By Nolan Epstein
Following an 11-win season in 2016, the Camdenton Lakers are looking to this year as the year everything could finally come together.
The last time Camdenton finished the season with more wins than losses was in 2012 (13-11). Averaging just 8 wins per season since, they’re putting their chips on a large group of seniors to turn the page.
It was a new experience for virtually everyone involved a season ago as head coach Bryce Durnin, who was in his first year at the helm, did his best to calm the glaring theme of unfamiliarity between player and coach.
“There was definitely a transition as the kids were getting to know me and my coaching style, and I was doing the same with them,” Durnin said. “There were some things I was trying to do too soon that cost us some games.”
Those first-year challenges are now out of the way, and Durnin is ready to let his team’s pure talent and experience do the talking as the second-year head coach continues to further improve the chemistry with his players.
Gone is shortstop Brady Kempf, who was the Lakers’ leadoff hitter last season and a valuable asset with the glove, but everyone else is back.
Standing out on an experienced roster that could feature as many as 15 seniors is C Dylan McGuire, who has started at the catcher’s spot the previous three seasons.
Senior Parker Stidham will be called upon to be the team’s ace on the mound, filling in for an injured Austin Stamper (ACL). Brogun Betta will be a major contributor on the bump following Stidham. Both Betta and Stidham posted ERA’s under 1.00 in the OC last spring.
Junior 1B Connor Loge is expected to do big things at the plate again after batting .333 in conference play.
“I’m looking forward to coaching essentially the same team for two years in a row since virtually everyone returns,” said Durnin. “When you know you have guys that can keep you in the game and give you a chance to win, everyone is excited and ready to start.”
The biggest weak spot for the Lakers might be at the dish as Camdenton scored one run or less on ten separate occasions last season. According to Durnin, it all comes down to making better contact with the baseball.
“We need to have a better two-strike approach and just be more athletic overall in the batters box,” noted Durnin. “We have athletic kids but we are just not making good enough contact. I would like to see our ability to hit deep in the count, especially with two strikes, improve.”
Camdenton will play its first four games at home – something that should provide a mental boost through the early portion of the season.
“Ideally, we want to flip our record from last season around,” Durnin added. “Achieving that will involve getting off to a lot better start than we did in 2016. The key to success in Camdenton is a shared commitment to prepare ourselves at a high level every day. We can control that and that’s all we need to focus on.”
The Lakers host Blair Oaks on March 18 to begin the 2017 slate.