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Monday, May 2, 2016

Cougars look to continue winning ways

Friday, April 3, 2009

North Putnam senior Scott Hunt snags a ground ball at a recent Cougar practice. North Putnam opens its season today against Lebanon at 6 p.m. [Order this photo]
ROACHDALE -- With three key departures from last year's team, the North Putnam Cougars look to fill spots and continue their winning ways.

The Cougars posted a 21-7 record and captured the West Central Conference, but this season will be a different animal.

Kyle Rooker, J.T. Francies and Jordan Berry accounted for 20 home runs, 91 RBIs and a collective batting average of .481.

"They left three big holes," North Putnam head coach Norm Fish said. "One of which was defensively Jordan Berry catching. He had a great bat too, but his skills behind that plate, it's going to be tough for anyone to fill those. He was one of the better catchers in the state.

"On the other side of the ball, you have Kyle Rooker who set just about every hitting record at this school. On the other hand, we have some guys coming up that the total package is probably as good, the mix of offense and defense," he added.

Fish also spoke at length about losing a major defensive presence in the outfield from Francies. Francies provided blazing speed and a sure glove for the Cougars.

North will be welcoming back some firepower and defensive prowess in seniors Kyle Alcorn and Griffen Dahlstrom. The duo combined for seven homers, 52 RBIs and 70 runs.

With a change in schedule, the Cougars are enjoying a little more practice time before the season starts. Fish noted that he likes the change and his team will enter the season is possible better shape than in the past.

"It's better than the past few years," Fish commented. "In the past, we've practiced for two weeks, then we had a whole week off and then came back and played a game against Greencastle right off the bat. That definitely made me nervous. You would have to cover things that first two weeks and would have the chance to go over it again before we played.

"This year, we're going to be able to touch on some things. We have a good four or five days, so I like the setup a lot better this year," he said.

Pitching is key for any successful program, and North Putnam will boast a six pitcher rotation as the year unfolds. Fish will have a nice mix of talent on the mound and looks forward to seeing how the season plays itself out. Although he couldn't nail down the exact lineup from one to six, he is sure that the Cougars are sitting pretty.

"It just depends on who comes along, but we have six potential varsity pitchers that can pitch at any time. It's going to take a lot to figure out our top three," Fish said. "I think I know who will be our top three and bottom three, but what order I don't know. We have six legitimate people that can throw. We've been throwing every third day.

"Early in the season it will probably be who we feel has the most control. I don't know, Friday's a good chance; I might pitch all three of them. Get them some mound time," he added.

Seniors Scott Hunt, Mitchell Crum and Dahlstrom, will couple with junior Brock Jones and sophomores Tyler Watson and Reece Herron to account for the Cougars pitching corps.

Junior Michael Buchanan is expected to take up shop behind the plate for North and he has some big cleats to fill. Fish believes that he can provide what the Cougars need and his willingness to learn will help out the learning process.

"He's doing fine. We're getting out, seeing how he throws down and he's pretty solid defensively. He's a good kid to coach, so we'll get him ready. He's willing to learn and willing to put in the work," Fish said.

Success will not come as easily to the Cougars as it has in the past. They face a stronger conference this season, which means that every time they take to the diamond, they will be going to battle. Fish noted the rise in the level of competition, but still believes that his Cougar squad is capable of doing some damage.

"I expect a lot of the same," Fish said. "The difference this year is going to be our conference. The teams are a lot stronger. Most of the conference team have their top two pitchers back, so we're really going to have to get ready to hit quality pitching early to have a chance to win conference. The past few years, I think most of the conference pitchers were young and I had experienced pitchers, so I had the advantage. Now I've got some experienced pitchers, but so does everyone else.

"Our goal is to win conference, but we have our work cut out for us," he continued. "This is a very competitive conference, and we definitely want to compete for it. If we do the work and we progress like we should, we have the kids that can do it."

Like so many other coaches, Fish has set goals for his team and he feels that if the team can get on board and achieve the first goal, the other should fall like dominos.

"On our team I have three goals," Fish said. "First is to put out 100 percent in practice. I try to tell them 'give me two hours of work every day' and the other goals will take care of themselves. Second goal is to win conference and third is to go undefeated in the postseason.

"It all hinges on No. 1. If we don't work two hours every day, get better and compete, we're not going to achieve those other two goals," he concluded.

The Cougars open their season today on the road against Lebanon at 6 p.m.