It was a year of learning experiences for Justin Bode and the Leavenworth Pioneers.
“I learned a lot this year about what being a 6A high school baseball coach is all about,” Bode said. “I will tweak some things for next year in an attempt to improve our program.”
One of the biggest things that Bode said he learned in year one was to be a more efficient manager of the program.
“I need to let some things go,” he said, “and allow my assistants to take over on some things. I am a very reflective person so I will take a lot of time this summer to reevaluate how I will run things moving forward.”
Bode was announced as head coach at the end of last summer when previous head coach Joe Allison left for the same position at Blue Valley West. Along with the new head coach, the Pioneers also were in a new conference with Leavenworth leaving the Sunflower League for the United Kansas Conference. The Pioneers also returned to 6A after updates to the classification system.
The Pioneers finished 6-14 in Bode’s first year after falling to Blue Valley Northwest 5-0 in the first round of regionals. The Pioneers picked up wins over Veritas Christian, Lincoln Prep and sweeps over Emporia and Turner during the season. The win over Veritas was Bode’s favorite memory of the year.
“Win No. 1 is my favorite memory because of how we did it,” he said. “We played at KU’s Hoglund Ballpark, which is such a great venue and opportunity for our guys. Everyone on the roster played and contributed to the win, which really epitomizes how I envision this program moving forward.”
The Emporia wins also stand out as a top performance for Bode. He said those two games were the best the team played all year.
“Emporia was a good team,” Bode said. “And for us to win a walk-off extra innings game and then turn around and pull away early in game two was definitely a highlight. Again, in that doubleheader, we had everyone on the roster contributing in their own way.”
Bode said the team’s biggest strength in 2019 was pitching. He said the pitchers were not overpowering, but they consistently gave the team opportunities to make plays to win.
When asked to name the best individual performance, Bode said the team is not about promoting individual performances.
“We win and lose together,” he said.
With the season over, the Pioneers will bid farewell to the seniors, who Bode said are irreplaceable.
“They have left the start of the foundation for what Pioneer baseball will look like in the future,” Bode said. “In that group of five guys, we will lose a 6A all-state catcher in Rob McKinley, a second-team UKC utility player in Steele Sadler, an honorable mention first baseman/pitcher in Kruz Wahwahsuck, our best infielder in Dylan Shaw and the best team player in Christian Torres. These guys will forever hold a special place in my career as they were my first senior class. They all could have left when coach Allison left, but they didn’t. They chose to stay, to believe in me as a coach and to lead this team this season. I will never be able to thank them enough for all they have done for me and this program.”
With the senior group gone, the team will now turn to the junior class.
“Next season we will turn to our junior class to be the key contributors for our team,” Bode said. “These guys have proven that they can play at a high level. They have all committed themselves to improving themselves as athletes and baseball players this summer and next fall. I am excited to start this journey with them as the new leaders of our team.”
Bode thinks that year two will be better. The returning players all had significant time on varsity this season and Bode thinks that will help fuel their commitments to improving over the summer.
“We will be overlooked by many,” he said, “and will be the underdog. But we will surprise a lot of teams next year.”