Carmi-White County High School baseball coach Justin Simmons (left) and softball coach Scott Conner (right) spoke to the Carmi Kiwanis Club on Thursday, Mar. 16 at the club’s weekly meeting. Simmons told the Kiwanians about a new IHSA rule limiting pitches this season and Conner mentioned his team will have a brand new park to play in.
One is the all-time winningest coach in school history in his sport. The other is taking over for the all-time winningest coach.
Scott Conner and Justin Simmons of the Carmi-White County High Schoolsoftball and baseball teams, respectively, were the guest speakers for the Carmi Kiwanis Club on Thursday, Mar. 16.
Simmons is about to embark on his first season as the head man after serving the past decade as an assistant to Craig Winter, who Simmons noted had been an incredible friend and mentor for him.
“Coach Winter means a lot to me,” said Simmons, a 1997 CWCHS grad and former standout infielder for coach Joe Thompson’s Bulldogs. “He put in a good word to help me get this job and I appreciate him for everything he’s done. We have a beautiful field out there and without him, it wouldn’t look the way it does. He was the person who really got that going.”
Conner is beginning his 15th season as coach of the Lady Bulldogs. He totes an impressive career record of 295-113-1. He’s won eight regional titles, eight conference championships (including the last six in a row) and a sectional.
Both coaches are coming off appearances in the Class 2A “Sweet 16” a year ago and both will have to replace some talented graduating seniors from those teams.
Simmons lost six to graduation, but returns three All-Black Diamond Conference picks (senior Justice Stubblefield and juniors Travis Black and Easton Stewart) as well as a handful of other juniors who have varsity experience.
Stubblefield is the lone senior on the squad. Besides Black and Stewart, other juniors on the team are Drew Huffer, Mitchell Nelson, Justin Lamp, Tyler “Tommy” Thompson and Bryce Northcott. Sophomores are Drake Truelove, Cole Blazier, William Pugsley and Eric Williams. There are also two freshmen, Ethan Mahon and Bryce Jolley.
The team plays its home games at Eckerle Park and Simmons noted there are new signs at the park this season honoring each of the Bulldogs’ regional, sectional and super-sectional championship teams. Simmons also noted, though, that the team’s tarp is leaking due to age and the scoreboard is not functioning correctly, so he would welcome any donations to help the cause.
One major change this season in high school baseball is the introduction of pitch counts, as mandated by the Illinois High School Association. Simmons said the new rule has come about due to the disturbing rise in recent years of “Tommy John” surgeries for youngsters (a surgery in which a ligament in the elbow is replaced with a tendon from elsewhere in the body). The procedure is named for former Yankees pitcher Tommy John, who returned to the Big Leagues after having had the surgery. “Tommy John” surgeries are caused by over-use and the pitch count rule is designed to prevent young arms from becoming over-used.
Simmons explained that at the end of every even-numbered inning, each team will send a representativeto meet with the umpire to make sure all agree on the count totals for each pitcher. He also noted that each coach must submit his team’s pitch counts to the IHSA after each game and that info will be available on a website. The absolute highest pitch count allowed in any one outing will be 105 pitches.
The Bulldog skipper said it is hard to say who will be the favorite this season in the Black Diamond Conference East, but he expects his team to be among the contenders.
Conner’s team went 25-5 last year and lost only three to graduation, but one of those three was a Division I pitcher, Kaylea Chappelle, who is now throwing for St. Louis University.
The Lady Bulldogs lost 1-0 to eventual state champ Carterville in the sectional final in 2016.
The 2017 squad has three seniors: Gabbie Brown, Morgan Combs and Maddi Wenzel. Juniors on the team are Breona Owen and Shaelyn Perkins. Sophomores include Mayci Edwards, Carlee Hart, Kaley Oliver, Makynna Shaffer and Julia Smith. And the freshman class includes Hannah Anderson, Mariah VanMatre, Avery Peerman and Alivia Albright.
Oliver is the team’s primary pitcher, but Conner mentioned he had been working with Shaffer and Perkins in the circle, as well.
One of the Lady Bulldogs’ goals this season is to keep their streak of 39 consecutive BDC victories in tact. Conner’s team hasn’t dropped a conference game since April 24, 2012, when Fairfield defeated the Lady Bulldogs 7-3.
Some of the bigger games on the nonconference slate for this season, according to Conner, include Herrin, Pinckneyville and Indiana schools Gibson Southern, Tecumseh and Boonville.
This spring the Lady Bulldogs will be playing for the first time on their new field at Archie Brown Memorial Park, which was built and donated to the school by the Brown family in honor of Archie. The park is located just to the south of Bradshaw-Jaycee Park.
“It’s one of the best parks around now,” said Conner. “We’re very fortunate to have it. We’re looking forward to playing on it.”