By J. Daniel Rollins
Register-Herald Sports Writer
When long-time Independence baseball coach Joe Goddard retired earlier this year, it caught a lot of people by surprise — especially his replacement, Scottie Cuthbert.
“I never imagined Coach (Goddard) would retire,” he said.
But when he did, it left an opening for Cuthbert, a 1995 Independence graduate, to fill. It gave him a chance to run a program he’s known all his life.
“I kind of grew up around the program,” Cuthbert said. “I remember Coach Goddard’s dad would run the concession stand, and they’d make me sit in there with him. I’ve been around the program off and on my whole life. That makes it pretty special. Especially to be able to follow Coach.”
Cuthbert played for three years at Independence before going on to play two years at Alice Lloyd College. He then spent three years on the coaching staff at Ohio Valley before returning home to Independence as an assistant to Goddard.
But following in the footsteps of the only coach Independence had ever known seemed like an incredible task for Cuthbert, who not only had to follow Goddard, but also carry on the legacy of the Cuthbert name. His father, Scott, was the coach of Independence’s football team for 25 years and also served as an assistant for the baseball team.
“It makes it tough,” Cuthbert said. “At the same time, you’ve got to be your own person. You’re never going to fill their shoes; you’ve got to make your own track. Whether it’s Dad or Coach Goddard, you’re not going to fill their type of shoes; you’ve just got to do what you can do and not worry about that.”
Cuthbert is blazing his own trail in his first season as skipper. His Patriots will take on Herbert Hoover Thursday in the semifinals of the WVSSAC Class AA Baseball Tournament at Appalachian Power Park in Charleston.
They’ll be led into battle by player of the year contender Drew D’Angelo, a transfer from Oak Hill. D’Angelo, a tall and lanky second baseman, has been one of the most consistent players in Independence’s 37-year history. In 127 plate appearances, the senior is hitting .509 with 57 runs, 20 RBIs and, perhaps most impressively, only one strikeout. Defensively, D’Angelo has committed only two errors while turning 15 of Independence’s 20 double plays.
“He’s been a tremendous plus on both sides of the ball,” Cuthbert said. “He’s hitting over .500. Almost all of his hits have been extra bases. His running ability and his defensive ability is a threat.”
Joining D’Angelo at Indy this year is another former Red Devil in Wyatt Adkins. Adkins is hitting .444 with 42 runs and 34 RBIs. He’s also swiped 16 bases.
“Wyatt brings a lot of energy,” Cuthbert said. “He hits the baseball well. There’s been days when the team may be dragging, but he picks them up.”
Cuthbert feels that the backbone of the Patriots defensively has been the play of catcher Jeremy McGinnis, who has thrown out 10 of 19 runners.
“You can always depend on Jeremy,” he said. “He’s been real steady for us and really improved as far as getting runners out. Anytime, in high school, you can be solid up the middle and behind the plate ... so many high school teams are going to run, run, run and that kind of takes that game away.”
McGinnis (5-0, 1 save, 1.03 ERA, 46 K) is also part of a deep Independence pitching staff, led by ace Brian Sexton (6-3, 3.09 ERA, 47 Ks) and featuring Andrue Hughart (3-1, 3 saves, 4.36 ERA 29 Ks), Tanner Muovich (2-2 5.67 ERA, 33 Ks) and Brad Huffman (3-1, 5.19 ERA, 28 K).
“I think we can be real competitive pitching,” Cuthbert said. “We’re not going to blow nobody away, as far as our velocity and stuff like that, but we’ve been able to stay in games, no matter who we put out there. We’re real confident in whoever we put out there.”
“It’s the same way for this weekend,” Cuthbert added. “Whoever we throw out there, I think they can keep us in the ball game.”
The Patriots will need all the pitching depth they can get when they face a tough Hoover team that features eight hitters batting over .350 on the year and led by senior Corey Bird, who is hitting .481 with 45 stolen bases.
Hoover also boasts a solid rotation, led by Tristan Fields (6-1, 1.98 ERA, 58 Ks) and Cody Bowens (5-1, 1.75 ERA, 29 Ks), as well as Matt Justice (4-0, 0.68 ERA) and Bird (4-0, 1.08 ERA, 45 Ks).
“They’re going to be a tough challenge for us,” Cuthbert said. “They have a lot of hitters and pitching depth.”
Independence is up for the challenge. Its road to Charleston has been just that, having to defeat Liberty, Wyoming East and PikeView for the chance to take on the 2012 Class AA runner-up Herbert Hoover. But Cuthbert isn’t feeling the pressure — or at least not letting his team think so.
“As long as the kids are having fun, it’s such an honor to go,” Cuthbert said. “I just hope we go and play well. I don’t care score wise what happens, as long as we play well ... well, that’s good enough for me.”
— E-mail: jrollins
@register-herald.com and follow on Twitter at @JDanielRollins.