Eagles soar to second-straight Salt River Conference title

Published 8:08 pm Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Boyle County Middle School baseball had an historic season in 2016: State champions, conference champions, 37 wins.

After “graduating” 10 eighth-graders to the high school level, few people expected Boyle Middle to have another strong season.

But the Eagles had other ideas: They won 23 games and repeated as Salt River Conference champions. They also made the “final four” at the state level.

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What impressed head coach Kyle Bottoms the most was his team’s ability to overcome adversity.

“We saw a lot of guys grow up this year,” Bottoms said. “These are middle school kids, this is where you start learning to push through adversity. This isn’t little league where you can walk onto the field and be the best player. We saw guys as the year went on, we had teams who we lost to earlier in the year and we beat them later in the year. That right there just shows that we had a bunch of guys who were willing to dig a little deeper and wouldn’t be satisfied with a mediocre year.”

Bottoms said he and his coaching staff started the season early for the first time in his tenure. They held tryouts in the fall, conditioning in December and started hitting and long throws in January twice a week.

And before the season even started, Bottoms said he could tell what the team needed: Leadership.

After graduating so many starters, Bottoms wondered where the leadership for his team would come from. A new batch of eighth-graders stepped up and “bought in early.”

“That’s what I thought would be the hardest part, losing all the leadership,” Bottoms said. “The eighth graders this year have talent, but losing the leaders that showed them how to work hard every day, not settle to be mediocre. We had some eighth graders step up and decide to be leaders this year, and that’s what I credit our success to.”

Those eighth graders weren’t expected to have success like their predecessors. And the team heard that, loud and clear.

“I think our kids all were kind of aware of that as well,” Bottoms said. “They’ve grown up their whole lives playing little league, travel ball with those kids ahead of them. I think from day one, we’ve looked at it and told them that they should see this as an opportunity to prove that they can play, too. This is their team, their year.”

Boyle earned the No. 2 seed in the South division of the Salt River Conference. In the first round of tournament play, they beat Bondurant — after weather delayed the game to another day.

In the semifinals, the Eagles were down 5-3 against Anderson County and won 7-5.

In the finals, Boyle was down 5-3 against Danville. Bottoms said he gathered his team in the final inning and told them the bad news and the good news.

“The bad news was that we were down 5-3. The good news is that we came back from 5-3 in the last game,” Bottoms said. “I was just trying to keep it light. It was hot, we had played a long season. We just needed to loosen up.”

They did, scoring three times to walk-off with a 6-5 win.

“I would be lying if I didn’t say that we proved a lot of people wrong,” Bottoms said. “I think some people would say we overachieved. I don’t think that’s the word because I think this group had it in them.”

Bottoms said the team has continued an incredible run for Boyle County baseball. The middle school has won three of the past four Salt River Conference championships and made the Final Four at state in back-to-back years.

Keeping that run of success — and player involvement — was the No. 1 priority for Bottoms and high school head coach Kyle Wynn from day one.

“Coach Wynn and I talked about wanting to eliminate the ‘every other year’ type thing,” Bottoms said. “A big part of what we wanted to do was raise the interest of kids wanting to play baseball at a young age. This will be my third year as middle school coach, and every year we’ve had at least six players in each class. The success at the high school, middle school, what I think it does is it breeds third, fourth and fifth graders. They want to be a part of what is going on. I think we’re building something special here. I may be overly optimistic, but I expect us to be good again next year. These kids come in and give me everything they’ve got every day, and I can’t ask for more than that.”

Despite the similarities in finishes for the Eagles the past two years, Bottoms said the feelings he’s had as a coach have been very different.

“Last year was amazing. But this year, without a doubt, was just so different,” he said. “It was a different type of gratification. Nobody thought these kids were capable of it. Nobody thought they would be there. Even some of the other kids asked, ‘Did you win this?’ To see the guys put in this work and to surprise people, to hear that kind of stuff, it was so gratifying.”

With the success the eighth-graders have had this year, Bottoms said they now have the confidence to perform at the high school level. As a team, they’ve bonded as well as any that Bottoms has coached.

“They now realize, ‘Hey, we can go next year and contribute. We don’t have to wait till our senior year to contribute,’” he said. “We have 23 kids, and I think if you asked every one of them, they like each other. They have fun competing. They enjoy going to practice. I think it has become a very tight-knit group. We had kids come out and play baseball this year who haven’t played since fourth grade. That shows that kids are telling their friends that they’re enjoying it. That’s what it is all about.”


Follow Matt Overing on Twitter @MOvering