Staley baseball coach David Wilson had a talk recently with his players about the Falcons’ recent success and what it means for this year’s team.
The answer? Not much.
“They have to understand that they’re a new group and what’s happened in the past doesn’t have anything to do with them,” Wilson said. “They’ve got to create their own identity.”
Wilson doesn’t want this team to feel like it has to live up to the lofty expectations created by the last two seasons, which saw the Falcons reach the Class 5 state tournament in 2015 and the Class 5 quarterfinals last spring. With only two players back from that run, this is an entirely different team.
“We replaced a ton,” Wilson said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that are learning a lot at this level. I do feel like we have the makings of a good team. We’re just going through some growing pains.”
Staley does have back outfielder Rod Criss and starting pitcher Matt Russell from last year’s 31-5 team, and that’s not a bad place to start. Criss, who is starting in center field this year after manning right field the previous year, has been the mainstay of the Falcons’ offense during the early season as they got off to a 5-2 start.
In a doubleheader last Saturday at Lee’s Summit, Criss had three hits and drove in two runs in a 5-2 nine-inning victory over Lee’s Summit, and added two more hits in 6-5 loss to Lee’s Summit North that also went nine innings.
“Rod Criss has been on fire for us,” Wilson said. “Right now he’s been kind of carrying us offensively.”
Russell will be the Falcons’ ace, but Wilson doesn’t expect him to carry the Falcons’ pitching staff. Right-hander Dane Carter struck out five in four scoreless innings against Lee’s Summit, and Braedyn McLaughlin struck out six over five innings against Lee’s Summit North.
“I feel like we have really good pitching,” Wilson said. “It looks like we have a lot of arms. We’ve got a lot of guys who can throw. It’s just going to take a little time for our bats to get going.”
Wilson knows that will take some time, and the rainy weather hasn’t helped in that regard. After playing in a tournament in Alabama the weekend before, Staley had to wait through a whole week of rainouts before its two games in Lee’s Summit.
And after getting a little more in-game experience, these Falcons might start thinking about repeating the program’s recent success.
“Once we catch up to the speed of the game and the guys get some at-bats under their belts, I think we’re going to be a good team,” Wilson said.