From the soccer field to the baseball diamond, first-year head coach Keith Hovis is now leading Northland Prep Academy baseball following an early exit from last year’s playoffs. For Hovis, he wants to continue the momentum from last season’s playoff appearance and turn it into a 2A Conference, Central Region title, and maybe more.
“I think our goal this year is to win the region. That’s our first goal. Our second goal is we would like to be there on the second weekend of the playoffs,” Hovis said. “We haven’t done that for six years, so we would really like to be there to have a chance to go for the state title. We definitely have the players, we have a lot of experience. It’s just a matter of if we play the game.”
Last season, Northland Prep finished 13-4 and was inside the top 10 of the 2A rankings for most of the year, but fell in the first round of the playoffs 4-3 to San Tan Foothills.
Given the experience of the first-round exit, and that the program hasn’t made an appearance in the second round of the 2A tournament, senior Zack Hansen thinks it’s possible the team could do something it hasn’t done during his career at Northland Prep.
“I want to see us go all the way — definitely make it past the first round,” Hansen said. “That’s never happened for me. … It would be a really awesome thing to do. Especially with it being Keith’s first year.”
To achieve those goals, Northland Prep will be relying on its pitching staff -- led by junior Zach Tweed, who is slated to be the Spartans' No. 1 this season -- and a strong defense behind, and hopefully the offense will follow suit.
Hovis said the offense will need to focus on contact, rather than power, to force opposing defenses to react and force them into errors. Rather than play with power, the Spartans will be looking to outsmart teams on the offensive side.
Northland Prep will start the season with a heavy road schedule, playing most of the first month on the road. Hovis said his team is used to it, as they generally front-load their schedule with road games on purpose, but Hansen said it can be a challenge for the team to gain chemistry quickly.
“We’ve got a lot of experience for us individually, but I think the real challenge is going to be for us to come together as a team,” Hansen said. “Especially having so few days on the field before our first game on Tuesday. It’s going to be a real challenge to bring all our talents together and play some good defense.”
When it comes to getting Hovis acclimated to his new team, senior Bennett Wojcik is showing him the ropes when it comes to Spartan baseball.
“I’m trying to introduce him to traditions here and what we do,” Wojcik said. “Just how we do things, the way of life here for ballplayers and just showing him the ropes.”
Tweed also noted how Hovis’ up-beat personality has influenced the team.
“He has a positive attitude, which is good. Everybody is always in a good mood,” Tweed said.