Master craftsmanPublished 5:19pm Monday, July 22, 2013
WILLIAMSTON — There’s not many times Riverside coach Hank Tice doesn’t know what to expect when his team takes the baseball field, but when the 2013 season started the only thing he was certain of was that there would be no certainties.
How could there be when over half your team is first-year starters?
Tice entered the season having to replace nearly his entire pitching staff from a 2012 team that advanced all the way to the fourth round of the playoffs. On top of that, the Knights had graduated their starting first and second basemen, shortstop and two outfielders.
In the end, Tice’s team did what they always do: win. Like a freight train, Riverside got off to a slow and methodical start but once it got going it was nearly impossible to stop. The Knights finished the year with a 22-4 record, another Four Rivers Conference championship and made it back to the fourth round of the playoffs for the third straight season.
The on-the-fly rebuilding job was a tremendous feat and led to Tice win his sixth Washington Daily News Coach of the Year award.
Tice said the season would not have been a success without the hard work of assistant coaches Brian Swift, Matt Howell and Bobby Williams, along with the dedication of his players.
“Anytime you’re coach of the year you have really good players, really good coaches and really good youth programs,” Tice said. “I’m blessed to be able to have all that. Coach of the year really goes to the players and the assistant coaches. Without them my job is nothing.”
Tice has been coaching baseball since 1995 and has been a head coach since 2004 and said when this season started he was hoping just to be able to end it with a winning record.
“We lost 71 innings of pitching from last year’s team. We lost our starting first baseman, our starting second baseman, our starting shortstop, centerfielder and right fielder,” Tice said. “This year when we started we just expected to be .500. We lost everything on the mound from last year.”
Tice not only lost his staff, but when the strong-armed Matt Wisniewski suffered an arm injury in the preseason he lost his top pitching prospect as well.
Wisniewski was forced to remain behind the plate as the team’s catcher, which opened the door for new talent like first-year varsity pitcher Kyle Leggett who took the area by storm with a 10-1 season.
“We had some guys step up,” Tice said. “When Wizzy got hurt we had Kyle Leggett, Ryan Wagner and Brandon Chesson step up. If you would have told me on Feb. 12 that we would go 22-4 I would have shook on it and put a nice bet on it.”
Good coaches have a way of pulling the best out of their players and after winning six conference titles in nine years Tice seams to have found the magic touch for creating a winning atmosphere.
“Our kids just bought into the system and bought into the program. They worked their rear-ends off,” Tice said. “This team was the closest team me and Swift have ever had in the eight years we’ve been coaching together. They just love baseball and loved each other and it showed.”