Woodford County baseball Coach Jeff Parrett is honored that his defending state champion Yellowjackets are No. 1 in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association pre-season poll.
He also knows what comes with that lofty ranking.
"People will be shooting for us all the time," he said. "We don't expect anything to come easy this season."
Woodford County isn't No. 1 just because of last season's success — a 34-6 record and the program's first state title. The Jackets welcome back aces Clinton Hollon and Logan Parrett back, rotation veterans Pete O'Nan and J.T. O'Reel, and Gage Beavers, whom Parrett described as a "cerebral" catcher.
Eli Boggess, a standout hitter and infielder, also returns. O'Reel and Parrett play the infield when they're not pitching. Andy Stepp and Brandon Varble return as starting outfielders.
"We'll do our usual thing — play hard, play right, care for each other and have fun," Parrett said. "But we know nothing will be easy. There are a lot of good teams out there."
Especially in the 11th Region where Woodford County will have to contend with No. 4 Tates Creek, No. 5 Lexington Catholic, No. 8 Lafayette, No. 12 Lexington Christian, No. 13 Paul Laurence Dunbar and No. 21 Madison Central.
Here's a team-by-team breakdown of the Lexington baseball teams:
Coach: Eddie Brooks
Last year: 28-13 (lost to Woodford County in region finals)
Top players: Elijah Burdette (sr., of), Ryan Jourdan (sr., inf), Kolin Probst (sr. inf/p), Michael Morton (sr., of/p), Jordan Lewis (sr., c), Brandon McIntosh (sr., p), Trae Mosely (sr., p), Marcus Floyd (so., p), Marcus Johnson (fr., p), Nick Hodges (sr., p).
Outlook: The Defenders, who made it to the region finals last year, have some big holes to fill. They graduated Ryne Combs (Mr. Baseball) and Michael Bollmer (offensive player of the year in Lexington), among others. They do return everyday starters Burdette (.472), Jourdan (.343), Probst (.335) and Morton (.312), who figure to provide consistent offense and defense. An inexperienced pitching staff is a concern.
March 30—Hazard and Danville.
April 2—at Ryle; 4—at Woodford Co.; 10—Henry Clay; 13—South Oldham and North Laurel; 16—at Sayre; 19—at Clark Co.; 20—at Grant Co.; 23—at Henry Clay; 24—Sayre; 27—at Grant Co.; 29—LCA; 30—Fern Creek.
May 2—at Estill Co.; 3—at Madison Central; 4—Marion Co.; 6—Lafayette; 7—Lexington Catholic; 10-11—Fayette County Invitational; 13—Tates Creek; 14—at Lafayette; 16—Dunbar.
Coach: Jordan Tarrence
Last year: 20-13 (lost to Scott County in district)
Top players: Ian Hays (sr, p/of/dh), Wyatt Terrell (jr. ss), Mark Dill (jr., p), Lucas Simpson (jr., p), Justin Warren (jr., 3b), Brad Pollard (sr., 1b), Michael DeJesus (sr., c/of/p).
Outlook: The Blue Devils lost 10 seniors to graduation, so their young guys will get on-the-job game experience. Henry Clay's veterans include its top returning pitcher in Hays (6-3, 2.98 ERA, 56 strikeouts). Dill and Simpson will also be part of the rotation. The offense will rely on its top returning hitter in Terrell (.271, 20 RBI), along with DeJesus, Hays, Pollard and Warren. The Devils' growing pains were evident early this spring when they lost late leads against Dunbar and Western Hills, part of their 0-4 start.
BLUE DEVILS SCHEDULE
April 1-5—Vero Beach, Fla.; 9—Sayre; 10—at Bryan Station; 12—at Ryle; 13—Campbell Co.; 15—at East Jessamine; 16—at Scott Co.; 17—at Sayre; 20—Tates Creek and Clark Co.; 23—Bryan Station; 24—Scott Co.; 27—at Bullitt East; 29—Lafayette.
May 1—at Woodford Co.; 3—at West Jessamine; 4—at Dunbar; 6—Grant Co.; 7—at Franklin Co.; 9—at Western Hills; 10-11—Fayette County Invitational; 13—at Lafayette; 14—Manual; 15—Letcher Central; 17—at Madison Central.
Coach: Chris Langston
Last year: 26-10 (lost to Dunbar in district)
Top players: Josh Dunn (sr., p/inf), Graham Carmack (sr., 2b), Lucas Williams (sr., 3b), Tyler Pope (sr., p), Lucas McAvoy (sr., p), Matt Trimble (sr., c), Kylan Nelson (jr., of), Darius Hughes (sr., of), Jalen Stith (jr., p), Jack Noftsger (jr. p).
Outlook: Langston likes his team's chemistry and pitching experience. The Generals' rotation will be led by seniors Dunn, McAvoy and Pope (who'll start after being a closer last year). The defense will be anchored by the speedy Nelson in center, Carmack, Trimble and Hughes. Carmack is the top returning hitter. Hughes will bat leadoff. Lafayette graduated a lot of pitching and hitting, so Langston expects his younger players to need time to get comfortable against city competition.
April 1-5—Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; 9—LCA; 10—at Tates Creek; 12-13—Central Ky. Showcase; 17—at Dunbar; 19-20—at Madison Central Tomahawk Classic; 23—Lexington Catholic; 24—at LCA; 25-27—Louisville Invitational at Eastern; 29—at Henry Clay; 30—Tates Creek.
May 1—Madison Central; 3—at Montgomery Co; 4—Mercer Co. and Boyle Co. at Montgomery Co.; 6—at Bryan Station; 8—at Franklin Co.; 9—at Scott Co.; 10-11—Fayette County Invitational at Henry Clay; 13—Henry Clay; 14—Bryan Station.
Coach: Taylor Brooks
Last year: 32-8 (lost to Bryan Station in region semfinals)
Top players: Logan Taylor (sr., cf), Trey Miller (sr., 2b), Evan Fraliex (sr., 3b/p), Tom Banahan (sr., p), Corey Wells sr., lf/p), Riley Jackson (jr., dh), Griffin Neuer (jr., p), Anthony Ethington (so. p), Chase Boling (so., c/1b), Ben Coates (jr. p/of), Conner O'Neil (so., inf/of), Michael Talbott (so., inf)., Nick Nash (sr., inf), Michael Pica (sr., inf), Jack Carroll (so., p).
Outlook: The Knights return a solid core, including speedy Louisville signee Taylor (.335), Michigan signee Miller (.353) and Tennessee Tech signee Fraliex (.322). Jackson and Wells also swing consistent bats. The pitching staff will be led by Banahan (6-0, 1.66), Wells (6-0, 2.55), Fraliex (3.44) and Neuer (0.59). Team speed is one of LexCath's best assets. Brooks thinks Miller, Fraliex and Taylor are the best defensive players in the state at their respective positions.
April 1-6—at Farragut, Tenn.; 9—at Dunbar; 10—Madison Central; 13—Knoxville Catholic and Fleming Co.; 16—LCA; 17—Tates Creek; 19-20—at Capital City Classic at Franklin Co.; 23—at Lafayette; 24—Dunbar; 26-27—Louisville Invitational; 30—at Madison Central.
May 1—at LCA; 3—Boone Co; 7—at Bryan Station; 8—at St. Xavier; 10—Henderson Co.; 11—Collins; 14—at Trinity; 15—Clark Co.; 17—Mercer Co.
Coach: Keith Galloway
Last year: 21-16 (lost to Tates Creek in district)
Top players: Taylor Blair (sr., p/of), Ben Cooper (sr. p/inf), Lincoln Henz man (jr., of/p), Cody Kalinow ski (jr., 1b/p), Chase Hostetter (sr., ss), Kyle Steele (sr., of), Ryan Bale (sr., p/1b), Drew Schacht (so., p/of), Hunter Rowe (sr., of).
Outlook: LCA expects to have a bounce-back season thanks to deep pitching, experienced everyday players and solid defense. Blair (2.18 ERA), Cooper (3.26, 47 strikeouts), Henzman (3-0, 1.75) and Schacht (2.57) anchor the staff. Blair (.394), Kalinowski (.301) and Steele (.300) will key the offense. Bale, Rowe and Hostetter are among the defensive stalwarts. Galloway is waiting to see who'll deliver at the plate in clutch situations.
March 31-April 5—Fort Walton Beach, Fla.
April 8—Berea (All "A" region); 9—at Lafayette; 10—Dunbar; 11-12—All "A" region; 16—at Lexington Catholic; 17—at Madison Central; 20—at Lou. Christian; 23—at Tates Creek; 24—Lafayette; 25-26—Louisville Invitational at Ballard; 29—at Bryan Station; 30—at Dunbar.
May 1—Lexington Catholic; 4-5—All "A" state at Whitaker Bank Ballpark; 6—Woodford Co.; 7—at East Jessamine; 10-11—Fayette County Invitational at Henry Clay; 14—at Mercer Co.; 16—at St. Xavier; 17—Franklin Co.
PAUL LAURENCE DUNBAR
Coach: Larry Poynter
Last year: 24-15 (lost to Woodford County in first round of region)
Top players: Grant Herald (sr., inf), Connor Huskey (jr., inf/c), Conner McHugh (jr., inf), Joey Avioli (sr., of), Michael Marsh (sr., inf), Hunter Martin (sr., p), Tyler Brummer (sr., of/p), Travis Gaines (sr., inf), Wes Walker (jr., c), Nicky Avioli (so., of), Aaron Ochsenbein (jr., p), Jack Cress (jr., inf), Patrick Puracchio (jr., p), Evan Nicoulin (so., inf/p).
Outlook: The Bulldogs hope for a strong follow-up to last year when it lost a close game in the region to eventual state champ Woodford County. Poynter is counting on Martin and Ochsenbein to anchor the pitching staff. Veterans Herald, Marsh, Gaines and Joey Avioli will be counted on to spark the offense. Brummer brings speed to the outfield, while Huskey and Walker will be strong behind the plate. Dunbar has gotten off to a good start with early wins over Eastern, Franklin County and Henry Clay.
March 31-April 5—Fort Walton Beach, Fla.; April 9—Lexington Catholic; 10—at LCA; 12-13—at West Jessamine tournament. 16—at Tates Creek; 17—Lafayette; 19—Miamisburg, Ohio; 20—Mercer Co. and Fern Creek; 24—at Lexington Catholic; 25-27—Louisville Invitational; 30—LCA.
May 1—Tates Creek; 4—East Jessamine and Henry Clay; 7—Clark Co.; 8—Madison Central; 10-11-Fayette County Invitational; 14—Owen Co.; 15—Montgomery Co.; 16—at Bryan Station; 18—St. Xavier.
Coach: Scott Sutton
Last year: 17-15 (lost to Bryan Station in district)
Top players: Foster Roberts (sr., cf), Ryan Brewer (sr., 1b/dh), Howard Ball (jr., ss), John Van Balen (so., c), Christian Courtney (fr., inf/of/p), Mike Flora (fr., p), Mason Jasko (fr., 2b), Mason Stockham (fr., p/of/c), Aidan Elias (fr., of/p).
Outlook: The youthful Spartans have senior leaders in Brewer and Roberts. Brewer, who had Tommy John surgery, can't pitch but he can hit (.468, 8 HRs last year). Roberts will play center and bat leadoff (.263). Ball (.372, 10 doubles) has started since seventh grade. Flora, a veteran freshman (5-3, 4.62 ERA), heads the pitching staff. Elias, Stockham and Jasko started as eighth-graders. Courtney is a freshman newcomer who'll find a place to play. Sutton said the future "certainly looks bright" for Sayre.
April 9—at Henry Clay; 10—Scott Co.; 11-12—All "A" region at LCA; 13—Menifee Co.; 15—Madison Southern; 16—Bryan Station; 17—Henry Clay; 20-21—Bluegrass Conference tournament; 22—Augusta; 23—at Scott Co.; 24—at Bryan Station; 27—Deming; 29—at Collins.
May 1—Frankfort; 2—at Ky. Country Day; 3—at Burgin; 8—at Deming; 9—Paris; 11—Wolfe Co.; 13—at Nicholas Co.; 15—at Madison Southern; 16—Berea; 17—Garrard Co.
Coach: Dom Fucci
Last year: 22-15 (lost to Lexington Catholic in district)
Top players: Devin Hairston (jr., ss), Aaron Mitchell (sr., p), Jordan Fucci (so., 1b), Tanner Hart (jr., inf), Austin Younce (sr., inf), Nick Richmond (sr., p/of), Javon Shelby (sr., cf), Nathan Black (sr., c), Jeffery Chapuran (sr., 3b), Caleb Johnson (sr., p), Austin Block (sr., p), Cody Bronaugh (sr., p/of), Luke Rouse (jr., of), Max Sweet (so., c).
Outlook: The Commodores, No. 4 in the state's pre-season poll, seem to have the makings of a district, region and state contender: pitching, hitting, defense, speed and experience. Mitchell (3-5, 3.21 ERA, 43 strikeouts), Richmond (3-3, 2.08), Johnson (4-1 (2.42) and Block (3-0, 1.83) are veteran arms. Hairston, Younce, Shelby, Chapuran, Fucci and Hart should ignite the offense. Defense up the middle, led by Hairston's glove work, should be exceptional.
March 29—at Oak Ridge, Tenn.
April 1-5—Clearwater, Fla.; 9—Madison Central; 10—Lafayette; 11-13—at Harrison Co. tournament; 16—Dunbar; 17—at Lexington Catholic; 20—Henry Clay and Clark County; 22—Scott Co.; 23—LCA; 25-26—Louisville Invitational at St. and Derby City field; 30—at Lafayette.
May 1—at Dunbar; 3-4—at Corbin tournament; 6—Owen Co.; 7—at Madison Central; 9-11-Fayette County Invitational; 13—at Bryan Station; 14—Franklin Co.; 16—Harrison Co.; 17—Woodford Co.; 18—Corbin.
KENTUCKY'S PRE-SEASON TOP 25
The Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Association pre-season poll (First-place votes in parentheses):
1. Woodford County (12)
2. Henderson County (1)
3. Pleasure Ridge Park (2)
4. Tates Creek
5. Lexington Catholic
6. St. Xavier
7. Newport Central Catholic
9. Central Hardin
10. Harrison County
12. Lexington Christian
13. Paul Laurence Dunbar
15. West Jessamine
16. Russell County
17. Muhlenberg County
18. Union County
19. Ashland Blazer
20. Lone Oak
21. Madison Central
22. Daviess County
24. Bowling Green
25. Bishop Brossart