MOUNT WASHINGTON – Over the last four seasons in which there was a high school baseball season, the Bullitt East Chargers have been a powerhouse, recording more wins than any other team in the Sixth Region – 110.
Three times in those four seasons, coach Jeff Bowles’ program has reached the championship game of the Sixth Region Tournament.
But the good news ends there. The Chargers are 0-3 in those championship games, losing two of those games by single runs. Last year it was a 2-1 decision to DeSales and in 2019 the Chargers lost to Pleasure Ridge Park 5-4 in eight innings.
Bowles has led teams to the Kentucky State Tournament, but would like to take some of the present players to that hallowed ground.
Bullitt East is ready for another big run in 2023. Bowles feels he has the overall team talent to reach that goal, but there is the issue of the team not having the big arm to throw out there in the biggest games. The Chargers will have to do it with depth this season.
“We’re ready,” Bowles said with the excitement that the arrival of spring and the baseball season can bring out in those that live for the game. “We’re fairly healthy. We have one not available, but everybody else is ready to go.”
However, the lack of a recent regional championship drags on Bowles who has lead three teams to that level.
“We just have to get over that hump,” the coach said. “I like this group we have to do that.”
The Chargers return five starters from last year’s team that posted a 25-14 record along with a 24th District title before the loss to DeSales, the second straight year that the Colts ended Bullitt East’s season. The two teams will meet on opening day this year at DeSales on Monday at 6 p.m.
Last season the Chargers battled injuries for most of the season. That is why Bowles talked about being healthy early in an interview.
“Realistically, I feel better about this team than I did last year at this time.,” the coach noted. “Last year we stepped up. We had a hiccup in the middle of the season, but they responded.”
As in the past, Bowles and long-time associate head coach Craig Sharpe will use the games before spring break to give players a chance to show what they can do. When the team returns from Vero Beach, Florida, the coach would like to have a set line-up, both at the plate and on the mound.
On the mound, the Chargers have plenty of candidates to pitch. However, there is just not that one standout arm that the coach can send out there for the biggest games. It will be more a work by committee.
The first group of arms that Bowles will look at includes junior Kendall Henson who the coach feels could be the top pitcher. The top group also includes seniors Luke Lamarre, Brayden Lewis and Dax Raney. Raney is left-handed while the other three are right-handers.
“It’s not like there is a lack of candidates,” Bowles said. “It has to shake out. We are just going to have to put all the pieces in the right places.”
Other possible pitchers for the team this spring include juniors Tylan Hayden and Bryson Sharp and senior Mario Rivas. Last year, Rivas stepped in and worked a great deal in relief as a left-hander.
In the sophomore class, the Chargers could pitch Connor Sauss, Avery Roy, Jackson Hardy and Devin Elder.
“There will be some young guys that will help us,” Bowles pointed out. “Some of it will depend on the situation. This is the most most physically mature freshman team I’ve had. We have some tall, big kids.”
While many teams are wanting for catchers, Bowles says that position is the team’s strongest spot this season. He has two starter ready candidates in junior Cade Owen and sophomore Luke Renfrow.
“I feel as good about the catching this season as in any year,” the veteran coach said. “It’s like going back to the Hunter Wood days. Theya re both solid and hard workers.”
Bowles is not looking for one to win the job. He wants to use both to keep each one fresh and strong for the late season run. In addition, Owen can play some at third base while Renfrow will see some time at first base.”
At first base, the Chargers will use either Henson or Renfrow with depth coming from Sharp and Hayden. Also on the right side of the infield will be senior Landon Troklus along with junior Bryce Elder, sophomore Devin Elder and Sauss. The two Elders are not related. Any of those four can also play at third base.
The shortstop spot will start with senior Brayden Lewis but depending on pitching, the spot could be filled by sophomore Oliver Barnhouse, Roy or Ethan Wolfe.
Who is at third base will depend on who is pitching. The candidates for playing time include Lamarre, Devin Elder, Owen, Roy and Sauss.
In the outfield, there is maybe not quite as many questions. Bowles said that Raney will be in centerfield while sophomore Chase Meredith will be in left. Rivas could be in right field if not pitching and senior Brady Sauer could also play that spot. Wolfe could also see action in any of the outfield spots.
One other player that Bowles mentioned was sophomore Jack Willard who will handle the courtesy runner duties.
This season, Bullitt East has three weeks of regular season play before the trip to Florida over spring break. That will make a short run to the post-season. Fern Creek has a new coach and the key 24th District game against the Tigers will be played on April 13. The Chargers will battle Whitefield Academy in a district game on March 28. The other district game against Jeffersontown is set for April 27.
Bullitt East will battle North Bullitt on April 28 and Bullitt Central on May 1. Other ‘big’ games will include a game with St. Xavier Oaks Day, May 5 and a second meeting with DeSales at home on May 4.
In addition to having Sharpe return as the Associate Head Coach, the Chargers’ coaching staff also includes Scott Minogue, Larry Williams, Mike Bryan, Larry MarcumNick Marcum, Dallas Adkins, Braxton Cuberto, Bryant Miles, Loren Renfrow as well as David Boyer as a graduate assistant.