Role players look to send Southridge back to state

Herald File Photos by Traci Westcott
Southridge senior Patrick Sander is one of several role players that's helped lead the Raider baseball program back into the semistate round for the second straight season. While Sander is primarily known for his impressive speed on the basepaths, he's also taken control of a leadership role for the Raiders.

By HENDRIX MAGLEY
hmagley@dcherald.com

Whenever the Southridge baseball program is brought up, you tend to hear the same names mentioned with the team.

While there’s no denying how important athletes such as Colson Montgomery and Tucker Schank have been to the Raiders’ continued rise, perhaps some of the most important cogs of Southridge’s success have been the team’s role players.

Patrick Sander — a speed demon that has time and time again displayed his strengths on the basepaths.

Carter Whitehead — a freshman who entered the lineup in the middle of the season and has remained a staple since.

Cort Gerber — a junior utilityman that can play just about anywhere the Raiders’ ask him.

These are just a few of the guys that will once again play a key role for the Raiders (20-8) in this Saturday’s semistate meeting against South Vermillion (24-5) at Alvin C. Ruxer Field in Jasper.

“At the beginning of the year, we had to replace three starters and six seniors from last year’s team,” Southridge head coach Gene Mattingly said. “I knew we could replace the athleticism but I wasn’t sure about the leadership and intangibles side of things. It took us a little time to figure out who was going to do what but I think here toward the end of the year, we’ve seen it play itself out. They’re playing good baseball and they’re playing very well together.”

When it comes to the Raiders’ role players, Sander is the elder statesman as he’s one of just a handful of seniors on the Southridge baseball roster.

While he played a decent amount as a junior, he mostly just saw action as a courtesy or pinch runner. He’s still shown off his skills on the basepaths this season but he’s also been the team’s primary left fielder. However, there’s nothing that quite gets Sander going more than swiping a base from an opposing team.

“I love it. I love being able to always try and get the best jump I can and just challenge myself,” Sander said. “Being in front of the crowd last year just as a runner took my nerves away. So this year when I started (in the field), I wasn’t nervous — it didn’t bother me if people were watching me or not so I just went after it.”

But perhaps what’s stuck out to the team the most about Sander is his leadership. Early in the season, Sander broke his hand after getting hit by a pitch from North Posey’s Shane Harris.

While he still occasionally acted as a runner in certain situations, he mostly helped lead the team via his leadership. In fact, at the team’s banquet Sander nearly unanimously received “The PIG Award” — an award that Mattingly said in his opinion is the most important because it’s based on how good of a teammate you are and it’s voted on by your fellow teammates.

“I was just trying to instruct while I was out,” said Sander. “It opened my eyes to see some of the things we either lacked or needed improvement on. Then when I came back I tried to lead by example — you know, not just talk the talk but walk the walk.”

Another role player that’s made an immediate impact for the Raiders this season is freshman second baseman Carter Whitehead.

At the beginning of the season, Whitehead only worked with the JV team and didn’t even practice with the varsity squad. However after impressing Mattingly and the other coaches in some early JV contests, he quickly earned a spot on the varsity squad and he’s remained a starter ever since.

Ever since he joined the Southridge varsity roster in the middle of the season, freshman Carter Whitehead has remained a staple in the Raiders' starting lineup. Not only as he displayed some impressive defensive plays at second base, he's also batting over .400 with runners on scoring position.

“It’s just been crazy, it’s been a blessing to play with these guys,” said Whitehead. “I just feel like I’ve fit in a lot with the group and there’s such a good chemistry with this team — we’re golden.”

The young infielder is currently batting in the .300 range and that batting average goes up to around the .400 mark with runners in scoring position.

“He’s embraced batting in the nine-hole, he can handle the bat well and he’s been a pleasant surprise,” Mattingly said. “He’s earned it — he can be here all week and you wouldn’t even know it because he never says anything. He just gets after it.”

Another player that’s left his mark on this season is junior Cort Gerber. While he isn’t necessarily in the lineup on a daily basis, he’s played in the field and also batted in the designed hitter spot in some big games including last Saturday’s regional championship.

Mattingly said that Gerber, who spent most of last season as a pinch runner, worked hard in the offseason to make sure he’d be in the lineup much more often this time around.

“He worked hard in the weight room to ensure that he would be a quality contributor to the program,” Mattingly said. “He’s been in the lineup often with a left-handed stick and he can play just about anywhere — he’s been a real good contributor.”

However, it’s became apparent that no matter who’s in the lineup the Raiders always make sure to embrace whatever role they’ve been given for that day.

“I think everyone has an understanding of what they need to do to make themselves better,” Whitehead said. “It’s just worked well for us.”

Sander added: “We always need energy in the dugout, we always need courtesy runners, we always need people ready to come in whenever. I think everybody is just willing to do it all and that makes it easy on everyone.”




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