MORGANTOWN — University senior Kevin Smith certainly knows how to adapt.
Last spring, he could be found in the outfield for the Class AAA Region I Section II runner-up Hawks baseball team. He didn’t know it at the time, but he would soon find a different calling.
University parted ways with an impressive senior class that accounted for a large chunk of varsity experience over the span of the previous four years — none, however, were as important as West Virginia Gatorade Player of the Year Ross Mulhall, who anchored the unit from first base. With a big gap to fill in the infield, head coach Buck Riggleman turned to Smith.
“Kevin is a kid that has played a lot of baseball for us the past two years, and we asked him to switch positions, and he’s done an admiral job filling in for Ross,” Riggleman said. “When I talked to Kevin about it in the offseason, there was never any mention of him needing to fill anyone’s shoes. He needs to just be himself. To get a Division I talent like him, that doesn’t come around every year. We’re just asking him to fill that void left by graduation.”
For many players, sliding into a slot previously filled by one of the most prolific athletes in school history might come with a fair amount of struggle — luckily for the Hawks (1-1), this type of transition is old hat for Smith.
“I grew up going from position to position, so I’d say it was pretty natural. It was different to play it for a change, but I think I’ve done a pretty good job,” he said. “I haven’t really played first before, but I learned a lot from Ross about playing the position. I think that helped me out,” he said.
Smith is just one member of an overshadowed senior class that looks to fill in the gaps left by the departing seniors whom played a large role in much of the program’s most recent triumphs.
“We had a pretty good group of seniors that left last year — there were six of them that had started or played a good amount of high school baseball over their four years, and that was a key element to our success,” Riggleman said.
With this less-experienced group on the diamond, Riggleman said keeping the team attentive and focused down the stretch of the season will be the key to the team’s performance.
“We have to keep everybody in the game, expecting the ball, and ready for the situation. That’s the big thing with a young group of high school baseball players,” he said. “They need to talk to each other. They need to keep each other in the game and talk baseball, and not let their minds stray away. They key will be keeping tuned into a baseball mindset.”
If the Hawks can develop that mindset in time, Smith believes the unit has the versatility and chemistry to be a threat later in the season.
“If we stay focused, I think it allows players to step in the game; it’s easier for them to do well when they step in if they’re paying attention and know what’s going on,” he said. “If we can do that, we have a lot of positions that can play multiple positions, and we’re the type of team that can play together.”
The Hawks defeated John Marshall 14-9 at Mylan Park on Wednesday in their first win of the season. They’ll travel to Hampshire today for their first road test of the season, with action starting at 6 p.m.