Lincoln baseball team enjoying better days
Published 9:29 am Tuesday, April 25, 2023
By MIKE MARSEE
STANFORD — Tate Curlis looks forward to 3 o’clock again.
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Three o’clock means it’s time to leave school and head for the baseball field, and that’s a walk that Curlis enjoys much more now that Lincoln County is winning more often.
A combination of veterans who haven’t seen much success in recent seasons and young players who are more accustomed to winning has helped Lincoln become a more competitive team and has made practices and games a lot more fun.
“It feels a lot better,” said Curlis, a senior pitcher-infielder. “Used to it was dreadful to even come, to really do anything.”
Not every day is a good day for Lincoln, which followed a four-game winning streak with a three-game losing streak last week and took a .500 record into a game Monday at Mercer County.
But the good days have become more frequent. With three weeks remaining in the regular season, the Patriots (10-10) have already won more games this year than in any of the previous four seasons.
“We have not been the greatest baseball team for a while, and it just feels really good to be able to come out and be a lot better and show people that we can actually play baseball,” Curlis said.
Lincoln hasn’t had a winning season since 2012 and hasn’t won a postseason game since 2017, when the Patriots went 15-20 and reached the 12th Region finals. The Patriots went 7-23-1 last season, losing 16 of their last 18 games.
The turnaround has coincided with the arrival of a large freshman class that led Lincoln’s middle school team to a runner-up finish in the Salt River Conference last year.
“I’ve coached a lot of travel and middle school with them, and they’ve had a lot of success,” Lincoln coach Bryan Moberly said.
Four or five of those freshmen are in the starting lineup on any given day, and two of them are among the team’s top pitchers.
“It helps tremendously,” Curlis said. “I feel like we will continue to get better.”
Moberly, who is in his third season as Lincoln’s coach, said the Patriots’ future is bright but also said the present has been more pleasant than in the past two years.
“Winning always helps, and it’s something that’s really kind of new to them. Once they got a taste of it they’re a little bit more hungry and a little more passionate about things,” Moberly said. “Twenty games in the last couple years I felt like we kind of shut down. There’s a drive with this (team) and an intensity that I really like.”
Lincoln has more pitching than in recent years with junior Sawyer Horton (2-2, 0.95 earned-run average) and Curlis (2-3, 3.85) at the top of the staff, with freshmen Brennin Hazlett and Grady Foster and junior Bryce Phillips providing depth.
The defense has also been good for the most part, though Moberly said he’s still trying to find an ideal alignment.
“We’ve moved some kids around here lately, but it’ll come together,” he said.
And that defense betrays the Patriots occasionally, as it did Saturday when they committed six errors in a 13-6 loss to North Laurel in which they gave up a five-run inning and a six-run inning.
“The one bad inning defensively gets us,” Moberly said.
The outfield has been an area of defensive strength, and it’s another area where some of the freshmen have made an impact.
“One or two of them play in the outfield just about every day, and they have not missed a ball yet, it seems,” Curlis said. “I did not think our outfield was going to be good this year. We had a pretty good outfield last year, but this year it’s been a lot better than previous years.”
Both Curlis and Moberly would like to see more offensive production from a lineup that averages 6.75 runs per game but has been held to two runs or less nine times.
Sawyer Horton leads Lincoln with a .390 batting average and three home runs, Sawyer Robbins is right behind him at .387, Seth Horton is at .383 with a team-high 19 RBIs and Hazlett is hitting .321.
However, the Patriots are hitting just .262 as a team, the lowest average in the 45th District.
“Our hitting still hasn’t come around. We need to work a little bit more on that,” Curlis said.
Lincoln snapped an 18-game losing streak against district opponents with a run-rule victory over Danville in its district opener.
The Patriots are 1-3 in district play with games against Boyle County coming up Tuesday and Wednesday, and Curlis said he believes Lincoln can be a factor in the district for the first time in a long time.
“If we all come out and show out ready to play,” he said, “I believe we have a good chance.”