Times Sports Editor
The Northview baseball program has a different feel this season and is looking for a return to its winning ways.
The Knights went 10-17 last season and graduated five regular position players and a total of six seniors that made significant contributions.
Scott McDonald begins his head-coaching career this season with a youthful team that may be mostly untested at the varsity level, but has plenty of talent.
"The kids have been very confident since we have taken over. We have the talent to compete with our schedule game in and game out, it is simply a matter of believing in themselves and their knowing that we believe in them," said McDonald. "In our preseason program, we placed a lot of emphasis on aggressiveness in every phase of the game. The exciting thing for us is that we are seeing the result of the work that the kids have put in."
McDonald knows that replacing the players that graduated won't be easy, but has the luxury of moving up players from 'B' and 'C' teams that had very successful seasons last year.
"We feel as though the kids that graduated last year are going to be hard to replace, but the kids that we have this season are very confident in their own ability," McDonald said. "The problem, which is good for us, is the depth that this year's team possesses. In terms of starting positions, we still are evaluating the kids to help us in the most effective way."
One of the strengths of the younger classes last season was versatility and McDonald feels those players' adaptability should ease the sting of the graduation losses.
"One of the key parts to these kids has been their versatility in terms of positions," McDonald said. "Many of them can play several positions and do that at a high level. We have placed high expectations for the team and expect those to be met. We feel as though high expectations will net us high results."
Matt Nodley and Kyle Pestoff return after getting significant playing time.
Nodley played second base and hit .253 while playing in all 27 games and drove in 13 runs while scoring 17 times in 75 at-bats. He had on on-base percentage of 40 percent as well.
Pestoff played third base last season and hit .229 with seven RBI for the Knights in 70 at-bats for the Knights.
Zac Niehaus got 50 at-bats as a freshman last year and hit .360 and drove in 14 Knights while scoring 11 runs. He also reached base more than 50 percent of the time.
Drake Stevenson will take over an outfield spot after playing in 21 games and should be a part of the Knights' improved running attack. Jordan Allen played in 14 games and should see increased playing time as a junior.
Northview hit .284 as a team and scored just five fewer runs than their opponents over the course of the year and McDonald hopes that last year's experience helps this year's team improve in the win column.
"You cannot measure how valuable experience is for kids," McDonald said. "They could be a monster in the cages and then struggle in the game at the varsity level. By them getting some time last year early in their career, the game will not seem as fast for them."
Perhaps the most promising aspect of the 2009 Knights is the depth on the mound. Northview returns two regular starters in Brock Lawson and Craig Bell along with a great deal of young talent.
"Brock and Craig pitched in a lot of big games last year for us," McDonald said. "We have gained a lot of experience in pitching during the summer. We feel that this is the deepest and most talented staff that we have had here in the last 15 years or so."
Lawson is a senior and started nine games on the hill and went 3-4 with a 4.39 ERA. He also led the team in strikeouts with 68 in just 52 2/3 innings.
Bell is just a sophomore, but started five games for the Knights with a 2-2 mark and a 3.58 ERA. He struckout nearly a batter per inning over 29 1/3 innings.
As the Knights' pitching coach last year, McDonald has worked to develop the Knights' depth on the hill.
Caleb Mason returns from Tommy John surgery last year and will be a big boost to the Knights along with Caleb Mershon and Logan Kile.
"We have put a great amount of time in to developing complete pitchers with everyone working on a change-up to compliment their fastball and curveball.
"The important thing is that we protect their arms and not get anyone injured due to over use," added McDonald.
When asked to discuss his first team's strengths, McDonald spoke of a team that should be pretty exciting to watch.
"Our strengths this season are going to be pitching, speed, and defense," McDonald said. "We are going to be able to run many different arms out to the mound and be highly competitive. As a friend of the program likes to put it, we are going to run 'em a lot."
Team speed will be a big focus for this year's team and with that, manufacturing runs should be an instant byproduct.
"The work in progress is going to be our offense. We have changed the philosophy of our hitters and it taking them some time to adjust," McDonald said. "We have seen glimmers of what that could be and are excited about the potential that is there.
"Lastly, our defense will be much improved which will only help the entire mental make-up for our team," McDonald added.
The Knights open their regular season with a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. with a game at home versus Cloverdale followed by a 4 p.m. game with South Knox.