Whitehead carrying bigger load this yearJune 17, 2021
By COREY STOLZENBACH
HUNTINGBURG - Southridge junior Carter Whitehead will partake in Tuesday's state championship game for Southridge - just like he did two years ago. However, the Carter Whitehead back then is not the same Carter Whitehead now.
"Two years ago, he was in there primarily for defense," Raiders coach Gene Mattingly said. "We didn't really care if he swung the bat. Anything we got out of him offensively was gravy. We felt like we were a pretty stacked lineup - we needed him to put the ball in play, maybe bunt a little bit, but we weren't relying on him offensively.
"This year, we do," Mattingly continued. "He bats in the middle of the order - five-six hole. He needs to be able to drive in runs and hit the ball in the gaps and run a little bit. And he's done that for us."
Whitehead told the Herald on June 15 that he's more mature now than he was freshman year - that he carries a different approach with him during at-bats. He's more aggressive, and now he's at a point where the younger players look up to him. Whitehead's mentality his freshman year was to do his job, and while that hasn't wavered, he feels the weight of also setting a good example for the underclassmen.
The Raiders counted on him to play second base for them in 2019, but now Hudson Allen, who happens to be a freshman himself this year, has slid into that role, while Whitehead patrols centerfield.
"I feel like that's where my skill set was at the moment, and now I've had to change my skill set this year for centerfield, and I just feel like I have confidence that Coach will put me in the right spots, and I'll do my best wherever he puts me," Whitehead said.
"With (senior Ethan Bell) pitching as much as he was, we needed to probably take some of that pressure off of him on the defensive end, and so, we slid Carter to center to get an extra bat in the lineup, and let Ethan play left when he's not pitching," Mattingly said.
Whitehead has made sure to embrace his new role as a junior, since he believes he's a better outfielder than he is an infielder. It comes more naturally to him, and he likes being out there more, too.
"It's just fun out there showing off a little athleticism here and there, and showing off that skill set," he said.
Adding to that is a more athletic batting stance and more pop at the plate, to boot. The fact that the COVID-19 pandemic shut down his sophomore baseball season was tough, but he did a lot of weight training, swings off of a tee and hitting wiffle balls to help get ready for his junior campaign.
Mattingly noted that Whitehead has not only improved upon his strength and athleticism, but also his mental maturity. He believes his junior centerfielder is playing with a lot more confidence - which he should, given that he's in the lineup.
He's hoping to end a "surreal" junior year with a Class 3A State Championship against Hanover Central on Tuesday - after also having made it to semi-state in basketball. Whitehead has been teammates with some of the seniors in both sports, and he wants to win one for them.
"That's what we're all about here - just winning," he said. "So, I'm just happy I get to be around these guys a lot - they've taught me a lot."
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