Prep baseball: Buffalo will lean on freshmen to bounce back
CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The third season at every stop has been magical for baseball coach Jimmy Tribble, who is in his second stint at Buffalo.
This time, however, he's going to rely on a 10-player class of freshmen to guide his program.
"We have a super pack of freshmen," said Tribble, who won a state title in his third season at Winfield in 1985 and the third season of his first stint at Buffalo (2006). His second visit to Winfield lasted two seasons before he returned to Buffalo in 2012.
The Bison are coming off a disappointing 11-14 campaign that lacked senior leadership. While ninth-graders will be expected to contribute heavily to the success in 2014, Tribble likes what he has with upperclassmen.
The top hitter among his returnees is Aaron Lewis, younger brother of former Buffalo All-State player Jason Lewis. The younger Lewis batted a team-leading .362 last season while playing catcher. He's not going to be behind the plate this year, and will be the team's ace on the mound.
"He was hitting 88-89 on the gun during Marshall's showcase," Tribble said. "He's our No. 1."
The key will be finding a second pitcher to compete in Class A Region 4, which includes defending champion Charleston Catholic.
Among the players hoping to become Buffalo's No. 2 are Bradley Harris, Blaik Caplinger - a left-handed pitcher who returned after taking a year off - and Beau Whittington.
Other veteran keys to Buffalo's success are Nic Gunter, younger brother of former Winfield standout Zach Gunter, and Laythen Good. Good is coming back from a football injury but will be able to return to his starting position in center field. Gunter batted .355 in his first season at Buffalo since transferring from Winfield and will do some catching.
"The real good thing is our older kids look really good right now," Tribble said. "Aaron Lewis has finally grown up, and understands the game more now.
"He threw really well against good competition in the summer. Gunter has been real solid too."
Tribble's "super pack of freshmen" will be helped by Hurricane transfers Trevor Barnes, Brian Wingo and Ian O'Donnell. O'Donnell attended George Washington Middle School, transferred to the Hurricane school district and returned.
Among the freshmen from Buffalo's feeder program are Connor Fields, Michael Haber, Timmy Eads and Dylan Williams. Fields can catch, play right and left field and third base.
He's working through his young players, but said that "five or six of them are going to play."
"We got good freshman from GW Middle School," Tribble said. "And we've got 10 freshmen. I've never had 10 freshmen."
Buffalo has struggled since three consecutive 20-win seasons from 2008-10. The Bison finished 11-18 in one season under Billy Joe Hicks before Tribble returned and went a combined 30-29 the past two seasons.
The Bison have played in four championship games - including the 2006 title run - with the most recent being in 2008.
"The last couple years I think what happened is we had football and basketball guys trying to play baseball," Tribble said. "What you have at Buffalo now is kids that baseball is their first love.
"That's good. They play other sports, but baseball is their first love."
Contact Assistant Sports Editor Rich Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 304-348-4837. Follow him on Twitter @richdailymail.