By Robert Fenbers
Ron Mottl Field is covered in a snowy mess right now – some might say that is what the team was last year, a mess.
This year brings much change to the Tri-C baseball team: new head coach, coaching staff and a total of 6 returning players. The Challengers finished last season at 12-21, plagued by chemistry issues and internal issues between the coach and players, which caused numerous players to leave the team. This was a huge setback for their talented roster.
Enter new head coach Evan Agona, who brings a plethora of success and talent in his coaching staff. Agona knows the task at hand is difficult due to the large turnover from last season. “I think the first thing with the new guys and the transition is getting their trust,” says Agona. He stresses the importance of these few months leading up to the season “This is a big time to work on our skills, trying to get guys’ arms in shape and legs in shape.”
Though it’s early, Coach Agona feels that the strength of his team is his infield and the depth they have at that position. Pitching seems to be lacking due to injuries and will be a main focus this off-season from pitching coach Bob Merritt. “I want to take each one of the players wherever they are at right now and just make them better every day,” says Merritt, who enjoyed success last year with Baldwin Wallace University, as they made their first ever appearance in the College World Series. The team has been working on strength and conditioning since October, which has also allowed the teammates to come together and bond during the off-season.
In just the few short practices they have had with Coach Agona and his staff, the team seems to be buying into his philosophy. “They have been down that road, they know what they’re doing. We are ready for it, we are ready for a challenge,” says second year-third baseman/pitcher Michael Poole who already sees the difference in chemistry from last season. First baseman Jared Purdy agrees, “It’s a total new environment this year with everything. There is a lot of respect this year, give and take. With coach, he respects us a lot, we respect him obviously, and it makes us feel comfortable.”
The Challengers begin spring training with a fresh start and a coach’s philosophy based on past success. Even though the season is still a month away, they will face a tough opponent this off-season that will likely define their season; an opponent that defeated them last season. That opponent is trust and chemistry.
The Challengers first game will be on March 7th 2015 be against Catawba Valley Community College (NC) 1:00pm at Hickory, NC.