Liberty excited to build on last year's struggles
With just six overall wins and an eighth place Metro League finish last season, second year head coach Ryan Raagas is understandably anxious to put last season in the rearview mirror. But while restless to put the disappointment of last year behind him, he's equally excited for what's to come on the heels of what was an equally exciting summer.
"We're hungry," said Raagas. "We had a really successful summer season and the kids got a taste of what they could be as a group. There's a lot of excitement and we're ready to get to some games that matter."
Despite a shortage of wins, last season wasn't a total loss. Raagas said one of the benefits of last year's struggles was the opportunity afforded kids to play a variety of positions. He said due to a lack of depth, guys were forced to play out of position, and as a result, this year the coach has the luxury of moving a lot of pieces around and putting guys in their best position to succeed. To the contrary, their primary weakness will be overcoming the doubt that comes with a recent history of losing.
"A lot of these guys have not had a lot of success at the high school level, and they have to start believing what they're capable of."
The Falcons return six position players from last year's squad, including — now former catcher — Bryan Bafaro. The first team All-Metro Leaguer will be moving to the outfield this season, primarily to limit the abuse one takes behind the plate, but also to allow the senior to focus on his limitless potential with the bat in his hands.
"Bryan is huge for our offense," said Raagas. "We're moving him to the outfield this year to take some of the defensive load off of him. I don't think he's even begun to scratch the surface of what he can do offensively."
The coach also believes the return of junior Kyle Perkins, who missed the bulk of last season due to injury, will provide additional offensive firepower, as well as provide protection for Bafaro in the lineup.
On the mound Liberty returns senior ace, Ben Ineson. The smooth-throwing lefty will head a deeper pitching staff in 2019, bolstered by the full-time addition of sophomore Jackson Koons who only saw limited action last year after being called-up late in the season.
"We brought him up last year and he threw a complete game against McKay and got some experience against some of the state's best in Westview and Jesuit," Raagas said. "So we're putting a lot of faith in him."
In addition to Ineson and Koons, Raagas said the rotation — as well as the team in general — will be bolstered by the addition of Jake Hoskins, a junior transfer from Glencoe.
In regards to expectations, Raagas said he's primarily looking for improvement and a heightened level of consistency.
"We were a five inning team last season," he said. "We were pretty competitive in most of our games last season, but it was always one or two innings that did us in. We're hoping we can be a more consistent and complete team this year."
And where would that leave them? In the playoffs hopefully, but the coach knows there's a lot of work to be done between now and the end of the type of the season that'd reap such rewards.
"Last year was setting the groundwork for what this year can be," said the coach. "I'd like to see us in the postseason. I want the guys to get a taste of postseason play and I think we have the talent and confidence to make that a reality, but it's going to take work."
Liberty is scheduled to open the season Wednesday, March 13, at Lebanon at 4:30 p.m.