Coach John Pecora has had to face a lot of challenges in his first year at Mount Zion. (Special Photo: Jerry Jackson)
JONESBORO — Being a first-year head coach comes with its challenges.
Mount Zion first-year baseball coach John Pecora has normal and unique challenges as he tries to keep the program headed in the right direction.
Pecora, who previously was a travel baseball bench coach and head softball coach in New York, takes over a program that made the state playoffs in 2012 under then coach Kelcey White. That 2012 playoff appearance is the school’s only trip to the postseason.
Much of that history was news to Pecora.
“I didn’t know much about the program before I got here,” he said. “All I knew is that coach White was here before me. I’ve just been learning the information from the guys who were underneath him as the season progressed.”
So far, the season hasn’t progressed how Pecora and the Bulldogs would have liked. After five games Mount Zion stood at 1-4.
“We should have competed a little closer in two of those losses,” Pecora said. “We’re trying to get it together, trying to battle back to .500. Once we get back to .500 we’re going to see what we can do after that.”
A specific challenge Pecora has had to deal with is not having a full squad at practice. The fact that there are only 11 players on varsity makes that an even bigger deal.
“If we get more practice in and have all our players come to practice, we can become more of a team,” said shortstop Damion Graper, one of the team’s six seniors. “We can stop with the errors and start winning more games.”
Senior, catcher/first baseman Troy Cushman, agreed.
“As far as practice, we don’t get everybody out here,” he said. “We don’t have everybody doing fielding drills. Mostly what we need to work on is fielding drills. We’ve made so many errors in the games and that’s what beat us.”
For his part, Pecora recognizes the problem and is trying to manage it.
“Obviously that affects team chemistry, not everybody being here,” he said. “Those individuals have personal priorities like work. They got expenses as well that they got to take care of. I told them they have to balance that out between baseball and work.”
What makes it imperative that Mount Zion start winning is that both the players and Pecora see talent left over from the 2012 team.
“The teams that we’re playing this year lost people, like their bigger people, so we actually have more talent than them,” Cushman said. “If we can make the simple plays, we can actually be at state again.”
“The seniors have shown a lot of talent, but what we’re working on is the mental part of the game,” Pecora added.
Unfortunately for the Bulldogs sometimes deficiencies in the mental part of the game are the hardest to overcome.
“It’s mental mistakes,” sophomore catcher and outfielder Jamal Michael said. “It’s on us, but we can turn it around. It’s all on us.”