By Stephen Smoot
Last year, Pendleton County hit some speed bumps on their way to an 8-15 record. Normally accustomed to top five and 10 finishes and deep runs in the postseason, the Wildcats struggled with injuries to key players and inexperience. Sam Yokum, head coach, explained, however, “as the season went along, we improved every game. We were competitive in the sectional tournament.”
The improvement and finish last year allows Coach Yokum and his players to set their expectations higher for 2023. “With a couple of newcomers coming out, plus a nice freshman class,” he stated, “we have a lot of optimism this year. We’re looking forward to it.”
The Wildcats can rely on experienced senior leadership to help push the team back to success. Clayton Kisamore helped to lead the squad last year and made both the all state and all conference teams. He is expected to play shortstop, centerfield, and also pitch. Yokum said, “He’s absolutely been a joy to coach and is extremely competitive.”
Also pitching in the senior class is Landon Colaw, who will also contribute in the infield. A knee injury kept him off the football field, but he is returning to “the sport he loves. We’re fully counting on his arm and bat.”
The senior class continues with Brayden Beachler, who plays outfield and also pitches. “He had a good junior year. He’s a competitive hitter and gave us good innings on the road,” Yokum said. The “extremely coachable” Jayden Roberson will anchor the first base position and also play some outfield. Added depth will come from the “very versatile” Dustin Vandevander, who can support the team at pitcher, outfielder, and infielder positions.
Two seniors are taking on the challenge of contributing to the squad for the first time. Alex Ruddle brings in his competitive spirit from the football field and already shows promise as a hitter.
Cameron Beachler, who represented Pendleton County High School at the state golf tournament, will help to lead the junior class. “He started last year at second base and has pitched as well,” Coach Yokum said. “He is very schooled in the fundamentals and a leader on the field.”
Dillon Smith serves as the other newcomer who could bring competitive drive and the potential for big plays. The “tough hombre,” who “is learning really fast” will most likely contribute at third base and also pitch.
For most teams with senior laden rosters, sophomores and freshmen generally must wait patiently for their turn. The Wildcats, however, have tremendous athleticism and leadership potential in their underclassmen. James Vincell, an honorable mention all-state catcher last year, brings his strong arm and great baseball mind.
“You want your catcher to be the quarterback of your baseball team,” Coach Yokum explained. Vincell brings a hard-nosed approach to both football and baseball and will be part of the foundation for success. He will possibly be backed up by Tucker Smith who also plays outfield. Caleb Armentrout will work some at both middle infield and pitcher.
The team has high expectations of freshman pitcher and shortstop Chase Owens, who quickly emerged as a foundation player for both the football and basketball squads. “He has a lot of ability,” Coach Yokum explained. “We are looking for big things out of him.” Another freshman to watch is Cashton Kisamore, who “is the third brother of the Kisamore clan. These kids are first class young men,” Coach Yokum commented. He will pitch, play infield, and outfield.
Finally, Cayden Boone will fill in at second base and outfield while Jonas Turner plays catcher and outfielder and Barrett Cook will play outfield and pitch.
“I think we’ll be an exciting team to watch,” says Coach Yokum. He explained that, currently, the offense has progressed somewhat faster than the defense. “As we get reps,” he said, “we are going to get better. There’s nothing like a game rep.”
Unfortunately, game reps have become precious in recent years. The senior class missed their freshman season due to COVID. Early season rains and other issues erased the first game at Paw Paw, then a double header at Spring Mills, leaving only the contest at Bath County, Virginia, open for play last Thursday. The Wildcats recorded a 21-1 win over the Chargers.
The goal for the program each year remains the same. “Our whole goal is to do more than compete. We want to win and win at a high level,” Coach Yokum explained.
The Wildcats will host Highland County, Virginia, for a double hitter beginning at 1 p.m. Saturday. Then they travel Monday to Pocahontas County and Tuesday to Tygarts Valley.
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