There was a frigid wind blowing across the campus of Lenoir City High School Thursday afternoon, but that wasn't enough to stop the baseball team from taking the field in preparation for the upcoming season.
Several of the team's pitchers had bullpen sessions to throw Thursday, which head coach Chris Mayes took as an opportunity to scheduled an intrasquad scrimmage.
The 2012 season can best be described as a learning experience for the second-year head coach. Lenoir City finished with a 7-22 record and picked up just one win in district play, a 5-0 victory against West.
"The biggest thing I learned is trying to take the rough patches in stride," Mayes said. "I'm just so competitive and fiery that the rough patches that hit, I've got to learn to take them better. We're a young team, they're going to happen."
Despite a young roster, Lenoir City hopes there will be fewer of those rough patches this season.
"Last season we didn't know how to win," Mayes said. "Just learning to overcome the little obstacles that happen in each game can get us going in that direction, not letting the bad things that happen through the course of a game get us down. That's tough for a young team, especially as young and inexperienced as we are."
Part of learning how to win starts with remaining focused on every pitch, offensive and defensively, and not taking innings off, something the team was guilty of last season.
"Last year's team did that, we've got to get better than that," Mayes said. "I talk about assignment baseball with our players. You do your job. If a ground ball is hit to you, your job is to field it and to throw it. If you're at the plate and your job is to get the runner to second and to get the bunt down, that's your assignment. Get your assignment done and the rest of the game will take care of itself."
Taking innings - even pitches – off was responsible for a lot of Lenoir City's struggles last season. The team gave up 62 unearned runs, which with nine games decided by three or fewer runs certainly cost the team at least a couple of wins.
"That's one of the things we've been emphasizing with staying focused on every pitch and not letting the bad things that happen at the plate carry out to the defense," the coach said. "Last year almost every game we started off playing pretty good for the first three innings. It was that third or fourth inning where we had a mental letdown and it cost us four or five runs.
"For a team that's not very offensive oriented, that's hard to recover from," Mayes said. "I've been really staying on them about defensive focus in practice."
Rebounding from last season won't be easy with the depth of talent in Lenoir City's district, which means the team will have to win with a different brand of baseball than opponents most games.
"We have to play small ball," Mayes said. "Most of the teams in our district are big hitters. They drive the gaps and they more rely on their power than their finesse and speed. The strength of our team will be the finesse and speed. That's not big secret. We have to put pressure on people in the district; that's just the type of team we have."
Lenoir City has been in the weight room or on the field since the TSSAA allowed for the team to begin, hoping to be a faster, stronger team. Mayes trusts that will help, as should familiarity and improved team chemistry.
"They know what to expect of me now, and I know what to expect of them," he said. "I'm just trying to get things going in a positive direction. I've got a great bunch of kids. They're good people. More than just baseball they're good people. I'm proud of them. I don't worry about them getting in trouble and I don't have any problems with them outside of baseball. They're good people off the field and good people on the field and I'm proud of them for that. I'm lucky to have kids like we have."
Lenoir City will scrimmage Walker Valley at 5 p.m. Tuesday and Polk County at 5 p.m. Wednesday. Both games will be played at Rockwood. The regular season beings March 11 with a 6 p.m. home game against Farragut.