The votes were in well before Mercer County won its first regional championship, but it sure looks like the area’s baseball coaches knew what they were doing.
They voted four players from Mercer, which won the 12th Region Tournament last week and will play in the state tournament next week, to The Advocate-Messenger 2011 All-Area Baseball Team.
The Titans occupy a full one-third of the All-Area roster, and this is the second time in four years they have had four players selected in balloting of area coaches.
Brad McNew, the first-year coach at Lincoln County, was voted the Advocate’s Area Baseball Coach of the Year after helping the Patriots rebound from a 4-10 start to finish 14-20-1 and qualify for the regional tournament for the first time in five years.
“I had a group of young men who decided to make baseball a priority in their lives,” McNew said. “It was a fun year, and seeing each player grow throughout the year made it an enjoyable experience. ... The personal sacrifices they made every day (made) the team better.
“The foundation has been laid, and hopefully we can build on what this team accomplished for Lincoln County baseball.”
Two of the four players chosen from Mercer, Clay Cinnamon and Matthew Honchel, are repeat selections. Because of their contributions as pitchers, outfielders and hitters, both are in the utility position.
Two other players, Lincoln outfielder Tré Owens and Boyle County shortstop Kody Ross, also return from last year’s All-Area team.
A closer look at the All-Area honorees:
The Danville right-hander took the mound for the first time just over a year ago and has quickly emerged as a hurler who can consistently throw in the mid-80s and mix in an effective breaking ball.
“For a guy who basically this was his first year ever pitching — and we’re not just talking about the varsity level — he had an extraordinarily great year,” Danville coach Paul Morse said. “He’s already received D-I interest from some people. ... He’s got the arm strength, and being such a young pitcher, there’s a lot of intrigue about him because of how much he could develop and improve.”
Caudill was 9-3 with one save and a 1.76 earned-run average. He struck out 94 batters and allowed 45 hits and 21 walks in 63 2/3 innings. He also hit .366 with two home runs, a team-high three triples and 28 RBIs.
The right-hander was already Boyle’s No. 1 pitcher when the season began, and he continued to improve as the spring progressed, saving his best work for late in the season.
“His last 26 innings he gave up one earned run, and that’s at the end of the year when it’s crunch time,” Boyle coach David Camic said. “I think the way he prepared himself for his senior year helped him. He worked extremely hard in the fall and winter getting ready for the season. He’s got a huge upside about him going forward to play somewhere in college.”
Tiller went 10-1 with a 2.24 ERA, striking out 92 batters and allowing 72 hits and 27 walks in 84 innings. He also hit .402 and led the Rebels with six home runs and 36 RBIs.
The Mercer catcher missed about three weeks early in the season after surgery to remove a piece of a fractured bone in his wrist, then returned to his role as a defensive force.
“You could just tell a huge difference in his defensive play (after the surgery),” Mercer coach Jeremy Shope said. “Addam has developed into one of the best catchers I’ve ever seen. His (throwing) time is 1.9 or 2.0 (seconds) to second, which has forced teams not to run. He’s a four-year starter for us, and you can really tell the amount of experience he has.”
Gooch, who plans to play for Cumberland (Tenn.), is hitting .400 with a .514 on-base percentage, a .709 slugging percentage and 20 RBIs. Half of his 22 hits have been for extra bases, including his only three home runs, all of which came in the Titans’ first-round regional win over Lincoln.
Shope said Mercer’s first baseman is another defensive stalwart who has played well in the shadows of the team’s stars, Cinnamon and Honchel, and has joined them as a leader.
“Colin’s developed into a very, very good baseball player. It’s been fun to watch him grow up and mature,” Shope said. “Our infielders can throw the ball in the dirt, and Colin’s going to get it. He had a tough year at the plate last year, but he had a great mindset at the plate this year. He’s a better two-strike hitter, which has really helped him out.”
Buckner, who has signed with Lincoln Memorial, is hitting .398 with two home runs, three triples and 20 RBIs.
The eighth-grader did more than simply crack the Garrard lineup, developing into a dependable hitter with both power and speed and a reliable infielder who spent most of the season at shortstop but also played second base.
“He can play anywhere. He just showed that he has a strong desire, he’s very excited about baseball. He just kind of has that spark that you see in players occasionally that you know there’s something there where he’s going to outperform a lot of people,” Garrard coach Doug Simpson said. “He’s definitely got a bright future ahead of him depending on how hard he works.”
Murphy led the Golden Lions with six home runs and nine stolen bases and hit .324 with 13 RBIs. He also ranked second on the team in runs scored with 21.
The Boyle junior was an All-Area second baseman last year, and he played just as well at shortstop after moving to that position to replace an injured teammate. He also had a stellar season on offense, raising his batting average by almost 90 points.
“He had a superb year. Kody’s the kind of guy, he’ll do whatever he needs to do to help the team win,” Camic said. “He’s the best hitter in the 12th Region. Everybody respects him. He’s just a great individual, and he’s going to get even better.”
Ross was the Rebels’ leading hitter at .443 with team-highs of 58 hits in 131 at-bats, 41 runs and 17 stolen bases. He also had four home runs and 30 RBIs.
The Lincoln third baseman emerged as a solid bunter and contact hitter, and McNew said he has also showed impressive maturity for a sophomore and handled himself well at the hot corner.
“He’s the type of kid, you can put him anywhere on the field and he’s going to do well. We have him at third basically because he’s going to take one in the teeth,” McNew said. “He’s a young kid, and he plays above being a young kid. He hit in the two-hole most of the year for us, he’s the type of kid I can hit-and-run with, and he did well with that.”
Day had four doubles and drew 15 walks and scored 21 runs. He was also 5-2 on the mound and was the winning pitcher in Lincoln’s district tournament win over Boyle.
The outfielder was one of only two seniors on the Lincoln roster, and he became a valuable leader by example with his willingness to move out of his usual spot as theleadoff hitter following an injury to a teammate.
“He had to hit in the three-hole, and that’s not where I would want Tré in the lineup. He made a sacrifice there. He didn’t really drive the ball, but he got chances to lay down bunts, he hit doubles and he was a kid that would put it in play, and on the bases he was aggressive,” McNew said. “And he did well in center field and right field; we never had to worry about that. He became the senior leader I was wanting him to be, which was a big plus at the end of the year.”
Owens hit .302 with one home run, and he also led the Patriots in runs scored and stolen bases.
The Danville center fielder made the most of his one chance to start after biding his time on the bench for three seasons.
“He really didn’t get discouraged playing behind Duran Elmore in center field. He stepped up this year as a senior and did a great job defensively, and he also did a great job offensively at the plate,” Morse said. “You can’t ask for much more out of your leadoff hitter.”
Morse said Sebastian answered his challenge to produce from the leadoff spot, hitting .346 with a .432 on-base percentage. He had five home runs and 34 RBIs and stole 22 bases in 33 attempts. He also made only one error in the outfield.