COVINGTON — First-year Newton head baseball coach Andre Byrd is hoping that a new coach, new field and new uniforms will translate to a new attitude for the 2014 Rams baseball team.
For three out of the past four years the Rams missed the playoffs coming in fifth in the region. But the new found culture should make that thing in the past.
“Last year they came in third but it was kind of skewed since they did it with an 8-20 record,” the new coach said. “They made it to the playoffs but that wasn’t good enough. They want to be respected going into the first round and not looked as like they have a weak region.”
Many times a new coach means a slightly downward trend for the team as the coach tries to figure out his talent base and the players try to figure what the coach is like. But that is not the case for Byrd and the Rams as Byrd has known and worked with these players since the seniors were freshman first as the ninth-grade coach then as the jv coach. This familiarity should put everyone on the same page quickly as the team makes strides.
One thing that Byrd is bringing to the team is a new philosophy where they are going to be more aggressive on the base path as well as in the field. In order to make this possible Byrd is making sure that no one feels their position is guaranteed just because they’re seniors or got the position in tryouts. Some of the players weren’t thrilled but they understand him.
“I told some of the kids the other day that if you do your best to get in front of the person ahead of you it’ll force them to work harder. So in turn, if you get better we’ll get better as a team. Everybody is going to play a role. But the lineup can change game in and game out,” Byrd said.
They know and understand who I am as a coach and I’ve worked with a lot of kids since they were freshman. They know me and the understand what I’m trying to do because they’ve seen it, they’ve heard it and we’ve worked it.”
Something that Byrd has which has eluded other Newton teams prior is the fact that he has substantial pitching. Newton has had to rely on two or three solid starting pitchers while putting others in the rotation that could hopefully keep it together enough to use as few arms as possible. But this year Byrd had an array of pitchers at his disposal.
“For the first time in a long time we’re about eight pitchers deep on the varsity level. I have five legit starters and three that can throw,” Byrd said. “The starting lineup will be Kenny Glover, Daniel Croom, Alex Johnson, Shawn Guckenburger and Levi Langford. The others I have are that can throw include Augustus Murray, Joshua Howard, Josh Prince, Floyd Ellis and a few more.”
A couple of key players that have to maintain their level of excellence is shortstop Allen Bowen centerfielder MJ Boykin. Not only are they going to be required to keep the fielders where they belong, their offensive skills are also going to play a big part in a successful season.
“This is his last year and as a freshman playing on varsity he’s been averaging .525,” Byrd said of Bowen. “Him batting in the middle of the lineup is going to be a key.
“It’s going to be key to get his (Boykin) speed on base. So more than likely he’ll be our leadoff hitter.”
Some of the other players looking to make their mark include Jamal Bradley, Phillip Rowe, Tristan McInerny, Aliver Astin, Mason Calloway, Grant Burroughs and Victor Medina.
The main goal for Byrd and the Rams is to make it back to the playoffs as region champions or as the region runnerup at the very least. They also want to increase their winning percentage to over .500 which is something they have not done since 2004 they went 16-11. They will start on their trek on Monday as they start their season at home against Archer at 5:30 p.m.
“We’re going to start the game one of the season on Monday without any practice or scrimmage game. We’re looking great, hopefully we can put it all together on Monday and all next week. We have four games next week. We play Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday,” Byrd said. “Looking at our schedule I don’t see why we shouldn’t be over .500 easily. Our goal this year is 15 wins.”