Meridian Star

Sports

April 24, 2014

Knights laying foundation to success

COLLINSVILLE —     COLLINSVILLE — While the West Lauderdale High School baseball squad is widely regarded as one of the premier programs in the state of Mississippi, it is the junior high levels where the strong foundation is being laid.

    The varsity squad currently boasts a 23-0 record, while the seventh and eighth grade teams have also achieved undefeated seasons.

    “We (coaches) spend a lot of time with the junior high team,” West Lauderdale High School baseball coach Jerry Boatner said. “We have four varsity coaches working with them at every practice. We teach them just how we teach the high school players. We make them a priority.”

    The Knights’ eighth grade squad (27-0) has now completed back-to-back undefeated seasons, outscoring opponents by a combined 166 to 35 in that time span, in becoming the first team in school history to achieve such a feat.

    “They practice better than most teams that I’ve been a part of,” said Ashley Burroughs, who serves as head coach for the junior high teams. “They enjoy practice and it’s apparent when we play that they are well prepared. They are very fundamentally sound.

    “They don’t beat themselves. Baseball is a game of failure, and more times than not teams will lose the game rather than win a game. This bunch does not beat themselves.”

    The squad is led by three outstanding pitchers — Chance Denson, Hunter Eldridge and Jeremiah “Turbo” McKee.

    “These guys aren’t just hard throwers,” Burroughs said.     “They’re strike throwers. They don’t beat themselves, they don’t walk people.”

    However, for the seventh grade squad to continue on its successful path, and live up to the standards their predecessors set before them as eighth graders, this next will year prove to be the most pivotal time in their development.

    “I find that to be the biggest difference in any grade,” Boatner said of the jump from seventh to eighth grade baseball. “The main thing that they are going to have to overcome is that the field is smaller in the seventh grade.There’s a big maturity growth there. They go from 60-foot bases or 75-foot bases, to 90-foot bases.”

    Despite the achievements the two teams have accomplished, there remains a level of uncertainty as the players adapt to a more competitive environment.

    “We won’t know too much about these kids until we get them on a high school field,” Boatner said. “When you get to a regular field, regular pitching, they sometimes just aren’t as good because of the field difference.”

    Yet there is plenty of excitement with the current crop of middle school athletes as they begin to head towards their high school careers, but the coaches at West Lauderdale are focused on developing them at a steady pace.

    “We would love to see the kids continue to progress each year,” Burroughs said. We’re just focused on continuing to get better each day.”

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