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Wildcats still play ball without coach

POSTED: June 14, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

Wright Patterson, the only returning senior on Apalachee’s varsity summer baseball team, walks back to first base during a regular season Region 8-AAAAA game against Flowery Branch.

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While much of the county is anticipating with bated breath the announcement of a new head baseball coach at Apalachee High School, the guys who take the diamond can afford no such luxury. Even without an official head coach, baseball must go on.

After two weeks of play in a short summer league setting, the Wildcats (2-5-1) are working to iron out some trouble spots, but under the guidance of head JV coach and interim head varsity coach Ronnie Miller, the Wildcats are poised to welcome their new coach in strong playing form.

“I’m just kind of carrying the torch until we get someone in there to move the thing forward,” Miller said. “We’ve got a good group coming in, and I’m doing my best to get them ready for whoever comes next.”

Officials at Apalachee have reportedly sent a candidate’s name to the Barrow County Board of Education and will release that name upon approval, but that is not expected to happen until Tuesday or Wednesday of this week at the earliest.

While their summer league record is admittedly unimpressive, Miller is optimistic about the team’s ability based on how close all of the games have been. 

“We lost a couple tough ones. We’ve had a couple close games and just one we weren’t really in,” Miller noted.

That one game was against a Tucker squad loaded with returning seniors and upperclassmen. The Wildcats, on the other hand, currently feature one returning senior: Wright Patterson.

Patterson aside, most of the players are rising juniors with a few sophomores and one freshman added to the mix. 

“We’re really young and numbers are down a bit,” Miller explained. 

Apalachee’s current roster is made up of just 11 varsity players and 13 JV players, with most of the JV competitors graduating eighth graders.

Even with the complications Apalachee’s ball club face right now, Miller knows that something needs to change and that his team is capable of more.

“We have to find a way to get over the hump and win those close games,” Miller admitted. “We just make an error here or a dropped hit there, regular baseball stuff, but we have to get past that.”

The difficulty of winning close games can be both aided and hampered by the strict time limit placed on summer games. Each game can last no longer than one hour and 45 minutes, even in the event of a tie. The time limit, though, just makes each at bat and each fielding opportunity all the more crucial and severely minimizes the margin of error.

The Wildcats may be plagued by some minor problems, but those problems are common for a team that is largely playing its first varsity games together. It takes time to build a successful, cohesive unit, and that is the role that Miller sees himself filling.

As a 13-year veteran of Apalachee baseball in one form or another, Miller is well-suited for the position of interim head coach. Miller was an assistant in the beginning when now volleyball coach Joey Alfonso helmed the baseball program, and he stayed on to work with former head coach Mike Cavey. Now, Miller finds himself filling the role of head coach, even if it is just for the time being.

“I’m just happy to be up there as part of Apalachee baseball. I’ve been a part of Apalachee for a long time, and this is a great opportunity for me to see what a head coach does on a daily basis,” Miller said. “I know how the program runs. I know how to run a game and how to run a practice.”

Having spent so long with Apalachee baseball in one capacity or another, especially as a parent to two former players and two future players, Miller hopes he can keep being a part of this program when the new leader comes in to fill his and Cavey’s somewhat combined shoes.

“Hopefully I’ll still be on their radar,” Miller requested of the anonymous new coach. “I’m happy to be up there right now and I’ll be ready to hand it off to the new coach.”

As much as Miller has enjoyed heading up the baseball program in Cavey’s absence, there have been a few struggles. For starters, Apalachee was set to host the summer league they are taking part in, which meant that the diminished coaching staff had a lot of extra responsibilities. In fact, in the wake of his new, albeit temporary, position, Miller asked his son Austin to help with the coaching duties.

While Austin and father handled the coaching, Miller relied on parent volunteers to help run other aspects of the program such as gate fees and concessions.

“I have to thank all of the parents who have helped us run this tournament,” Miller said, especially noting Mrs. Leazer, a member of the booster club who helped organize much of the summer’s needs. “We’ve been able to host the tournament with the little help we’ve had here. We’ve been able to make it happen.”

The Wildcats will finally play away from home on Wednesday, though, for their final regular game of the summer season. Fortunately, Apalachee’s team will be playing in a familiar environment as they make the short trip to Archer High School where they played last season. 

Archer will be such a familiar situation for the Wildcats especially considering that their former coach will be in the dugout, just on the other side of the field, as Cavey serves as an assistant for the Tigers.

For what is likely to be the first time of many, the Wildcats will have to face their former chief in a varsity baseball game, and that could make for a strange situation.

“It’ll be strange seeing him in his red and gray while we’re wearing our blue and gold,” Miller acknowledged. “It’s not really a big deal to me. It’ll feel like a big deal to the kids, but I don’t feel any pressure about the situation. I’m sure the kids will play a little harder with their old coach over there, but for me, it’s not a big deal.

“We want to win, though,” Miller added. “We want to win every game we play.”

If Apalachee can manage to win every remaining game of the regular season, they will enter the postseason at .500, which is Miller’s most immediate goal.

“It would give us a nice boost heading into the playoffs,” Miller acknowledged while admitting that summer league playoffs are not his ultimate goal for the team.

“I’d like to see them play in that first playoff round in the state tournament next year,” Miller admitted, and he really feels like they can make that happen. “Despite the lack of a ‘head coach,’ the guys have been working hard and put in their best effort for me. I’m really proud of their effort.”

The Wildcats will play host to Monroe Area’s Purple Hurricanes in a double-header starting at 2 p.m. with the second game scheduled at 4 p.m. before facing the Archer Tigers and their former head coach on Wednesday at Archer.

 

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