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Young Players Key To Deerfield’s Success

Matt Simons will be a sophomore this year for the Bucks.

They’ve barely had time to learn their way around the school, but some of Deerfield Beach’s youngest players are already learning their way around the team and endearing themselves into the hearts of their coach and older teammates.

The Bucks are decidedly young this year after losing eight players to graduation. Some of the players who are seniors this year are looking for big things from freshman players such as John Barnwell and Frankie Machete.

Senior infielder JP Holgerson, who is going into his fourth year on the team, is among the players who are welcoming the freshman with open arms.

“We’ve got a couple of freshman who are good in my eyes,” he said. “They’re going to help us a lot.”

Holgerson plans to guide those younger players and help them along.

“I’m going to try to be a senior leader, step up, just try to help us whenever I can and do whatever I can, do the little things to help the team,” Holgerson said.

BJ Johnson is another senior player who is going into his fourth year on the varsity team. He was once a promising freshman and believes in fresh-faced players trying to make a name for themselves.

“We do have a lot of freshman who can step up,” Johnson said. “There’s also the guys who backed up those seniors who are now seniors and juniors and will be able to fill those rolls, such as Austin Soeder, who will be able to play second base, Mike Whittingham in the outfield. So we do have guys who are ready to step up and put in the work to make it count.”

The Bucks lost two of their top hitters from last year. Andre Campbell hit .407 and scored a team-leading 19 runs, and Kurt Hardy, who batted .362. Deerfield also lost a couple outfielders, leaving it thin as far speedy outfielders goes.

“We do have some voids to fill there,” Deerfield manager Scott Bragg said. “Those guys finally came on. Early in their careers, they were in the same boat that some of these kids are that they didn’t come on until their senior year. We’re expecting the same thing. We’re doing the same thing we always do. We get out here and we work hard, make sure the kids get enough swings in. We’re really working on what pitches they should be looking for, runners what position they’re at, where they should be hitting the ball. We’re trying to teach them the game, what they should be doing in certain situations. Hopefully it’ll all click in.”

“In addition to developing the younger players, the Bucks, who won just three games last year, are mainly focused this fall on improving on the team batting average of .219 last year.

This year, we are definitely spending more time on hitting,” Holgerson said. “We’re in the cages every day. We’re just stressing it. We have to score runs. You can practice defense all you want, but if you’re not going to score any runs, you’re not going to win the ballgame.”

The Bucks lost pitchers Keenan Smith and Nick Miller but have some retuning pitchers and some promising young players who can get on the mound. Mitchell Carroll and Matt Simons combined for 27 strikeouts in 34.2 innings last year as freshman.

“As a freshman, [Carroll] gets up on the mound and he’s willing to pitch against anybody,” Bragg said. “He’s ready to go out there. I look forward to seeing him grow in his sophomore year.”

Mike Whittingham, who had some arm issues last year, will be counted on for senior leadership on the mound, Bragg said.

“We’re really looking for these guys now that they have some experience to do some good things for us,” Bragg said.

Although the Bucks are low on experience in the outfield, they have some returning players who should solidify the infield.

“Defensively, we were average last year, and we have some guys coming back so that hopefully in the infield, we’ll be in much better position moving BJ back at first, JP back to third and Austin Soeter is going to make the move from third over to second base. So our defense should be a lot more solid that it has been.”

Mitchell Carroll showed promise as a freshman last year.

The Bucks are hoping they can put everything together in order to surprise some of their district foes. District 8A-11 features solid teams from top to bottom. Two years ago, Deerfield showed why the game is played when it took advantage of a Douglas team that had just lost its longtime coach and beat it in the district semifinals 18-15 in a wild game at Taravella High School. The loss eliminated Douglas from the postseason, a major accomplishment and probable the top upset in the county that year.

“The one thing we always tell our guys year in and year out for a long time is nobody ever knows what they’re going to get when we show up,” Bragg said. “One day they might shellack us. Last year, we got shellacked 23-3 and the next time we played them, it was a one-run ballgame, so you never know who’s going to show up. They’re high school kids and all of a sudden one day it could click. In our district, if it’s not clicking early, you get behind the eight ball and you’re sitting here just trying to chip away. And in our district, it’s hard to do that kind of thing, and you definitely got to come out and be firing on all cylinders with some of the big dogs we got out west, it’s tough, but a lot of those guys know we’re not going to lie down. We’re going to keep coming, we’re going to keep coming. And that’s all I ask my kids to do every day is come out and give me everything you got. We’ll see where the chips fall, we’ll play the guys we got and not worry about the rest.”

Losing is never easy, but the losses can have a hidden benefit.

“We’ve had our lumps and taken them and taken them,” Bragg said. “At the end of the day, it makes them tougher people and it makes so much sweeter at the end when they can finally say I never gave up and we finally kicked down the door and showed people we’re not just somebody you can come in here and beat up on.”

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