By Jason Shoot
Bob Evans Sr. has yet to see his entire team at practice, and that trend will likely continue until school is out for the year at the end of May, but that has done little to quell his excitement to get his Havre Comets' season rolling.
"We still haven't had a chance to practice with all of our kids yet, but we have a pretty good group of 14 kids out," Evans said. "When school gets out, practice gets much easier."
To help compensate for the lack of athletes at any given time, Evans has his players practice with the older kids on the Havre Northstars' roster.
The Comets started their season officially against the Great Falls Stallions on April 8 and suffered a 6-0 defeat. However, the team did find several positives it could take from the loss.
Pitcher Tyler Thompson, whom Evans considered his team's ace last year, hurled three perfect innings for the Comets. Evans expects Thompson to once again anchor his pitching staff this season.
"He pitched well against Great Falls, and he was an all-star last year," Evans said. "He'll probably be our number one pitcher this year."
Evans also mentioned two other pitchers who saw some relief action against the Stallions Ben Mader and Cory Junck whom he considers will play vital roles in keeping opponents' offensive capabilities at bay.
"We've got some other kids who are going to be fine in Mader and Junck," Evans said. "They're both big, strong kids, and we look for big things from them this year.
"Ben is a carryover from last year. He came up from Babe Ruth, so he'll have a little more Legion experience. He started three games for us and pitched well as a 15-year-old."
Evans said his team lacks a true home-run hitter, and that will require the Comets to manufacture some runs by utilizing team speed and putting the ball in play.
Steve Heberly, who last year won the Class A state title in the 100-meter dash, is the team's leadoff hitter and will put pressure on opposing pitchers.
But Heberly isn't the only player Evans believes has lightning in his legs.
"Heberly, (Mark) Benjamin, (Daine) Solomon, (Adam) Jensen and (Garrett) Drake all have good speed," Evans said. "That's going to help us manufacture some runs. We'll play small ball at times. I just don't see anybody who's a power hitter, but even the (Northstars) don't have real power hitters."
That speed also translates into covering ground on defense, an area Evans thinks is a team strength this season.
"We've got a good outfield with Solomon and Benjamin, and up the middle and catching we're solid, too," Evans said. "(Solomon and Benjamin) cover a lot of ground and our shortstop (Heberly) looks good."
The Comets boast several players who played on all-star squads a year ago, and Evans said that will certainly benefit the program.
"From a coaching standpoint, out of the 14 kids we have, six or eight of them played all-star baseball last year," Evans said. "It's a definite advantage, because fundamentally they're a little stronger and they're used to a little tougher competition."
But one bit of adversity Evans and his team has to struggle with is the number of games the team will play. The Comets are scheduled to play 45 games in single-game or doubleheader contests, and that doesn't even include the number of games the team will play in several tournaments they are set to compete in.
"It's difficult adjusting to the number of games, the four days of practice and all the traveling," Evans said. "Last year we went to Glasgow, Lethbridge (Alberta), Malta and Cut Bank in four days. That's a lot of miles, and the kids have got to be in better shape or they're going to get worn out leg-wise."