Brack, Pritchett named top player and head coach
With new rules further limiting pitchers, anyone following the 2017 Mid-Shore baseball season knew it would be, as Easton High head coach Albert Pritchett said in March, “a different journey.”
The one Pritchett and his Warriors took the previous year had certainly been a bumpy one.
Suffering through their sixth losing season since 2008, the Warriors won two, but lost nine games, including a one-run, extra-inning playoff loss at Queen Anne’s. Easton hit just .215 for the year.
A few months after the season ended, the Warriors’ top pitcher from 2016, team captain Jack Wheatley, was diagnosed with leukemia while attending his first year at the United States Coast Guard Academy.
But Pritchett, himself an Easton graduate, kept the faith, as did Wheatley, his family, teammates, and the community, Wheatley receiving support from all over the countr y.
Wheatley remained a Warrior during treatment, and has the upper hand in his battle; he was “all clear on [his] final biopsy” in May, according to his father, Richie.
Meanwhile, Jack’s old squad had a brighter 2017, too, and won several more games than in its previous campaign. Without a senior on the team, “we were definitely very young,” Pritchett said. “It feels like we’ve been young for a while now, if that makes any sense.”
Losing four starters — infielder and pitcher Dylan Waters, catcher Brennan Cassell, center fielder Eddie Burgstahler, and Wheatley, a pitcher/infielder — Pritchett “knew what we were going to try to do; we were just hoping it would come together.”
Junior right-hander Mason Ledford threw seven complete games, and classmate Ryan Farr notched at least one hit in every game, a streak he began in May, 2016 — made a difference. Ledford, and the pitching of juniors Keegan Bentz and sophomore Brandon Latham, helped create a rising tide, while Easton hit more than 60 points better this spring.
“When pitchers are throwing strikes, the defense feels a little less stress, and batters can be a little looser, too,” Pritchett said. “I think it was confidence — I think hitting is all about comfort and confidence. We prioritized the hitting; we knew it was a place where we would improve... the hitting we knew, we thought it would come with age — contact, getting the bat to the ball. We made better contact, and went from last year, where we had, I believe, 10 extrabase hits to 30-some; the kids focused on it, the coaching staff focused on it.”
What’s more, the Warriors went 2-2 in contests decided by one run.
Defeating eventual Class 1A state champion St. Michaels in
All-Mid-Shore Coach of the Year Kim Betts, far left, celebrates Queen Anne’s victory in the Bayside Conference title with, from left, Emma Feaga, All-Mid-Shore Co-Player of the Year Kayla Blann, and Becca Clay.