Vincent looks for state title redemption with veteran squad

Published 5:42 pm Friday, February 16, 2024

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By TYLER RALEY | Special to the Reporter

The Vincent Yellow Jackets are hungry to get their hands on the state championship that they fell short of last year, and they feel like they have the team that can do just that.

Coming off of a year in which they finished 31-7 and runner-up in Class 2A, second-year head coach Timothy Junkins and his squad believe that their returning experience will be a big factor in the upcoming season.

“We have really high expectations,” Junkins said. “We return seven starters on the defense and then we return our guy that was our DH for most of the year. So, I kind of look at it as seven to eight starters that I can put in the lineup and have that experience, particularly from going really deep in the playoffs.”

For this team, it is evident that the experience has helped them more and more over the years. They have posted less than 10 losses each of the last two seasons on their way to making deep playoff runs.

The season is inching closer, but the Yellow Jackets are ready to get back to the game action that, simply put, just cannot be simulated.

“They are hungry,” Junkins said. “We’re getting frustrated at practice because we’re just ready to play. We’re tired of seeing each other. It’s been all summer, all through football season, it’s been something that all of these guys are looking forward to. They’re looking forward to get back on this field and picking up where they left off.”

Junkins knows that his team is talented, but now also understands that his opponents know that too. The teams that they play know that the Yellow Jackets have set the bar high, and they look to continue that in 2024.

The challenge that is ahead for Vincent’s talented players is huge and Junkins has been trying to preach that.

“They’re not just going to let you back into the state finals just because you were there last year and fell short,” Junkins said. “It’s going to be a fight and we have to go about it the same way we did last year. I do a little survey before every season and everybody on this varsity roster, even the new guys, that is their goal is to get back where they were and get the job finished this time.”

Part of that motivation comes from the great pitching staff that is returning to the Yellow Jackets’ roster this season. That includes the likes of junior Air Force commit Aiden Poe, who is undoubtedly the team’s ace.

Junkins speaks very highly of his young star and has high hopes for his performance in the upcoming year. Last year, there were times where his numbers were almost inhuman.

“He’ll be the guy,” Junkins said. “Last year he finished with 123 strikeouts and three walks on the season, which a lot of people questioned that and said that we made up those numbers but it’s a legit number, we don’t do that…He’s expecting and I’m expecting him to just pick up where he left off last year.”

Junkins says that his top three guys on his staff are all juniors in Poe, Grayson Gulde and Casen Fields. He also knows that much of the staff can give him a solid set of innings, which he hopes results in not having to use a heavy load in the bullpen.

Junkins is certain that those guys will be important in every matchup, especially the area games. He wants his team to fight hard and not overlook any of their opponents when they step out on that field.

“I’m excited to see what we get out of our area play,” Junkins said. “I’m preaching to my guys that we have to be prepared for every game no matter what the result was last year. I really think that that’s going to be something that I’m going to have to hammer every week this year. We’re not just going to roll up and beat people anymore just because what we did last year. It’s a new season, new team and we’ve got to be prepared for it.

Outside of preaching that philosophy, Junkins has a high desire for his kids to go out there and fight hard in every game no matter what team is on the other side of the field. He has confidence in who his players are, and he hopes that that will translate to success in the long run.

“I just want my guys to compete,” Junkins said. “We’ve rolled up on a team [in the past] that we should have beat pretty good and we just came out flat and not performed the way we should have. I just want my guys to compete. I want them to play the game the right way, always have that energy, be supportive of each other. We’ve got a really big, strong, close group of guys. They’ve been playing together for a really long time.”

That team support will be crucial to Vincent’s performance on the field, as it has been in recent years. Now, it is as crucial as ever.

The Yellow Jackets’ journey to claim the state championship begins when they take the field for their season opener on Friday, Feb. 16, at Leeds.