Vikings use summer games to retool lineup

Published 11:12 pm Friday, June 15, 2012

The holes left by seven departed senior starters has given Warren Central’s coaching staff a busy agenda this summer.

The Vikings are using an 18-game summer schedule to address those concerns — the biggest of which is a suddenly depleted pitching staff. The trio of Cody Waddell, Chase Ladd and Devon Bell, which helped the Vikings to the second round of the Class 6A playoffs, has graduated.

Waddell will play at Northwest Mississippi Community College and Ladd at Southwest Mississippi CC next season. Bell will play football at Mississippi State.

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Filling the void on the mound this summer has been John Morgan McRight, Cameron Upton and Carlisle Koestler. Upton became the Vikings’ fourth starter last season, while McRight saw spot duty in relief.

“We lost about 80 percent of the innings from our pitching staff,” WC pitching coach Conner Douglas said. “We’re having to redo the entire staff and we’ll rely on some young arms. These guys will have to pitch some quality innings for us.”

The pitching staff wasn’t the only area hit hard by graduation. All four starting infielders, an outfielder and utility man Brandon Gates have also moved on. The only returning starters next season are catcher Hunter Austin, left fielder Hunter Bell, center fielder Trey Prentiss and utility man Mason Jarabica.

Bell, a junior, started a number of games in left field but was often replaced in the lineup by a designated hitter. He only had seven at-bats in 2012.

“We have a lot of holes to fill there,” Douglas said. “We only have three guys who played significant time, Hunter Austin, Tre Prentiss and Mason Jarabica.”

WC assistant coach Brad Babb, however, said the Vikings have a talented group of junior varsity players ready to move up. They might also be helped in 2013 by their practice of regularly inserting younger players into the lineup. Eight backups played in at least five games apiece last season.

“We have had a very successful JV program,” Babb said. “Our eighth and ninth grade classes have a lot of speed and hustle.”

Douglas agreed.

“There are a lot of dirt bags who are up and coming,” Douglas said, using a baseball term for a player who works hard and often gets dirty by diving and sliding on the field.

One of the underclassmen who has made strides already is catcher Chipper Leech. With Austin playing in a select tournament in Oklahoma this month, Leech has gotten most of the work behind the plate.

“Chipper is going to push Austin at catcher,” Douglas said.

Austin, a rising senior, is projected to be Warren County’s top college prospect next year. He had a county best 39 RBIs and also tied for the team lead with 34 hits.