Coming off its fourth straight trip to the Eighth Region Tournament, the Henry County baseball team returns a core group of seniors poised to make another postseason run.
“I am really excited. I have been with the program for a long time. This is a special community that cares about athletics. I couldn’t ask for better support. We’ve been able to put together a well rounded coaching staff that makes my job much easier,” said head coach Zak Yates.
Yates is in his first year as head coach, but he is no stranger to the Wildcat program. He inherits a team that finished 19-9 in the 2022 season and advanced to the region tournament before falling to Simon Kenton 3-1 in the opening round.
Despite losing six players to graduation, Henry County brings back seven seniors, including several who were important players last season, to guide the Wildcats.
“I’m feeling pretty confident,” said senior Luke Lyons. “I know that we have a lot of our pieces coming back from last year that played a big part in our success. We also have an influx of young talent. I think we’re in pretty good shape.”
Lyons contributed 15 runs, 18 hits and 13 RBI on a .273 batting average last season.
“Personally, I want to be a versatile piece of our team that can bring a level of consistency that my teammates can count on,” said Lyons. “Heading into this season I think that I will be able to add a solid spot in the field no matter where I play and at the plate I will be the guy to get on base or move the runners in the right situation.”
Yates expects Lyons and a couple other veterans to lead Henry County this year.
“Luke Lyons, Parker Bowles, Jerred Slone and Trenton Hardy were all juniors last year who saw a significant amount of time on the field. They are at the top because of their experience and their ability to play multiple positions.”
One of the most important returners is Bowles, who will be Henry County’s main starting pitcher. He threw 48 strikeouts across 38 innings last year and recorded a 1.84 ERA.
“We graduated three pitchers from last season that will be hard to replace. Our pitching staff, behind No. 1 starter Parker Bowles, will be a work-in-progress for most of the season,” said Yates.
The Wildcats will have to replace Jaxon Scriber and Bryce Ganschow on the mound. Both pitchers combined for 71 strikeouts in 92.2 innings. Scriber finished with a 2.35 ERA in 11 games and Ganschow ended with a 2.14 ERA in nine games.
At the plate, Slone, Bowles and Hardy excelled in 2022 and will carry that over into this season.
Slone had a team-high 30 hits along with 37 runs, 17 RBI and 30 stolen bases on a .345 batting average.
Bowles notched 26 runs, 28 hits and 25 RBI on a .329 average, and Hardy chipped in 24 runs, 22 hits, 20 RBI and a home run on a .310 average.
As a team, Henry County had 217 total runs and 221 hits in 2022. The Wildcats had 13 games with over 10 runs, and all but one of those games ended as a victory for Henry County. The sole loss came in a 33-11 defeat to Daviess County on April 6 at the Fort Walton Beach Bash.
Along with the seniors, Yates sees his sophomore class, led by Cam Peyton and Gentry Stivers, making an impact in 2023. He also hopes to see Logan Perdue, a sophomore transfer from Oldham County, as a bright spot for the Wildcats.
As Henry County prepares for the season, Yates is focusing on getting his team adjusted to the coaching change and new style of play.
“Trying to teach the new system. Trying to get acquainted with a new head coach. Getting them to understand what their role will be,” said Yates. “We have obstacles in our way and we want to embrace the obstacles, not run away from them.”
Henry County has its eyes set on winning districts for the second time in three years and its fifth straight region tournament berth, but Yates also has higher hopes in mind.
“Our team goal is to try to get better everyday. Another goal is to play in the state tournament. Until we get there, that will always be one of our goals,” said Yates.
Heading into the year, Lyons wanted to acknowledge the support from Henry County fans.
“I’d like to thank our fans. Henry County fans are some of the most devoted and impactful in our district. Without the fans we wouldn’t be able to do the things we love, so thank each and every one of you,” said Lyons.
The Wildcats’ first test will come on March 14 at Southern at 6 p.m. The first home game is slated for March 21 against Trimble County at 6 p.m.