Foundation unchanged in time of transition for Danville baseball
Published 2:58 pm Friday, March 31, 2023
By MIKE MARSEE
So much has changed around Danville baseball, but the program is the same.
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The players who led the Admirals to consecutive regional championships have moved on. The winningest coach in school history has left the dugout.
A far less experienced club isn’t getting the results that Danville has gotten used to, but the Admirals are going about their business in their first season under coach Josh Loughry exactly as they did for so many successful seasons under Paul Morse.
“It’s pretty much the same program,” said senior Sam Matherly, Danville’s top pitcher and its most experienced player. “It’s a totally different team, but we still do the same things in practice, the same traditions before games.”
Loughry, a 2002 Danville graduate who played on Morse’s first team, said the culture that is in place has helped him in his transition to head coach.
“Guys know and expect to do well and they understand the process, and that makes it easier,” Loughry said. “It’s always tough to lose, and we’ve talked about the challenges this year and our entire goal is to try to be at our best when May comes.”
Danville won only two of its first seven games entering a Thursday doubleheader with Casey County. The Admirals’ string of three straight 12th Region All “A” Classic championships ended with a 7-2 loss to Somerset on Monday, and they lost to Madison Southern 6-2 on Tuesday.
There is much work to be done to mold Danville into a team that can compete in the postseason, but Loughry said that’s exactly what made the head coaching job appealing.
“I like teaching, I like the development side, and we knew with this group being so young that development was the main thing,” he said. “It’s hard to follow in the footsteps of how we’ve been and knowing how young we are this year, but … that development side is what’s drawing me into it.”
Loughry, 39, has been teaching the game for nearly 20 years as an assistant under Morse and an instructor and coach at Morse Baseball Academy. He began coaching while he was a student at Transylvania University, working with the Bate Middle School team.
He said the freedom Morse gave him over the years made his move up seem only a little different, with the biggest difference being additional responsibilities.
“It’s different, but then again it’s the same,” Loughry said.
Matherly, a pitcher-infielder who is one of only two returning starters along with infielder Jarius Bryant, said Loughry’s leadership style isn’t much different from what he was used to under Morse.
“It’s definitely similar because they’ve coached together forever. (Loughry) has to teach a lot more now because it’s a different team,” Matherly said.
Morse resigned in September, ending a 22-year run as coach at his alma mater in which he won 69 percent of his games, going 537-244 with four 12th Region championships in 21 seasons.
Danville went 70-9 in Morse’s last two seasons, making the state tournament in consecutive years and reaching the semifinals in 2021. Sixteen seniors — many of whom are now playing collegiate baseball — graduated over the past two years, leaving a team with very little varsity experience.
Matherly said that inexperience has manifested itself in all areas of the Admirals’ game. He said it was especially evident on defense in the early days of the season, but he said that has been the area of greatest improvement.
“I think we had eight errors in one game and six the next or something like that, but we’ve cut down on that a lot,” he said. “We’re putting the pieces together as we go.”
Loughry said Matherly, who has signed to play for Bellarmine University, has emerged as a natural leader on the field for Danville.
“With Sam being a Division I commit everyone kind of looks at him,” Loughry said. “Sam’s done a really good job and he’s had a lot of patience with the young guys. He’s almost been another coach on the field for us with how much we’ve had to teach.”
Morse is still teaching, too. He’s a regular at Danville practices when he isn’t attending one of son Brady’s games at Bellarmine, and Loughry said he leans on his mentor a great deal.
“We don’t always agree on everything, but it’s always good to get his opinion. He’s been there, done that, and there’s a reason why he’s one of the best,” Loughry said.
Loughry’s staff includes two holdovers from Morse’s staff — longtime aide Terry Pitman and 2012 Danville graduate Andrew Lasure, who played at East Tennessee State — as well as first-year assistant Austin Shearer, a 2002 Danville grad.
Numbers are down, with only 17 players on the team, and a rash of injuries has resulted in the call-up of some middle school players and in players moving to unfamiliar positions. But Loughry said the Admirals have faced rebuilding years in the past, and he believes the current downturn is only temporary.
“I think the excitement for baseball will always be here because of what Paul built and what we did the last two years, so I think we’ll be fine,” he said.
He said even though the record isn’t what he’d like it to be, he likes the signs of progress he has seen.
“From the first week to this week,” he said, “the improvement has been really encouraging.”