The Sidney Sun-Telegraph - Serving proudly since 1873 as the beautiful Nebraska Panhandle's first newspaper

By Stephen McKay
Sports Writer 

Talking Sports: Legion coach makes tough call on rosters

 

Whenever the postseason in any sport nears, I always have the same reaction – the season sure went by fast.

Well, it's that time of the season again. In just eight days on July 10, the American Legion juniors will be entering their district tournament at Oregon Trail Park in Gering. Should they win their district, then it would be off to Blair for state.

While the seniors have a few more weeks to hone their skills, their districts are not far off either. The Sidney seniors will host their district tournament beginning on July 24 at Legion Field. Senior states are on tap for Cozad beginning Aug. 1.

With this Saturday being the July 4 holiday, the Sidney Stingrays will not have a meet this weekend. The Stingrays have just one more meet left on their schedule. They will compete in Rushville on July 11, in the annual Medal Meet. That is the meet that all the swimmers point to all season in which the high placers are awarded medals.

As for the Sidney American Legion juniors, they will enter districts against Chadron, Alliance, Hershland, Ogallala and host Gering with what is now a set roster. While Post #17 has been playing both seniors and juniors games with a fairly large group of "flex players," they will have less latitude in the post season. A flex player is one who is on both the junior and senior rosters.

Sidney head coach Ray Witt recently established his roster for both teams – with just five flex players allowed by Legion rules. Both squads have been playing with the realigned rosters since the game at Gering on June 30.

The Sidney five that will play for both nines include Arik Doty, Brett Jaggers, Connor Langrell, Zack Means and Keaton Wakefield. Since Witt could have gone in several different directions with the flex players, he struggled to establish the final rosters.

"I've been coaching baseball for nine years and this is probably the toughest decision I ever had to make in picking these five guys," Witt said. "What it came down to is we had to set up the seniors defensively. Of course we also had to set up both teams with pitching."

Besides establishing those who would play for both teams, Witt also had to decide which of the previous flex players would play with which team full time. Among those who had played with both throughout the season Garrett Langrell, Logan Sircy and Spencer Ellwanger were added to the juniors-only roster while Mitch Rolls has been designated seniors only.

The youth of the Sidney program at present may best be illustrated by the number of those players that are designated seniors only by virtue of their age. Only six players fit that category: Ben Goble, Jason Hagerman, Lane Harvey, Jake Heeren, Bradey Holtz and Kyle Burton.

One theory that had been bandied about by some earlier in the season was to stack one team or the other with as much talent as possible while sacrificing the other. By that line of thinking, one team would have its chances of winning districts (and therefore qualify for state) maximized.

Witt dismissed that line of thinking immediately. He believes it wouldn't be fair to the kids who have been with the program for several years to suddenly abandon them at playoff time.

"To be honest, I think we have enough talent that I really think we have a shot to win districts with both teams the way we have it split up now," Witt said. "The bad thing is when you're this young, are they mentally prepared to play under the pressure of one of those district games?

"If we get to the championship game with one or both teams, you have to have that leader to help pull you through those tight spots," Witt added.

To this point in the season, the juniors are one game over .500 with a 10-9 record. The seniors are 11-13. Both have lost two straight road games to district opponents. The seniors have been playing for the past several games without Jake Heeren, who has been out with an ankle injury.

The juniors are also struggling with some injuries. On wednesday night, Jaggers was hit in the eye by a bat and had to be removed from the juniors game after just one at-bat. He was, however, back in the lineup for the seniors contest.

Additionally, the seniors have been missing the veteran Harvey for much of the season. He has been playing most of his season in Colorado. Harvey has been back in Sidney sporadically and has played extremely well when in the lineup.

He will be back for Seniors Night on July 7 against Torrington (Wyo), and expects to back full time with Sidney by districts. Heeren will also likely be back soon.

 

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