Continuity key to Pack’s progress

Published 10:54 pm Friday, March 30, 2012

Washington pitcher Avery Woolard throws a warm up pitch before the start of the Pam Pack’s battle with South Central Friday in Winterville. (WDN Photo/Brian Haines)

WINTERVILLE — A late afternoon storm gave way to a warm and clear night as the Washington baseball team traveled to Winterville to play South Central and Pam Pack coach Ryan Whitney is hoping that Friday night’s weather serves as a metaphor for his team as it enters the middle portion of its schedule.
The waters have been a bit choppy for Whitney over the first eight games of the season but Washington’s first-year coach is hoping that with a little bit more continuity there will be some smoother sailing.
Heading into the season Whitney, who previously spent five seasons managing at West Craven, was charged with having to coach a team that has had three different coaches in the past three years, along with the tough task of trying to replace No. 1 starter, and WDN All-Area pitcher, Hatteras Brooks, while also having to find a new middle infield combination.
So far, Washington has produced a 3-5 (2-3) record (not including Friday’s game which ended past deadline) and Whitney feels his team is just scratching the surface of its potential.
“We have definitely had some good pitching performances. Avery Woolard and Will Phelps have done a good job and we have been pleasantly surprised by some of the younger players. We have kind of went to a youth movement in the middle a little bit with guys like (SS) Patrick Thompson and (second basemen) Jody Arnold and Matt Dixon,” Whitney said. “We had some surprises at the plate – well at least surprises to me because I didn’t know what to expect going in – but Dodge Buck has done a nice job at the plate and has hit the ball well so far. Will Swain has helped us at the plate too.”
While the rise in play of the younger athletes has been a plus, the team has had to deal with the absence of some key players due to suspensions.
“We had some off the field issues with some players that are things we have to get ironed out. We want them to understand that we are going to try our best to do things the right way and if we don’t then there’s going to be repercussions for that. And that’s not just about baseball, that’s about life general,” Whitney said. “It’s been difficult from a coaching standpoint because you’re having to rearrange your lineup. From a team standpoint, it can sometimes prevent you from getting into a nice flow because you have guys playing out of position a little bit, or playing roles that they aren’t accustomed to. It can affect things.”
Whitney said that he wants his players to know that despite his tough-love approach he has their best interest in mind.
“I want the guys to understand that I would never do anything to lead them in the wrong direction,” Whitney said. “I’m not always going to do what they think is right, but I will always do what I feel is right. No matter what, I want them to understand that I may be the first guy on them but I’m going to be in their corner when it comes to us versus somebody else.”
While the lineup has seen its fair share of changes, one thing that has stayed consistent is the team’s hustle.
“I’ve told the guys several times that I feel like every game we’ve played, we’ve played hard,” Whitney said. “I feel liked we have played hard on a day-in and day-out basis which is a big thing.”
Though the hustle is there, it doesn’t always translate into runs. Whitney said as the team nears the midway point in its schedule it must improve on its ability to hit in clutch situations.
“We need to get some more production with runners in scoring position. We’ve had a lot of men left on base early on,” Whitney said. “Part of it is that we’re doing different drills and my approach to hitting might be different than what they’re used to. I know it’s not that we can’t. Some of it is just getting used to the way I talk about things and the way we do things.
“It can be difficult for them to try and adjust, especially for those seniors who have been doing it a particular way their whole life or have had four different philosophies in four years. That stuff can be tricky to deal with.”
The good news is that it’s still early in the season. The team has navigated itself through some choppy waters and if it continues to show progress it has potential to sail into the playoffs.