RIPLEY - Prior to the late 1980’s, weight training was generally frowned upon in most baseball circles. In modern times, it is embraced and used as much for injury prevention as improvement in overall strength.
Ripley High’s baseball team invested their time in the weight room in the off-season and it is paying dividends in early practices.

“Not just in the velocity of our pitchers, but we are seeing our kids coming back looking strong in all facets of the game,” said Coach Shane Casto. “I love watching their hard work manifest itself on the field of play.”

Ripley lost three-year starter Tyler Pittenger to graduation and he took his team leading .388 BA with him. Isaac Koontz mashed .365 and was third on the team in RBIs with (18). Koontz will see work on the mound once again and see time as designated hitter and at first base.

Cody Pittenger (Tyler’s brother) led the team in home runs (4) tied for second in RBIs (21) and was third on the team in batting average at .353.

 “Cody just has a knack for getting under a ball in a good way. He has matured a lot since last season and we look for him to be a big part of our success,” said Casto.

Pittenger will likely see most of his time in left field.

Christopher Jordan continues his upward path. The talented All Mountain State Athletic Conference sophomore shortstop mashed hit .341 and was second on the team with (18) walks. He led Ripley with 30 runs scored while notching 11 doubles, three triples and led the team with (27) stolen bags.

“Jordan is knocking the cover off of the ball early on. The sky really is the limit for this kid,” said Casto.
Jordan was named a Perfect Game Honorable Mention All American. One of only 10 players from West Virginia chosen.

Lefty Easton Berry will find a home in right field when he isn’t breaking off curve balls on the hill. Berry can display his strong arm from the corner outfield spot and has made great strides at the plate.

Junior Dalton Wentz will handle the hot corner at third base for the Vikings. Wentz is a gritty competitor and coach Casto likes the maturity he has shown early on this season.

Behind the plate once again will be Jonny Stepp. “Jonny Baseball” hit .308 as a sophomore last season and drove in 27 runs last season. Stepp was “clutch” on many occasions with ducks on the pond.

Junior Trevor Tucker will patrol the real estate in centerfield. Tucker is a gifted athlete and one of the team’s fastest players. After an injury suffered during football season his sophomore year, Tucker returned to the diamond mid season and contributed greatly to the team as an outfielder and infielder.

The Vikings could start two freshmen this season. Lane Casto (2B) and Anthony Jarvis (1B) are making strong impressions early on. Casto was a tremendous base runner/stealer at the middle school level.
“Both of these kids have worked hard and shown their desire and ability to handle the positions. Jarvis can also work behind the plate for us,” said Coach Casto.

The southpaw trio of Logan McCoy, Easton Berry and Jared Bumpus will start the season as Ripley’s pitching rotation. Talented arms like Luke Layhew, Christopher Jordan and Isaac Koontz can all start and provide relief from the bullpen. Jordan is tagged as the team’s closer, when the situation arises. Bumpus will see some position play as will others.

Junior Zac McNemar, Sophomores Aaron Wilkinson and Scott Cremeans are competing for playing time as are freshmen Drew Izold, Jacob Brannon, Ben Mack and Remy Boyce.

How does coach Casto feel about a team with no seniors?
“It happens from time to time. You can’t control it and you just have to establish leadership from the guys who show the ability to take control and be leaders. It certainly bids well for the future of the program. We will get a lot of kids varsity playing time,” said Casto.

“That aside, I expect us to compete this season.”

Frankie Cummings returns as pitching coach, Mike Lawrence will coach the outfield and first base once again and Gary Barnard returns as bench coach for the Vikings.

Ripley begins their season tonight with a tussle at cross county rival Ravenswood High. Look for full coverage in a future edition of JN.