Past success points young Danville club in the right direction

Published 2:30 pm Wednesday, April 10, 2024

The team continues to evolve, but the program has not changed.

The Danville baseball team is two seasons removed from the end of the greatest run in the program’s history, and that’s close enough for today’s Admirals to understand what it takes to succeed.

They won’t be favored to win a regional or even district championship, but they will be able to follow the example of what those who came before them did to take Danville to its greatest heights.

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And C.J. Lynn, an assistant coach during that run who is in his first season as Danville’s head coach, said that’s a tremendous asset for a young team trying to make its mark.

“That’s a big, big part of being able to continue a program and hopefully continue the success that we’ve had,” Lynn said. “I think that’s a drive for most of our guys when they see that to continue to make Danville baseball what Danville baseball has been.”

Danville (5-8) has a very young team and a new head coach for the second consecutive season.

This is not the team that won consecutive regional championships in 2021, when the Admirals reached the state semifinals, and ’22 but so much about the program remains the same, including a culture of success.

“It’s really about the program, setting the standard, and we’re just trying to exceed that, get to that point where we once were,” said Zhane Ford, the only senior on this year’s roster.

Ford is one of only two current players who had even a small role on the 2022 Danville team. He and Fox Spears appeared in 30 and 27 games, respectively, and had 11 hits between them.

But the coaching staff is stocked with familiar faces, and the players on this year’s team are very familiar with the players who engineered that run, and both of those things help raise the bar for today’s players.

“It really helps us push our limits and see how far we can go, especially with this young team here,” sophomore Wyatt Gale said. “And seeing those college guys come back every summer just kind of pushes us to be better.”

Danville was gutted by graduation after going 70-13 in its two championship seasons, but a team with only three seniors still managed a winning campaign last year at 17-16.

The top pitcher and the leading hitter from that team graduated a year ago, and this year’s roster has only four upperclassmen. The starting lineup can include up to half a dozen sophomores and even a seventh-grader, Dillon Cruver.

“We’re working on trying to continue to build our program from the bottom up,” Lynn said.

Familiarity within the coaching staff also helps maintain continuity, with faces such as Morse and longtime assistants Terry Pitman, Andrew Lasure, Austin Shearer, and Josh Loughry working with players on the practice field or at Morse’s academy.

“It brings that uniformity,” Lynn said. “When you’ve had the same language for 20-plus years, it helps.”

Lynn, a 2006 Danville alumnus, took over the program last fall. He was an assistant under longtime coach Paul Morse from 2019-22 after spending seven years as head coach at Garrard County.

Even though he didn’t coach last season, he was familiar with the team and saw potential in the players he had.

“They won 17 games last year … and they were mainly freshmen and sophomores,” he said. “They were young, and you’ve seen a lot of ability in the youth, so it makes it a little bit makes your eyes perk up when you see that.”

He said he has also been pleased by the one constant he has seen since he began workouts in the fall.

“I’ve seen a lot of the dedication in the younger guys,” Lynn said. “That’s something we always had when I was playing and with that group that graduated in ’21 and ’22. The work ethic, yeah, it’s there, and their dedication to each other, their dedication to baseball, their dedication to be the very best they can be.”

Leadership is often an issue with young teams, but Lynn and his players said the leadership vacuum created by the loss of three straight classes with strong leaders has been filled by the group rather than by one or two players.

“We’re coming together as a team. There’s not just one singular guy that’s stepping up, it’s everybody,” Ford said.

Ford said the chemistry of this team has been one of its greatest assets so far, and he said it shows when the offense gets rolling.

“We all string together really well. Once one guy gets a hit, it just keeps piling on,” he said.

The Admirals are batting .271 as a team, and Spears (.655), Gale (.389), and sophomore Hayden Foster (.314) are the only players above .300. However, Gale said other hitters have been steadily improving.

“At the start of the season we only had two or three guys that could pound the ball, but we’ve seen a lot of improvement coming from our middle to bottom of the order,” he said.

Spears (2-1, 0.45 earned-run average) and Gale (1-2, 1.91) for the Admirals, who have allowed three runs or less in three games but have allowed eight runs or more four times to date.

Danville had two one-run victories and a shutout win in its first four games, but the Admirals went 0-4 during spring break after being swept by Powell County in a doubleheader Friday.

They begin 45th District play this week, playing the first of three home-and-home series against district foes in consecutive weeks when they host Lincoln County on Tuesday and visit the Patriots on Wednesday.

Lincoln has shown improvement this season and Boyle and Garrard have gotten off to good starts, but the Admirals believe they can hold their own.

“I definitely say we can compete with all of them just as long as we do what we can do and don’t make dumb mistakes, like on the base paths or defensively,” Foster said. “Just hold your ground and do what you can.”

Lynn said the Admirals must maintain a steady course of improvement to be in a position to contend for the district title by mid-May.

“Just continued hustle and growth and knowledge of the game and making sure that we’re checking in every day and ready to go,” he said.