WEST JEFFERSON — Spring sports season is officially underway, and for the baseball team, the start could not come soon enough.
The Huskies are all set to open the 2016 season on Saturday against Mount Airy in the Blackhawk B.E.S.T. tourney at West Wilkes High School.
“As our practices have really started to take shape, it has been quite noticeable that all of our players are ready to take it to another level,” said Ashe County head coach Mike Windish. “We are excited that baseball season is finally here and we are looking forward to a great year.”
Ashe returns several key players, including all-conference performer and ace pitcher Joseph Lowder, and all-conference short stop, Turtle Windish. The team also has a solid core of senior veteran players to rely on that includes Bradley Richie, Kendall Richardson, Garrett Miller, Ben Brown and Alex Kissinger. Junior Pierce Cox should also be a key player for the squad, especially starting games that Lowder doesn’t pitch in.
Lowder went 5-6 last season with a 1.63 ERA and struck out 111 batters in 64 and a third innings. In the batter’s box, the senior hit .328 last year and was second on the team with 16 runs knocked in.
Windish led Ashe with a .429 batting average and scored 19 runs, good enough for second most on the team. Richie batted .360 and led Ashe with 20 runs scored and knocked in eight runs.
Ashe will have to find a way to replace Hunter Barnes, who led the team with two homeruns and 21 RBIs as a senior.
“It has been fun to see how much different, both on and off the field, our players are from a year ago,” said Windish. “They have grown physically as well and in baseball IQ. Also, just as important, is the energy the guys are bringing to practice. It has been contagious and we expect them to bring it into our games.”
With the weather being as unpredictable as it can be at times, game schedules may change along the way, but as of now, Ashe will have its first home game on Monday against non-conference foe Avery County.
After that, Ashe hits the road for four straight games. The Huskies go to Hibriten on March 9 and North Surry on March 14. Ashe will open conference play on March 15 at Starmount and go to Wilkes Central on March 18.
Having a lot of road games early on means a nice stretch of home games is sure to come. Ashe will play eight of its next 10 at home, including a string of five straight from April 1 through April 15. The Huskies host North Surry (March 21), travel to East Wilkes, (March 22), host North Wilkes (March 24) and West Wilkes (March 29) and go to Avery on March 30 to round out the first full month of the season.
April begins with five straight at home against Alleghany (April 1), Elkin (April 5), Starmount (April 8), Wilkes Central (April 12) and East Wilkes (April 15).
The Huskies close out the regular season with four of the last five on the road. Ashe goes to North Wilkes on April 19 and to Watauga on April 20. The Huskies return to West Wilkes on April 22 and go to Alleghany on April 26. The regular season ends with Senior Night set for April 29 at home against Elkin.
The MVAC Tournament is scheduled for May 2-6 at Starmount with state playoffs beginning on May 11.
“The coaching staff is very enthusiastic about getting started. We have made important additions to our bullpen and have watched it take big strides since last season,” Coach Windish said. “We expect Husky Baseball to continue to grow and we think we have the right team dynamics to make a strong run towards a conference championship this year.”
Nathan Ham can be reached at 336-489-3062 or followed on Twitter @NathanHam87