Only one everyday player returned to the West High baseball team this year from last year.
With his pant legs rolled up and green-and-gold stirrups showing, senior Kevin DeLaney is a staple of West’s lineup. A second-year starter in center field, DeLaney now anchors a team flush with non-seniors.
The Trojans lost 10 seniors from a team that finished runner-up at the Class 4A state tournament last season, many of them starters. This summer, coach Charlie Stumpff’s club is carrying six sophomores, six juniors and six seniors.
But DeLaney is the headliner.
“Kevin plays hard from the first day of practice to any game,” Stumpff said. “We’re way ahead in a game, we’re way behind, it doesn’t matter. He’s playing everything like you’re supposed to, and that’s something we try to preach. It’s hard in baseball to play through it. He’s able to do it. He grinds things out and plays with high energy. It’s contagious for the rest of our guys.”
DeLaney anchors a West team that was 19-9 entering Wednesday’s action, winners of six straight games. DeLaney is hitting at a .477 clip with two home runs, 17 RBI and a .494 on-base percentage. He is also 7-for-7 on steals.
The Coe College-bound player hit .362 with 26 RBI in 2014, garnering first team all-conference honors.
“With younger players, they need guidance on what to do,” DeLaney said. “You need to make sure their mind is at the right place at a young age because you can tend to wander.
“Especially when you’re playing teams that are not as good in your opinion, your mind isn’t always focused on the ultimate goal. They think it will just be an easy win, but usually you have to earn it.”
DeLaney, who bats leadoff for the Trojans, is currently on an 11-game hitting streak and has at least one hit in 19 of the 22 contests he’s appeared in this season. He leads Class 4A in total hits with 41.
Trying to get him out is a difficult task, to say the least.
“He has the ability to hit a lot of different pitches,” Stumpff said. “He can hit inside, outside, up, or down. He stays balanced and centers it up. That’s just who he is. If you look at the stats, he’s not your prototypical leadoff guy. He doesn’t walk, but that’s more of a product of how big of an area he can cover and feel confident with.”
“(The pitchers) always try to get ahead in the count, so I look at the first pitch and see if it’s in my spot,” DeLaney added. “If it’s not, I usually take it and then look for a better pitch later in the count. If the pitcher is winning the at-bat, then I try to fight through it, get the best pitch I can, and put it in play.”
Despite an influx of first-year starters, West is aiming for a return trip to state.
With DeLaney setting the table, why not? During their current six-game winning streak, the Trojans’ run differential is a robust plus-39.
“We have the talent to make it back,” DeLaney said. “Everybody wants to make it back. You need to have the focus and the mindset. Right now what we need to do is come together with the same focus and for everyone to play their best at the same time. When we do that, we’re really good.”
Reach Matt Cozzi at email@example.com or 319-887-5409, and follow him on Twitter at @matt_cozzi.