Roberts likes direction of Red Devils program

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By Travis Jenkins

After his team lost a close game at Lewisville last Friday, Ben Roberts said he wanted to get his Great Falls team back to where it was during his playing days, when it would routinely beat top teams and make deep playoff runs. Based on the early returns, they appear headed in that direction.

Great Falls is off to a 3-1 start this year, with the only loss being that tight 4-1 decision against the third-ranked Lions. This is Roberts’ first year as head coach of the Red Devils and he’s inherited a team that is young but has talent and the right attitude.

“Some guys are playing for the first time and some play baseball to stay in shape for other sports, so we’ve been going over a lot of fundamentals. It’s been a little bit of a challenge, but the kids have bought into what I want to do. No one thinks they’re better than anyone else,” Roberts said.

Roberts has some good arms he can lean on this year, including junior Koby Ruff. The left-hander has grown and gotten stronger over the off-season. He was on the losing end of things to Lewisville, but pitched a complete game and only allowed two hits. He threw a no-hitter in the pre-season.

“Whenever Koby is on the mound, we’ve got a fighting chance,” Roberts said. “In gym, when some kids just go shoot basketball, he has dedicated himself to lifting to get bigger and stronger.”

Roberts said he also has a lot of confidence in Connor Henson to get the job done on the mound. Senior Aaron Blackmon has signed to play at USC-Union next year and gives the Red Devils three quality starters. A number of other players will log some innings, including eighth graders Logan Munn and Landon Rodriguez.

Behind the plate will be Cody Spires, though Ruff can play there too if needed as can Kaleb Funderburk. Ruff, when not pitching, will normally be at first, with freshman Kelton Talford taking over when he does. Blackmon will handle second base duties when he isn’t on the hill, junior Josh Lewis is penciled in at third and sophomore Ty Beaver is the starting shortstop. Justin Montgomery and Tydris Tharp will also be in the mix for playing time on the infield.

Roberts said he will have a platoon system in place in the outfield which will include Munn, Gage Spinks and Trent Isenhower, along with Jordan Ramsey, Jordan Price, Funderburk and Tommy Seagle.

Great Falls competes in what is considered the toughest region in the state, with McBee, Lamar and Lewisville ranked one, two and three respectively in the latest Class A baseball polls. He knows the path won’t be easy, but thinks his team is ready to face the challenge.

“We’re going to throw our best at those guys every time. They’ll know who we are. We’re trying to build something here,” Roberts said.

Roberts was himself once part of a young group of players who took the Great Falls program from seasons with two wins or less to the upperstate title bracket. He went on to play at Anderson University. He wants to take some of what he learned from every coach along the way and channel it into coaching what is his dream job.

“I’m very excited. It was always my main goal and my passion to be here. I want to take my experiences and what I’ve learned and put it into what I’m doing here. I want to build the program back up,” he said.

Great Falls does not have a JV program this year, but Roberts said he nearly had enough players out to do so. He thinks that is a key part of the building process, since it allows younger players to get more playing time.

“Practice is great, but real game experience, there’s no substitute for that,” he said.

Roberts also thinks it will be a plus that he is an on-campus coach, something Great Falls hasn’t had in several years. That will allow him to be available to players and to recruit the hallways…and get the program back on top.

Roberts is assisted by Rusty Ruff and Michael Snipes. The team manager is Jacob Broome.