The Duncan Banner

April 25, 2014

Bulldogs fall short in districts

John McKelvey
The Duncan Banner

CENTRAL HIGH — Empire baseball’s “close but not enough” season ended with back-to-back losses to Velma-Alma and No. 9 Central High Thursday.

The Bulldogs (11-13) thrived off offensive talent for most of 2013. They continued to produce at the plate until the end, scoring 15 combined runs in Thursday’s two losses. First-year coach Stefan Hunt, who had never coached high school baseball before this season, said his team accomplished a lot despite the losing record.

“This is a great group of kids and the success, or lack thereof, this year doesn’t reflect on how good these kids can be,” Hunt said.

Empire has many of its players returning next year. Of that group, no one had a more successful end than junior Dillon Twigg. He reached base seven of the eight times he was up to bat, and blasted a home run well over the leftfield fence in the 12-11 loss to the Comets (11-15) Thursday.

It was the first of two home runs for Empire in the seventh inning of that loss, senior Cole Bridges hit the other. The game was tied after Empire had let a 6-1 lead go to waste with poor defensive play. Still the Comets scored a walk-off single to win making Empire deal with a quick turnaround against the Bronchos (21-8). Twigg said his team didn’t handle it well.

“It seemed like nobody had their heads in the game,” Twigg said. “After losing to VA, we really unclicked.”

Hunt agreed with Twigg, saying it was hard for the team to not let the loss carry over. He thought it was exciting to see the two home runs, but the players should never had to be in that situation.

“I don’t know if it is a lack of reps on defense, but we made too many mental mistakes, too many errors, to win the game,” Hunt said.

Aside from the defense, Hunt pointed out the loss of the team’s ace, junior Tanner Ford, in the middle of the season. Ford was still able to play first base, but an arm injury kept him from pitching.

“That really was a setback, but I’m proud of the kids’ resiliency,” Hunt said. “I was extremely happy and proud that I was able to coach them this year.”

Hunt hinted at the probability of not coming back as head coach, when talking about the future. Hired to be the school’s basketball coach, he said he hoped he could lay down a foundation for his successor on the baseball diamond.