By KEVIN THOMPSON
Steve Davidson has been coaching the Lakin baseball program since its inception in the mid-1990s.
That means he's been at the helm long before any of this season's high school players donned a Broncs uniform. But it also means that he is the only coach those players have had, and that has built consistency in the program.
Compiling a 19-2 record this season with the crop of players he raised helped earn Davidson the diamond coach of the year award by The Telegram.
He chuckles when asked what the secrets of his success are because the answer is pretty obvious.
"Good players, good athletes. Kids who play baseball not just during the season but also during the summer," he said.
This year's Broncs squad had only two seniors on it. The bulk of the starters were juniors.
"When you talk about this bunch of juniors, they've played together since they were eight years old," Davidson said. "We played all over Kansas. We traveled a lot."
By "we," Davidson includes himself because he's been their coach during that summer as well.
That means there is not a lot of new things to learn at the beginning of a high school season.
"That's the easy part," he said. "We don't have to start from scratch every year. Kids have come up through the system. We can add things that they couldn't do at nine or 10 years old. At this level, I had to add a few things new; you have to keep doing that just to keep it fresh."
Baseball in the area this year had better pitching overall, Davidson said, but his team was able to post good offensive numbers, which means they were pretty good hitters.
Teams from eastern Kansas get to see top-notch pitching almost every game, and that only makes those teams stronger heading into playoffs.
"That makes a big difference on reaction time," he explained. "Out here, you're talking mid-70s (in pitch speed) but back east it's mid-80s, and that's a big difference. So it does hurt us that we don't see the competitive pitchers over and over again like the other teams do."
Case in point was the final game in the regional final where they fell 4-1 to Hays-Thomas More Prep. Nathan Zimmer, headed for Fort Hays State University, struck out 17 Broncs and allowed just one hit. Those 17 strikeouts, Davidson said, would be what the Broncs would get in six regular games.
Finishing runner-up in regionals the past three years is getting old, Davidson said, and this year's juniors have been there each time. It's time to move past that next season.
Lakin's strength lies in its pitching. Even looking at early summer league games, Davidson sees five guys who are well above average.
"It'll be hard to get them all enough innings," he laughed.
Good pitching means balls don't get put into play as often, either, Davidson said. Consequently his fielders don't get tested as much.
"We'll be senior-dominated next year," he said. "Up and down our lineup, our No. 9 hitters can hit the ball just as well as our two's and three's. That's a good thing for sure."
Davidson has always worked to build feeder programs for his high school program.
That formula has paid off over the years. Five of his teams have made it to state, with one second place and two third-place finishes being the best.
"Start 'em when they're young and teach them to play the game," he explained. "That's what's made the difference."