The Press Newspaper
New Clay baseball coach Garry Isbell apparently didn't get the memo that you're not supposed to directly follow in the footsteps of a highly successful coach.
Isbell, 31, a former three-sport standout at Lake High School (Class of '96), this season replaces Karl Knierim at the Eagles' head coach.
All Knierim did in his 13 seasons was lead Clay to a 235-105 record, including a 17-8 mark last season and the City League championship. Clay also won the CL title in 2007 and advanced to the regional tournament in 1997, 2006 and 2007.
The Eagles also won three Great Lakes League titles under Knierim, 51, who cited being "a little burned out" for his resignation in early December.
"Karl was on his way to the High School Baseball Coaches' Hall of Fame," said Isbell, who was named Knierim's successor on Feb. 18. "It's not an easy task, following a successful man like him. The nice thing is I have him on my side, and that's definitely going to help me."
Knierim stayed on board to serve as Isbell's varsity assistant. Isbell has been involved with the Eagles' baseball program for nine years, including six as Knierim's varsity assistant.
"Karl has been my mentor since I came into the program," Isbell said. "He taught me how to handle yourself as a head coach, how to work with the kids, create a rapport with the kids and work with the parents and the community. All of those are essential ingredients to have a successful program."
After earning All-Northern Lakes League honors at Lake in baseball, basketball and football, Isbell played baseball for two years at Heidelberg and then played for two years at the University of Toledo.
With the help of Clay graduate Jeff Thompson, who is now the school's principal, Isbell got a job as a student teacher at Clay and coached football, basketball and baseball.
"Baseball is my first love," Isbell said. "When I played at Lake, Jeff was Genoa's head (baseball) coach. When I did my student teaching here, Jeff wanted to know if I wanted to be the volunteer assistant under him at Genoa. He got me in, and essentially I owe everything to him getting me in as a teacher in the (Clay) district.
"He also mentored me. I learned a lot from Jeff as a coach, and I learned an awful lot these last several years with Karl."
Isbell said wanting to take over as Clay's head coach was an easy decision. He is just the fourth baseball coach the Eagles have had in 82 years of competition.
"It seemed like a perfect fit," Isbell said. "Baseball is a high priority for the kids in Oregon. It's something they work hard at, and I don't have to do a whole lot of motivating. The kids motivate themselves because they love the game."
Isbell said the Eagles have enough talent to repeat as CL champions. Clay dropped its season opener, 6-1, to visiting Sylvania Southview on March 30.
"The main ingredient for a succesful team is your pitching staff," Isbell said. "We have some pitchers who can step up this year and throw the ball fairly well. Pitching is always ahead of hitting early in the season.
"We have a lot of returning players who did well at the plate. I'm very optimistic about that, and the kids work hard. The ingredients for a successful program is to hit the ball and pitch. I think we have the pitching and the hitting, so it's just a matter of having everything click."
The Eagles' top two pitchers are junior right-hander Jesse Castilleja and senior righty Austin Petroff. Castilleja broke his right arm and did not play at all last season.
"He's got great command of his pitches," Isbell said. "He's around the plate and has great off-speed stuff, and he's a bulldog on the mound. He knows how to pitch. Petroff is a kid who has some giddy-up on his fastball, and he's got a great breaking ball. And, he's a smart pitcher who pitched for us last year."
Clay's offense will be led by junior Austin Achter, who will play left field, first base and catcher. Achter earned second-team all-league and all-district honors last season.
"Obviously he's our top returning hitter," Isbell said. "He led us in RBIs, triples, doubles and home runs. He's getting recruited pretty heavily by some Division I schools right now. His brother (A.J.) is pitching at Michigan State, and they like Austin, too."
Isbell also looks for production from senior center fielder Greg Shanks, a second-team all-district performer, senior first baseman/outfielder Jordan Waymer and junior shortstop Nick Sheehan.
"Nick is a solid player," Isbell said. "He's definitely one of our leaders this year."
The first-year head coach added that the Eagles' goals this season are to reach the CL final four and the district finals.
"The final four is always a goal of ours," Isbell said. "Once you get there, it's anybody's championship. Year in and year out, we expect to get to the City League final four and the district final. Once we put ourselves in that situation, anything can happen."