Brock Netter, Staff Writer
BAINBRIDGE — Whether it’s football or baseball, progression has been at the center of Paint Valley’s senior class.
They went to work on the gridiron after going 3-7 as a sophomore group. and earned a Gold Ball while finishing 11-1 as juniors before going 8-3 this past fall and clinching a second consecutive playoff berth in the process.
Similar improvement was taking place on the diamond as they finished last in the SVC as freshmen at 11-15, and fifth as sophomores at 15-12 before ending at 18-11 with a sectional title in hand last spring.
So you can imagine why the Bearcats were confident coming into their senior baseball season.
“The confidence level going into this season for us was pretty high,” senior Cruz McFadden said. “I believe our batting would have been pretty deadly. Even though we graduated a bunch of kids, I think we could have filled in those spots with as much talent as we had last year.”
McFadden’s classmate, Lane Mettler, agrees with that sentiment.
“I feel like the success we had in football translated towards baseball because we took the same mindset into baseball as we had in football,” Mettler said. “We came into the season wanting to win the SVC and make a good run in the tournament. We were confident we had the guys to do that.”
But then COVID-19 took away that chance.
Now, instead of fighting for an SVC title, they’re left thinking about what could have been.
Make no mistake about it, it could have been a season for the history books.
Despite the loss of Macky McDonald, who led the SVC last season in runs (25), stolen bases (10), doubles (7), triples (5) and home runs (3), the Bearcats were confident about their returning core.
“Macky was a huge loss for our team, he was a huge part of our lineup with his bat and on defense behind the plate. It’s hard to fill those shoes,” Mettler said. “But I feel like Dane Miller would have done a great job doing that this year. You can always count on Dane’s bat and he gives everything he’s got behind the plate. It was really cool having him as my catcher because we’ve been best friends as long as I can remember so we had a good connection there.”
For Mettler, he was returning to arguably the best starting pitching rotation in the SVC, led by himself after being tops in the SVC with 60 strikeouts last season.
You better believe he wanted a chance to defend his crown.
“I had the goal of beating 60 strikeouts and leading the league again. But at the same time, I’m never really too focused on how many strikeouts I have,” Mettler said. “I care more about being consistent and throwing strikes. If they hit it, they hit it. I have confidence in my defense that they’ll make the play and we’ll get the out. Having that confidence in your defense makes you a better pitcher on the mound.”
After Mettler was the likes of Brock Blanton, who led the SVC in ERA at 0.67, followed by John Alley, who won three games last spring. Then, you’d add in McFadden somewhere, who would’ve replaced Hunter Hamlin in the mix.
But for McFadden, this season was just about getting back to playing the game, period.
He missed all of last season with an elbow injury and thought he was going to miss his final year after suffering a knee injury during basketball season.
However, he was able to avoid surgery and rehab to get ready for a return to the diamond.
“Personally, I was feeling pretty good and I felt like I was getting back into the groove of things,” McFadden said. “I felt like I was seeing the ball out of the hand better than before and I felt like I was getting my speed back with pitching. I had only one setback with my knee surgery. It set me back a few weeks, but I was still on track to be able to pitch at the beginning of the season.”
That rotation was backed up by talented returning players such as Bryce Newland, who led the SVC in RBIs with 28, alongside Miller, Beau Blankenship, Trent Mettler and others.
With their confidence level growing by the day, they had their sights set on making final improvements to capture an elusive conference championship … one McFadden believes the Bearcats would have gotten.
However, add in the fact that Paint Valley dropped back into Division IV, and Mettler believes the Bearcats could have claimed even more hardware … and continue to rack trophies until they could set their GPS to Akron.
“I believe with the talent and relationships that we had, we had every opportunity to make it to state this year,” Mettler said. “That’s if we stayed focused and gave it everything we had, every single play.”