Baseball notes: West players able to enjoy the thrill of victory
As the West Pioneers closed in on a victory over South in a doubleheader opener Tuesdayat Westubran, Devin Daignault experienced the calling of senior leadership.
“We were pretty excited,” said Daignault, a utility player whose primary duties are at first base and pitcher. “We had to calm them down a little bit, get them in the right mindset and get through it.”
History hasn’t been kind to the Pioneers’ baseball program. But West flipped the script on a 122-game City League losing streak, defeating South 10-2 for its first victory in league play since April 2006.
South salvaged a split with a 16-7 victory in the nightcap, but the Pioneers (1-7) still welcomed the relief from a league victory drought that began when Daignault was in the fourth grade.
“I’m glad they got to experience what it’s like to win,” said West’s first-year coach, Jeff Hoover, who played for the Pioneers in the early 1980s. “Man, do these kids need that. If you go out and bust it every day and don’t see results, imagine what that’s like.”
West was 2-19 last season, sweeping a non-league doubleheader against Sunrise Academy for the program’s first victories since 2007. City League victories have their own significance for the Pioneers, though. After Tuesday’s split, West has won just eight of 255 league games since 1998, according to league archives.
In the Pioneers’ victory over South, Daignault fueled a big inning with a three-run triple, and sophomore Devan Extine pitched a complete game.
“Coach has provided a motto to the team that when we’re hitting, pass the torch,” said Daignault, part of a senior trio that includes outfielder Irving Henriquez and transfer infielder Bobby Tager. “I believe that we got that implemented in that inning.”
For Hoover, who played collegiately at Barton Community College and Emporia State, the seeds of victory are sown in practice. His regimented workouts and high demands have produced some attrition of players since the start of the season, but Hoover sees signs of improvement.
“It’s no different than dealing with your own kids,” Hoover said. “If expectations are high, then kids will raise their level. We try to hold the kids accountable when they’re doing things good or bad.”
Daignault, whose father, Phil, is West’s athletic director, started the second game on the mound and was staked to an early lead. South used a nine-run inning to turn momentum in its favor.
Still, one victory represents evidence of an ongoing effort to alter the athletic fortunes at West. Daignault was the kicker for the Pioneers’ playoff qualifying football team last fall, and qualified for the state swim meet during the winter.
“I just want to get us what we can and have a great senior year,” Daignault said.
Change at the top – A strong reliance on youth and a team batting average under .200 have contributed to a 1-5 start for McPherson.
The Bullpups have also dealt with a sudden coaching change.
Longtime assistant Grant Myers was appointed as McPherson’s interim coach Mondayafter Steve Williams resigned following complaints about his treatment of players. Williams, who coached Hutchinson to 277 victories from 1989-2010, was in his first season with the Bullpups.
Williams, who had served as an assistant at McPherson College prior to his hiring at MHS, was suspended March 31 after the Bullpups split a season-opening doubleheader with Rose Hill. McPherson, which plays its home opener Thursday against Circle, has since lost doubleheaders at Andale and Winfield.
“Coach Williams is a friend of mine still,” Myers said. “We have closure now and we’re moving on. There are a few things that you tinker with as a coach, but for the most part, it stays pretty much the same.”
McPherson has three seniors and two juniors on its roster.
“By the end of the season, I think we can be pretty good,” said Myers, whose team is scheduled to play its next 10 games at home. “We knew with our youth it was going to be rough early. As far as the kids go, they’re resilient and they’ll get after it.”