Leggett seeks turnaround for reeling Pam Pack program

Published 2:41 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2015

DAVID CUCCHIARA | DAILY NEWS NEW BEGINNING: Coach Kevin Leggett looks on during a game against Farmville last spring. The Pam Pack baseball team is looking to flip the switch on what’s been a rough couple of seasons.

NEW BEGINNING: Coach Kevin Leggett looks on during a game against Farmville last spring. The Pam Pack baseball team is looking to flip the switch on what’s been a rough couple of seasons.

By the numbers, this has been a decade to forget for the Washington baseball program. Now a shell of its former self, the Pam Pack has won just six games over the last two seasons and 12 in the last three seasons.

Last year, seven games were lost by two runs or less en route to an unremarkable 3-16 record and last place finish in the team’s inaugural 2-A Eastern Plains Conference campaign. Despite the newfound success of other sports like soccer, softball and football, the relegation had seemingly no influence on baseball, a testament to the engrained mindset and lack of quality baseball that’s come to define the program.

Kevin Leggett, the fifth head coach to take the reins in seven years, is addressing the problem at its core, instilling a new winning mentality and installing his own homegrown philosophy to the game.

“Doing the little things right is the main goal,” Leggett said. “I want them to own the little things — don’t want them taking anything lightly. I want them taking every little aspect we do — every practice, every drill — seriously. I’m more of a small ball kind of coach. I want them to put the team first and make sure they understand the team is more important than the individual. If we do that, I think we’ll be in very good shape.”

As a recent college graduate, Leggett spent four years under the tutelage of legendary Ayden-Grifton head coach Chris Ross, who collected over 400 wins and a state championship appearance (2003) in 29 years before retiring in 2014. Leggett eventually came to Washington in 2010 and spent time under head coach Matt Burnett and Ryan Whitley.

In his six seasons as assistant coach for the Pam Pack, Leggett has seen first-hand his team’s inability to manufacture runs in the late innings, a nagging problem he diagnosed as the root of the losing and discouragement.

“I’ve been an assistant coach for quite a few years now and learned a lot,” he said. “I’ve learned under three different coaches and got a good grasp from different people, each one with different styles completely. I can take a good combination of all of those and hopefully improve things quickly.”

Leggett is beginning his tenure as head coach by focusing on the fundamentals, holding indoor practices that consist of mostly simple throwing drills and conditioning. He believes turning the program around begins with mastering the art of small ball in the early innings to gain an edge, a viewpoint that could result in the production of those extra runs the team so desperately needed last year, runs that were the difference in seven of the team’s 16 losses.

As for establishing a winning attitude, Leggett hopes the success of another Pam Pack program may provide the spark the baseball team is looking for.

“The good thing is a lot of them play football, probably about eight or nine of the guys,” he said. “I’m hoping that winning attitude will transfer over to baseball. They’re all in shape and ready to go.

“I’m seeing a lot more confidence than last year … Especially after coming so close in football, they want to be the ones responsible for turning the program around. They’re taking a lot of the burden on themselves to get better.”

A team that was one of the youngest in the conference is now overflowing with experience, nearly all of the projected starters having at least one full season at the varsity level.

Ace Patrick Thompson returns to the bump this season, while junior Neill Jennings, who led the team with a .400 average, is also back filling in at designated hitter. Leggett expects Thompson and Jennings to not only be the team’s veteran leaders, but primary producers at the plate.

Helping support Thompson on the mound will be Tripp Barfield, who is also expected to make the shift from first to third base, Cody Godley, a junior who spent last season nursing a broken arm, and Grayson Gruninger, an athlete who will fill in for Barfield at first. Senior and three-year varsity starter Bradley Smith will anchor the rotation behind the plate after a standout defensive campaign in 2014.

Godley, Thompson and Logan Little should shift around the middle infield depending on the starting pitcher.

And for a defense that committed an error in almost every game last season, Matt Black, Jamond Ebron and Xzavier Clark make up an outfield primed to be one of the quickest in the conference.

With most of the Pam Pack’s individual responsibilities set in stone, all that’s left is for the winter weather to give way to spring, so Leggett’s team can finally jog onto the diamond for the first time.

Washington will look to make a statement in an Eastern Plains Conference that comprised of just two teams that finished the season above .500 — Farmville Central (14-9) and North Pitt (14-11). Despite the Jaguars being favored to take the championship once again, the Pam Pack sees capturing a conference title, it’s first in years, a feasible objective and the ultimate goal.

“I know we had some tough games last year, but we also played North Pitt to one run both games last year and they were in the top half of the conference,” he said. I think we can compete right away. I don’t think it’ll take long to turnaround. Some of the top teams may not be as strong as they usually are.”

Washington will open the 2015 season on the road Monday against Edenton Holmes, before hosting J.H. Rose in the home opener on Tuesday.