High School Baseball 2020: Patriots Lead Local Teams
MADISON- The “boys of summer” are in reality the boys of winter-spring as the high school baseball season is now underway with pre-season practice and the first pitch of the brand new campaigns set for Feb. 13.
Leading the way of the local schools will again be Bob Jones. The Patriots were Class 7A state runner-up a season ago and with seven starters and 13 seniors returning look to be the kingpin of the area teams again in 2020. Meanwhile, Madison Academy was a semi-final participant a year ago and should be again in the hunt for a Class 5A title. James Clemens won 20 games a year ago and should make a playoff run while Sparkman knows it can improve this season after a lackluster performance in 2019.
A 42-10 slate a season ago ended with a close, three-game series with state champion McGill-Toolen, but this season the Patriots return seven starters including five of whom were All-State selections after the 2019 schedule- Dylan Ray (Sr., P-OF, 6-2, 215), Mitchell Daly (Sr. INF, 6-0, 185), Cam Hill (Sr., 1B-P, 6-4, 215), Caden Rose (Sr., P-INF, 5-10, 175), Sam Maynard (Sr., P, 6-0, 200).
Ray and Rose signed with Alabama, Hill chose Auburn, Daly signed with Texas and Maynard picked Southern Union. An additional senior, pitcher Nick Brown, signed with Wisconsin-Milwaukee.
“I was hired five years ago and was expected to make this program highly regarded in the state,” said fifth-year head coach Jared Smith. “We again have a superb team that should go deep in the playoffs.”
“We’ve been talking since we were nine years old that this group of players will be the group to win the first state championship at Bob Jones,” said Rose. “We thought last year would be the year we’d do it, but we came up just a little short. I don’t think there’s anything stopping us from going out as state champs this year.”
“We worked hard during the off-season as we’re still a little bitter about how we finished last season,” added Hill. “I think we’re gonna take that fire on the field and put on a show and dogpile them in Montgomery.”
The Jets will be athletic, have lots of team speed, but with very few power hitters. With those facets mixed into the lineup, the 2020 squad is still expected to play well and match or better last year’s 20-17 overall record. Head coach Johnny Johnson enters his second season and looks to his squad to be an up tempo, high-pressure type of team with the assets to play fearless and being able to turn lose and play fast.
“We hope to force an extra base on the base path, come up and make plays fearlessly in the outfield,” said Johnson. “We will be very athletic, have team speed and take advantage of those as our ballpark lends to that, too. Our pitching will be deep, but we don’t have a bunch of power arms.”
One pitcher looks to be the leader of the mound staff- Logan Morris (Sr., 6-2, 190), who will attend Alabama, can pitch in the 90’s.
Thirteen seniors are on the roster and those upperclassmen are expected to be leaders by self-driven desire. Chris Baker (Sr., OF, 5-10, 210) said of his fellow seniors, “We’re relentless about all aspects of the game on the field and how we carry ourselves on and off the field. Just our work ethic and chemistry we have as a team is something that is different.”
“We were close last year and there’s a little bit of revenge we want to show the State of Alabama that James Clemens is going to attack and compete,” said Jayce Ingalls (Sr., P, 5-11, 182). “A lot of teams who have a bunch of talented players come to us expected to whip our tails, but our guys are very competitive and whenever we see something we want, we will attack them and play small ball and kick their tails, instead.”
A 13-21 season in 2019 is not exactly what the Senators expected nor will tolerate. The main objective of this year’s team is to be better on the field and on the scoreboard. “Last year we were missing the mindset as we didn’t have much team chemistry,” said Cole Strachan (Sr., P) one of eight seniors and three starters returning this season for the Senators.
“The entire team bought in from the start from the moment we lost last year to Gadsden City,” said Collin Strope (Sr., INF). “We as seniors will lead by example by making sure we do everything that is asked of us and not skipping anything. Make sure everyone follows our lead.”
Third-year head coach Jason Brewer feels all of his roster played last year and that experience will be a major boost to success. Brewer is looking to Hazel Green transfer Garrett Telega (Jr., P-1B) to lead on the mound as he’s verbally committed to Missouri and brings a wealth of experience to the mound.
“We have four of our top five hitters returning with four of those able to take it out of the park at any time,” said Brewer. “We have a core of players who are really, really good. Pitching will certainly take the lead, but as good as our pitching has been our offense is going to be just as good, really strong.”
Brendan Vatz (Sr., P-UTL) said the group of seniors are leaders. The squad is battle tested to the point the Senators can compete against any foe. He added, “We may have a slight chip on our shoulder as we’ll be the underdogs everywhere we go this season as many opponents will under estimate us, but we have a little surprise come season end in the playoffs.”
“We’re older, hopefully smarter and the most returning starters we’ve had in years,” said Davis Pressley head coach of Madison Academy. “I don’t think there’s really a challenge that we’re not ready and excited to meet. We have expectations to win instead of a hope to win.”
In his fourth season as head of the Mustangs, Pressley is looking forward to having seven starters return from last year’s squad, which lost in the Class 5A state semi-final round finishing with a 21-25 overall record. Jackson Word (Sr., P-OF) led the squad in mound appearances a season ago and knows he’ll most likely will be counted on to lead in 2020.
“I’m not trying to go out there and be average, I’m out there to set the bar higher for our team and upcoming players,” said Word. “I believe we can do well as we have plenty of seniors (four) and juniors (10) who can do what we need as it’s a team effort all the way around with our pitching. Everyone brings something a little different to the table and that’s a great thing to see.”
Cam Busby (Sr., P-INF) is being tabbed as the lone pitcher who can demolish opponents and push the 2020 team to even higher success.
“There’s a fire burning in my soul for this year as just coming off that last year I think those returning are excited and make another playoff run because we know we have it in us this year,” said Busby. “Because we got beat in the semi-finals, I think we’re super excited as we got that sneak peek last year. This season, we can reach higher goals and make it to Montgomery.”
The regular season begins Feb. 13 with post-season play set for April 24. The State Championship finals will be held in Montgomery May 14-15.