By KEVIN HARRIS
NEW ALBANY —
The Christian Academy baseball program has been on a roller-coaster ride the past three years.
In the 2009 season, the Warriors were on top of the world.
They captured their second Class A sectional title in school history, knocking off host South Central in the championship game 6-3.
But after falling in the first round of the Class A Christian Academy Sectional in 2010, the Warriors had some hard times.
A rash of injuries in 2011 forced Christian Academy to not complete the rest of the season, including the sectional. Last year, the Warriors did not even field a squad because not enough players came out for the team.
Christian Academy has rebounded this season by restarting its varsity program with 12 players on the roster. The Warriors are primarily playing a junior varsity schedule this season and next, although they will go up against a few varsity squads along the way. They are scheduled to play in the IHSAA state tournament in 2015.
Freshman Will Hussung, who is a pitcher and utility player for the Warriors, is glad his program is playing on the varsity level again.
“Coming back from basically two years without a team and [four] years without winning a sectional, it’s nice to get a team back with all freshmen except for two sophomores, and knowing that if you stay together and continue to work and grow together, we’ll be able to have an amazing season if not next year, but at least our junior and senior years,” he said. “It’s all about building it back up to the way it used to be.”
Fellow CAI freshman Cole Ragland, who plays center field, also is happy to be playing varsity ball.
“I’ve heard from friends that have graduated that were on the baseball team before and they were sad to see the team go,” Ragland said. “They’re glad now that we’re carrying on a tradition.”
Even though Christian Academy is back to playing varsity baseball, its return to high school baseball’s top level has not been easy.
The Warriors had lost all seven of their games. Their roster is completely full of underclassmen with 10 freshmen and two sophomores.
Christian Academy coach Zach Prichard says errors have been one of the reasons for his team’s rough start to the season. But the Warriors’ manager has been working on trying to keep his players inspired to play the national pastime when they do make mistakes.
“We’re young and I try to teach them that baseball is a mental game,” Prichard said. “When things aren’t going your way, the easiest thing to do is to get down on yourself and get down on your teammates. So I try to uplift their spirits in a sense that everybody makes mistakes and the greatest players fail seven out of 10 times.
“My favorite quote to tell them is the greatest players fail seven out of 10 times, but it’s what they do after those failures that makes them the players they are today. I’m trying to get them to understand that just because when they make an error, the game is not over. I’m trying to get them to understand that we’re all in the same boat and we’re here to uplift each other.”
Because of all the miscues, fundamentals have been a point of emphasis in practice.
Prichard — a former four-year player at Lindsey Wilson College in Columbia, Ky. — says some of his players have limited to no baseball experience. Both Hussung and Ragland have played baseball since they were little in the youth leagues at Graceland Baptist Church in New Albany.
“A lot of these players haven’t been coached or they [got] some coaching that wasn’t [at the high school level],” said Prichard, who was a student assistant coach at Lindsey Wilson for one year and coached last year’s Christian Academy seventh- and eighth-grade team to a 6-6 record. “It works fine for Little League and it works fine for some middle school. But to play at the level that schools around here play at, we need to get down to the basics and back to the fundamentals. They take a lot of ground balls and have been building up their arm strength. A lot of these kids can already hit pretty well. They are just fine-tuning those necessary motor skills.
“The players that we do have they are starting to understand the sense of baseball. So we’re just trying instill in their minds of what actually happens when the ball is hit to us. We’re really in a rebuilding phase. I know we haven’t had a high school program for the last two years, and a lot of these kids have played either Little League or haven’t played at all. We’re just trying to get this program back to where it needs to be. It’s taken a lot of work in the sense of trying to get in their minds what they need to be doing on a everyday basis and just trying to reach that point of excellence.”
Despite the struggles, the Warriors try to not get down on themselves. They know they have a long way to go and have gotten a lot of support from the Christian Academy community this season.
“I think I’ve heard the phrase, ‘Don’t give up’ a billion times from people in my school,” Ragland said. “Even though we’ve been down every single game, our attitude just keeps going up. We’ve not given up the whole season. I haven’t seen any of that whatsoever. We just keep fighting.”
Hussung says the future is promising for the Warriors because of the players who are coming up through their feeder system.
Prichard says his team’s numbers should increase a little bit next year when a handful of eighth-graders on the school’s seventh- and eighth-grade squad become freshmen. Along with the eighth-graders entering the varsity team next year, Hussung says the middle school squad has several seventh-graders.
“We’re just hanging in there for the long run,” Hussung said. “We realize that if we all stay together, we can become something great. It’s just a matter of giving everything you got when you can. From that hard work, you reap what you sow.”
Prichard credits Richard Paris, the Warriors’ middle school coach, for helping develop Christian Academy’s talent.
“The way that he’s coaching those kids over there has been good,” said Prichard, who lauded Paris’ work with Christian Academy’s sixth-graders. “I see a lot of good talent over there. I think once they’re all sophomores and juniors, they are going to be some good ballplayers. I think in the next four or five years, this is going to be a program that’s really going to be put some people to the test and I think we can definitely be contenders.”
Even though the Christian Academy players are taking their lumps right now, their long-term goals remain high.
“Our goal in two years is to be a sectional contender,” Prichard said. “The big thing is to try to get them to see the plan. Getting them to understand that we actually have the chance and the opportunity, then we’ll actually be able to reach our full potential.
“It’s been tough on the coaches and myself. But we strongly feel that in the next few years, we can definitely be a contender.”