially the seniors, is something that will be felt much longer than just one season. They helped shape our future.
“I have coached these seniors since they were in sixth grade,” Caldwell added. “I love them, and I am going to miss them dearly.”
Coach Pete Pavusek: “I think we had the opportunity to be very competitive. I was really looking forward to coaching these kids. They made me feel like a young coach again. It was a lot of fun being around them.”
Pavusek said the Longhorns had some topnotch seniors.
“Ben Howard was looking forward to this year his whole life. Bradley Livorsi would have been a joy to watch. Colton Long was improving day by day and working so hard. Andrew Whitaker was the same as Colton. He put so much time into it,” said Pavusek, whose son was among the players to lose his senior season.
“I will really miss watching my son, Petie. He had worked his whole life preparing for this,” the coach added. “But fortunately he will move on to King (University) and play again one day. I hate it for all the seniors who have similar stories across the entire country.”