Sziksai begins rebuilding job as new coach at Bell County

Published 5:59 pm Tuesday, March 26, 2024

By John Henson

Sports Writer

In his quest to turn around a Bell County baseball program that has struggled through four straight losing seasons and eight over the last 10, first-year coach Jeff Sziksai is taking a one-day-at-a-time approach.

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“Our expectations are for our players to be totally focused on daily improvement.  To do that, we have to show up every day and be consistent mentally, play hard, and be exceptional communicators.  If we can do those things we will have a chance to improve and meet our potential by season’s end,” Sziksai said. “As a group, we’ve not discussed win/loss records.  I’ve never been a big believer in that. Results will take care of themselves, but are generally a product of sound process and execution.”

Sziksai brings an impressive resume to his new job, beginning as a player at Western Carolina University from 1995 to 1998 before becoming a 22nd round draft choice of the New York Yankees. He was a graduate assistant coach at Western Carolina, then an assistant at Old Dominion before becoming the head coach at LMU from 2004 to 2020. He spent one season at Pineville before taking the job at Bell.

He inherits a squad that finished 4-25 last year but returns most of the players who gained valuable experience despite the struggles.

Pitching proved to a problem for the Bobcats last year with a team earned run average of 7.00. Sophomore Blake Burnett and freshman Alex Creech each pitched in 13 games a year ago with Burnett claiming two wins in 10 decisions with a 5.86 earned run average and Creech posting the only save with an 0-4 record and 6.93 earned run average. Cooper Brock, a sophomore, had a 4.67 earned run average with an 0-5 record. Holden Clark, Derrick Goodin and Joseph Brigmon also saw action on the mound.

“Our goal is to eventually develop a pitching staff, not just one or two arms,” Sziksai said. “It’s early, but I can see Brock, Clark, Brigmon, Burnett and Goodin being major contributors. We also have some eighth and ninth graders that could contribute important innings by season’s end.”

Burnett, who plays shortstop when he isn’t pitching, hit a team-high .356 last season along with 26 hits and 14 RBI. Clark, who plays first base, hit .300 with 24 hits and 10 RBI.

Daniel Thomas, the Bobcats’ football star and the state’s Mr. Football, is back in the outfield after hitting .295 last year with a team-high 23 steals. Walters, a junior catcher, hit .275 with 22 hits and 18 RBI. Brock, who plays in the infield, hit .268 with 11 hits.

Brigmon, Goodin and Luke Widner are also returning starters.

“I have been very impressed with the work ethic and character of the young men we have on the team,” Sziksai said. “They are very receptive to instruction and have worked very hard to improve. We have some good athletes that have a great foundation to build from. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to coach this group.”