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The Central Hardin Bruins had another successful campaign which included their fourth consecutive 17th District championship and third straight 5th Region title. But what the Bruins remember the most is how the season ended.
Central Hardin finished 31-10 last season after losing in the first round of the state tournament to South Warren, 3-1. It wasn’t the storybook ending like the previous year when the Bruins won their first state championship.
“Last year we had a good year, but it left a bad taste in our mouth,” Central Hardin senior Drew Harrington said. “We’re a completely different team this year. I think pitching will be our strong suit. I think we can be a good hitting team. But it’s different than last year.”
Senior Troy Squires compared it to three years ago when the Bruins lost to Greenup County in the first round at State. That loss drove them to work even harder and motivated them to get back to that point.
“We can be as good as we work at it,” Squires said. “It’s all about the work you put in. This team wants to be good, but we have to put in the work.”
Central Hardin coach Todd Thompson said that hasn’t been an issue.
“I think this team is really hungry,” Thompson said. “Losing like we did left a bad taste in our mouth. This group is very motivated. They have worked hard in the offseason. They have put in the time and effort.
“I believe pitching depth will be a strength and I think we will be a well-balanced team,” he added.
The Bruins, who were ranked ninth in the state in the coaches’ preseason poll, return five position players and their top two pitchers.
Back on the mound are Harrington, a hard-throwing left-hander, and junior right-hander Josh Krupinski. The two combined for 19 wins last season. Harrington, who signed with Louisville, struck out 129 in 70 innings, while Krupinski had 82 strikeouts in 69 innings.
“We expect them to carry the load,” Thompson said. “They have the most experience on the staff. We’re going to count on them while the other guys get going.”
The rest of the staff is unsettled. Squires could be a starter or reliever, while senior Trenton Parrett will be used out of the bullpen again. Juniors Spencer Lucas, Isaac VanMeter and Troy Riggs, sophomore Luke McCamish and freshman Justin Rouse all will get a shot on the mound.
Senior Gabe Hogan returns at catcher.
“He’s matured as a baseball player in all facets of the game,” Thompson said of Hogan, who is backed up junior Dillon Goodman.
Harrington will play first base when he’s not pitching. Senior Zach Ditto, who sat out last season after transferring from Elizabethtown, will play second and Squires, a three-year starter who hit .352 last year, is back at shortstop. Riggs, who batted .352 last season, returns at third base after winning the job midway through last year.
“Troy and Zach have played together a lot growing up and during the summer,” Thompson said. “We do have three-fourths of our infield back and now we add Zach. Experience is priceless, but it doesn’t mean anything. We still have to go out there and perform.”
Junior Clay Hawkins or freshman Ian Barker will play first when Harrington pitches. Rouse will play shortstop when Squires pitches. Sophomore Sam Kiger could see time at second, while Rouse and Hawkins might see action at third.
Senior Alex Crowder, who batted .424 last season, shifts from left field to center and figures to anchor the outfield. The other two outfield spots are up for grabs. Left field is a battle between sophomore Brittan Elmore and VanMeter, while junior Bart Herrin has the inside track in right. Junior Ryne Morse, freshman Xavier Arnette and Rouse could also see time in the outfield.
“We have some inexperience in a few spots,” Thompson said. “It’s not really a concern, but a question mark. We just have to see who fills those spots. Someone will fill it and fill it well.”
The Bruins averaged 6.7 runs a game last season, but Thompson said they will be a different team this season. Gone are Derek Westerfield and Dustin Kindervater, two power hitters in the middle of the order, and leadoff hitter Cannon Ray.
Crowder figures to move to the top of the order followed by Ditto, Squires and Harrington, who tied for the team lead in doubles (11) and home runs (five) last season.
“I like our speed,” Thompson said. “I think we’ll have more speed on the base paths. We don’t have the powerful hitters like last year. Drew can hit for power. Zach can drive the ball and I think Troy’s power has increased. But we’ll be different. The top of the order might have to carry the load while the bottom half develops and gets experience.”
While Central Hardin will have some new faces, its veterans haven’t forgotten last season. It’s been entrenched in their minds for nearly nine months.
“Last year left a bitter, sour taste in our mouth,” Squires said. “To go home early, it gives us a lot of motivation. We know it’s going to be tough, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. There is a lot of pressure. But this team isn’t as tight as last year. We just want to go out and have fun.”
Chuck Jonescan be reached at (270) 505-1759 or firstname.lastname@example.org.