The North Lincoln Knights finished near the bottom of the Southern Piedmont Conference standings in 2011, a year after the majority of the 2010 conference-championship team graduated.
Luckily for the Knights, who graduated only three seniors from last yearâ€™s team, much of the roster remains the same for 2012.
Pitching remains the Knightsâ€™ strength, and several members of the rotation have been working in the offseason since North Lincolnâ€™s first-round playoff loss to Cuthbertson in 2011.
â€œMost of our pitchers have been coming and doing some things in weight room,â€ North Lincoln head coach Jon Carpenter said.
â€œWe had a six-week program in September and October where we did a lot of conditioning and going over throw downs and run downs. We also went down to the field and went through different scenarios; not real heavy baseball stuff but weâ€™re getting everyone into shape.â€
Teams can begin official practices in less than two weeks, on February 13, and Carpenter said he hopes to have a stronger presence at the plate during the upcoming season.
â€œI thought we would have done better last year, and even though our pitching was very strong, we were weak on hitting, and that hurt us a lot,â€ he said.
The Knights still have pitchers Justin Norten, Zach Reeder, Zach Wallace, Joey Royko and Jake Cochrane in the lineup. Carpenter said the majority of those players have been keeping their skills fresh with the American Legion season in the summer and fall ball on several travel teams. Norten and several of his North Lincoln teammates, including Cody Hylton and Nate Hitt, played for coach Bruce Bolickâ€™s Lincoln County Cardinals in the American Legion system, where they worked on the finer points of pitching.
â€œThe ones I have this year are going to want to throw it hard, but Iâ€™ll have to get them to change speeds up,â€ Carpenter said. â€œCoach Bolick worked with Norten on that during the Legion season, and heâ€™s made a huge turnaround. Our pitching will be just as strong this year, if not stronger, than it was last year.â€
Carpenter said he hopes to avoid defensive errors that lead to big innings for the Knightsâ€™ opponents, a situation that arose all too often during the 2011 season.
â€œWe would get into those two or three run ballgames and our pitchers would keep us in it, but weâ€™d have a bad inning defensively where we would give up four or five runs and that was the downfall of our season,â€ he said. â€œNot being able to hit the ball and one bad inning defensively was the story of the season.â€
North Lincolnâ€™s strategy remains very similar to what it was last season: use the pitchers to keep the games low scoring, and make smart decisions at the plate to drive in runs.
â€œI thought if we played solid defense we had the pitching to stay in the ballgames last year,â€ Carpenter said. â€œIf our pitchers can keep us in the ballgame this year and we can score three or four runs and donâ€™t have that bad inning weâ€™ll be successful. I know that, the kids know that, and thatâ€™s how itâ€™s going to have to be this year. Weâ€™re all looking forward to it.â€