BLACKSVILLE — “This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you hit the ball, you catch the ball. You got it?” — Durham Bulls Manager Joe Wiggins.
When addressing his 2023 baseball team, it’s probably a pretty good guess that Clay-Battelle manager Johnny Coombs might sound an awful lot — well, maybe with a bit more encouraging delivery — like actor Trey Wilson from the fabulous baseball movie Bull Durham.
“We lost a lot of ballgames last year through mental mistakes,” the second-year skipper admitted. “We’ve been working very hard on defensive situational play and also hitting and base-running strategies. I want these guys moving as soon as the ball is hit, and knowing what to do at all times. Most of the time in high school baseball, it’s the teams that makes the least mistakes that win, and that’s what we want every time out.”
The Cee-Bees will be led by top-of-the-rotation arm/centerfielder and lead-off hitter Kohlton St. Clair. The All-Ohio Valley Athletic Conference senior has signed a baseball letter of intent with Salem University and will be counted on as an offensive catalyst and pitching staff stopper.
The rest of Coombs’s staff consists of a solid mix of experience and young talent. The next two starters have contrasting styles, as senior Matt Gadd throws hard, while junior J.C. Spears specializes in breaking stuff. And the CB bullpen features seniors Gabe Thomas and Drew Mercer, plus Drew’s freshman brother Cameron.
Although the roster has expanded to 17 this season, the fact that the Cee-Bees competed last year with just 13 players means that Coombs has utility men at virtually every position.
“Just about all of our players can play anywhere on the diamond,” Coombs said, “so I’ll have plenty of options for potential moves. However, we’re expecting Austyn Foley to make big strides after his freshman year at catcher, and he’ll anchor that position for us. He’s gotten much stronger, and he’s really taking charge back there, captaining our infield.”
The Cee-Bees are excited to be playing in the Mon County Classic, their first trip to the WVU Mountaineers’ and West Virginia Black Bears’ home park, and Coombs is equally excited about his team’s upside this year.
“I told the guys that we need to take things one game at a time,” he said, “but I feel like if we keep hitting well — and we are far ahead in the cage compared to where we were this time last year — and play solid, fundamental baseball, we will be successful. And if we can stay healthy and continue to improve throughout the season, I truly believe that we have an excellent chance to win our Section.
“As long as we don’t beat ourselves,” he concluded with a smile,
Words to live by for any baseball player.
BY MARK SCHRAF