Spartans baseball aiming to “strike first”

By Dan Karpiel
The Surveyor

As he prepares to begin his fifth season as manager of the Berthoud High School (BHS) baseball team, Buddy Kouns has an optimistic, but realistic, outlook on the 2016 season.

“I try to approach every year with optimism. But the truth is we’re going to have a hard time competing with Windsor for the league title; they have an opportunity to make a deep run [in the state playoffs],” Kouns said. “I think we can build on some of the positive momentum from the end of last year. We were really finding our identity last year, and this year I think we have a real opportunity to win some games and be competitive in conference.”

Berthoud lost seven straight in the middle of the 2015 season but closed strong, winning three of their final four to finish 7-12 and in sixth place in the eight-team Tri-Valley Conference (TVC).

The Spartans team motto this season, an annual staple of a Kouns-coached squad, is “strike first.” Kouns explained the motto applies to both his team’s pitchers as well as their hitters. Berthoud will play aggressively this season; their pitchers will attack hitters early in the count and their batters will look to hit that first pitch fastball that is a staple of high school baseball.

“The [2015 World Series champion] Kansas City Royals get their hacks and they get them early,” Kouns explained. “In high school baseball they throw a fastball for strike one and we want to be more aggressive there and knock their pitchers out of the game early.”

Berthoud’s batting order will be built around superstar shortstop Issac Bracken. The senior has committed to play baseball at the University of Northern Colorado next year and is coming off a junior season where he led the TVC in batting average (.574), homeruns (3), slugging percentage (1.000), RBI (25) and on-base percentage (.613).

Bracken will bat in the all-important third spot in the order for the Spartans and, when Berthoud has a lead entering the seventh inning, he will leave his shortstop position and take the pitching mound as the team’s closer. The closer role seems ideally suited for Bracken who, as a junior, tallied 31 strikeouts in just 20 innings pitched.

“He’s a once-in-a-generation kind of kid,” Kouns said of Bracken. “You just do not see those kinds of tools he has come around very often. If we can keep them down for five or six and go to that seventh inning, I’ll put my money on him every time.”

Kouns says he expects Berthoud “to be really good up the middle defensively,” with Bracken at shortstop, sophomore Hunter Pearce at second base and senior Patrick Barron behind the plate. Barron, who Kouns called “an anchor” at catcher who “throws really well and receives really well,” had a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage last season.

The Spartans pitching rotation will be led by Josh Archer. As a sophomore in the 2015 season, Archer went 4-3 in his seven starts, throwing two complete games and a shut-out while compiling a super-low ERA, the second-best mark in the TVC.

“He just flat knows how to get it done; he’s really in for a big year,” Kouns said of Archer.

Kouns made a point of emphasizing his team’s chemistry, which he believes is as good as it has been in his five seasons as Berthoud’s manager.

“The chemistry this year seems to be as good as it’s been; this group seems to really like one another,” Kouns said. “We’ve got a good, solid junior class and we’ve got a good, solid sophomore class.”

Berthoud begins the season on the road, traveling to Windsor on March 10 and to Platte Valley on March 12. The Spartans home-opener will come on March 14 when they welcome Windsor to Jack Sommers Field at BHS. First pitch is scheduled for 4 p.m.