Former Kodiak baseball coach Rick Langfitt preached defense more than any other thing during his nine-year run at the helm of the Bears.
Third-year coach James Arnold is taking a page from Kodiak’s most successful coach.
“The No. 1 thing I’m looking for, and I’m going to quote coach Langfitt, is defense,” Arnold said. “We have to have a solid defense this year.”
Langfitt’s defensive wizardry earned him a state championship and a career 98-43-1 record before retiring after the 2012 season.
Arnold learned the hard way that defense does in fact win championships, as his team committed 10 errors in a winner-to-state season-ending loss to Colony at last year’s Southcentral Conference Championships.
That game — and really the whole season as Kodiak committed 61 errors in 25 games — sent Arnold into the offseason looking for ways to fix the defense.
“Anything you do in life, if something doesn’t go well, you certainly have to do your homework and figure out ways to improve,” said Arnold, who is 24-17 in two years. “We are doing some things in our pregame warm-ups that will help cut down on the throwing errors and the fielding errors.”
Arnold is teaching the new techniques to an almost entirely different roster as Kodiak only returns three starters — Jakob Arnold, Josiah Chya and Jon LeVan — from last year’s 14-11 team.
All three players earned all-conference accolades last season. LeVan, a junior, was a first-team outfielder and pitcher, Arnold and Chya, both seniors, earned second-team honors; Arnold as a pitcher and first baseman and Chya as a catcher.
The rest of Kodiak’s lineup will all be first-time varsity starters. Kodiak only has 11 players on its roster and 21 players in the entire program, down five from last year.
“I’m sure there are reasons why, but it is a low number,” Arnold said.
Arnold is looking at Joe Schactler and Morgan Moir at third, Kalen Willis and Sam Bennett at short, and Aaron Hocum and Bennett at second. Chya and Brandan Pickett will split time as catcher.
The outfield will be manned by LeVan in center, Frank Carlson in left and John Norton, Moir or Bennett sliding into right.
“We had some kids who played very well at the junior varsity level, and I feel like it is there time,” Arnold said. “The infield is all new, but I believe they can hold it down and make the routine play.”
Jakob Arnold, a righty who has been clocked at 87 mph, will anchor the pitching staff that will feature Bennett, LeVan and Schactler. Arnold, Bennett and LeVan combined to win eight of Kodiak’s 14 games last season.
“I would be remised if I didn’t say the strength was our pitching, at least starting pitching,” Arnold said. “But you have to play defense. Our defense needs to be top notch.”
On offense, Kodiak will be looking to replace Austin Frick, last year’s South Division most valuable player. Frick was at the top of nearly every offensive statistic and hit third in the order.
Kodiak does return its top hitter last season in LeVan, who hit a team-best .455.
“We play small-ball,” Arnold said. “If we get a guy on we will bunt him over into scoring position and look for a timely hit. We have a couple of kids who can hit the long ball, but certainly we don’t ever talk about it.”
With all the new faces, Arnold believes his team can compete for one of the two state berths awarded to the Southcentral Conference. Arnold is 19-6 against conference opponents in his first two seasons.
“As a coach at any level you want to play to win a championship, and that is what our sights our set on,” Arnold said.