For the third straight year, the Lewis County baseball team will have a new head coach.
Sammy Holder, a 2014 graduate of Lewis County, was named the school’s next baseball coach last week.
“This is where I played in high school and late in my college career – well, early on, I guess – I realized I wasn’t good enough to play at the next level, being a smaller guy, so took a step back and realized I wanted to coach and that it was my calling,” said Holder.
“I had an opportunity to come back home and it was the perfect fit,” added Holder. “I’m grateful they’re giving me this opportunity.”
Holder was a four-year starter with the Lions, spending his time on the left side of the infield and on the mound. He was Lewis County’s MVP his senior season, compiling a .421 batting average and a 1.37 ERA. He was named to the All-63rd District team four times, the All-16th Region team three times and was honorable mention All-State twice.
He continued his baseball career at Kentucky Wesleyan University and earned Great Midwest Athletic Conference Freshman of the Year honors in 2015. He was named the conference Pitcher of the Week early in his sophomore seasons, before an injury sidelined him. He capped off his career this spring with honorable mention All-GMAC honors after making 15 appearances on the mound, including 13 starts, with a 7-4 record and a 4.11 ERA in 76.2 innings.
He believes all of his experience playing for coaches throughout different levels of baseball will help him in his new position.
“I took what could from them and hopefully I can put that in play here at Lewis County,” said Holder.
Holder becomes Lewis County’s fourth head coach in the last four seasons and the seventh since 2011, meaning the seniors on the team will have had a new coach each season they were in high school.
“I hate it for these guys, the seniors. They’ve had four coaches in four years,” said Holder. “I wanted to be up front about it early on – I’m here to stay, to give them stability and to be someone to learn from and put their trust on.”
Holder says he’s helped out some at the middle school level at Fleming County and has coached summer camps and clinics.
And while he’s fairly new to coaching, he’ll have an abundance of experience returning next season.
That includes Lewis County’s top pitcher in Seth Wright, who posted 79 strikeouts in 40.2 innings pitched. He had a .307 average at the plate. They’ll also bring back their catcher Wyatt Yates, who had a team-best .373 batting average as a sophomore. The Lions will have Garrett Applegate and Sam O’Keefe, who drove in a combined 28 runs and scored a combined 40 runs. Mark Sparks is the other returning player that appeared in over 20 games for Lewis County. His 24.2 innings pitched this spring were fourth-most on the team, behind Wright’s 40.2, Applegate’s 26.2 and O’Keefe’s 26.1.
Holder says he’s been able to make his way back to see a few games the last couple of years and he liked what he saw.
“They got beat up a little and didn’t have the numbers last year that coaches want, but what I saw I really liked,” said Holder. “They hit well, pitched well, they’re grinders and know how to win, so there’s not too much work to do. It’s just getting them to buy in and be a team.”
The roster numbers improved last year for Larry Riley – a goal in his return to the helm after previously coaching the team from 1989-2000. Riley was hoping to get the team back to where it was under the late Keith Prater, who led the team in 2012 and 2013.
Lewis County went 25-6 in 2012 when Holder was a sophomore and went 27-11 the next season. He plans on incorporating things he learned from his coaches at Kentucky Wesleyan that played at the top levels of college baseball, but he’s also excited about following in Prater’s footsteps back home.
“I was fortunate to play two seasons with Coach Prater. The big thing was he was everywhere. If he wasn’t at the high school, he was at Little League watching,” said Holder. “You have to show you care and want to see them succeed and that it’s not all about wins or losses. You develop that from a young age, develop that from Little League and build up, that way when they get to the high school program, they’ve built up expecting the same things.”
Though young, Holder has his eyes set on getting Lewis County back to the 16th Region Tournament for the first time since 2016 and claiming the 63rd District title for the first time since 2012 – and then making that the expectation every year.
“Greenup is the premier team in the district, Russell is going to be good, Raceland is good. The district is tough. It’s one of, if not the toughest, in the region,” said Holder. “We’ve got to get to that level and compete. There are no days off. We really want to build up to be in that talk every year.”