By Tim Chambers
Two basketball teams and two state tournament appearances. Cloudland baseball is another story.
The season for coach Kevin Kendall might be like trying to ride a car hood off the snowy Roan Mountain in icy conditions — some tough sledding, just hoping to end up going in the right directions.
The Highlanders lost their top seven batters off a team last year that won only four games, yet recorded a rare win in district play.
This year, the conference is appears to be more balanced.
North Greene is stacked, University High is much improved and Unaka is still top dog until somebody knocks it off. Factor in Hampton, which knocked off the Highlanders 13-3 at home on Monday.
“I lost my top seven batters from last year and now I’ve got a team with a lot of kids that’s never played baseball,” said Kendall. “Their attitudes are really good — but no experience.”
The head coach will rely heavly on Brent Hyden and Danny Arnett for leadership on this year’s squad.
“They’ll do well. Hyden will pitch and play first. Arnett will play short and pitch some. Both are pretty good hitters, but we still have seven slots to fill.
The catcher’s spot will likely go to Caleb Harrison (Sr.), who has not played since fifth grade.
“He’s a tough kid that played football,” Kendall said. “Zack Shell is another player we will rely on to be a key pitcher.”
Our goal is to play teams a good, solid seven-inning game when the playoffs roll around.
—Kevin Kendall, Cloudland coach
Kendall said his lineup as of this time would consist of Arnett leading off and playing short, Shell would pitch and bat second, with Curtis Hitechew hitting third and playing left field.
Hyden will hit cleanup and play first. Harrison combines with Shell to form the battery while hitting fifth. Rouding out the staring lineup would be Hunter Nelson in left field, Reed Jennings at second base, Dylan Markland, a freshman, will play third and Austin Bell would round out our lineup in centerfield.
Kendall said that Jonah Woods has a good glove, but finds himself in a logjam for playing time at first base. He feels like Woods could help if his hitting comes around.
The head coach said that most of the baseball talent lies within the seventh- and eighth-grade classes.
“We’ve got some good kids coming up that have played in some leagues, but we’ll just try to compensate and have fun until they get here,” he said.
Kendall hopes to nurture this team along slowly until the tournaments begin.
“I’m not concerned about out record right now,” said Kendall. “Our goal is to play teams a good, solid seven-inning game when the playoffs roll around.”
Cloudland will dress 14 players. Danny Arnett Sr. will assist Kendall in the coaching department.
The Highlanders will travel to Sullivan North on Friday,d then to Lebanon, Va., on Saturday for their next two games.