When the Russell County baseball team lost its final game last season to Spanish Fort in the state playoffs, coach Tony Rasmus looked across the field at the other team.
I could honestly say I wouldnt trade a single one of our players for one of theirs, he said. I felt like we were more talented at every single position.
Talent, though, doesnt always equal a state championship. It takes a team of individuals that comes together as a single unit, Rasmus said.
Thats something the Warriors lacked last season and something Rasmus believes, and hopes, the 2013 edition has when it begins its season with four games on Monday at Golden Park (first game begins at 9 a.m.).
We need to play better as a group, Rasmus said. We have to improve the team chemistry. Thats probably something that we lacked last year. And you cant just throw magic pixie dust out there and make it happen. It depends on the players making it happen.
Rasmus is optimistic that this years team has what it takes to take the next step in that regard.
For one, it is a senior-laden lineup, something that hasnt been a feature since the teams 2005 state-championship season.
Of nine projected starters, seven are seniors. The other two are juniors.
Senior leadership can help that team chemistry, Rasmus said. Id like to say some players on this team are like Colby (Rasmus) was for the 2005 team. People would just listen to him and follow him. We havent had that since then, and I think weve got that this year. If history is any indication, thats a good sign.
And this team isnt short on talent either. Like Rasmus noted about last years team, which featured nearly the same lineup, talent was never an issue.
Anfernee Grier, Hunter Webb and Jesse Nelson lead the team, though Rasmus said its impossible to just single out a few players.
Grier is an obvious choice because of his .380 batting average as a junior and stature as one of the nations top high school prospects. Webb is too when you look at his numbers (.408 batting average) from last season. Nelson hit .377 last year, but senior Trevor Davis also hit .406. Going down the lineup, its difficult to find a hole anywhere.
Its hard to single out anybody, Rasmus said. We have five or six really great players.
Hitting isnt the question mark for the Warriors, who broke nearly every offensive school record last season. The hitting is expected to be a strength this year, whereas the defense needs to improve.
Russell County will replace one of its top pitchers, Ray Castillo, who graduated, as well as catcher Chandler Durham. Those wont be easy players to replace, particularly Durham. Rasmus is confident players will step up, though.
Every year, teams set goals, Rasmus said. Most set the ultimate goal of a state championship, though few really have what it takes to make that happen.
This team really feels like its got a chance to win it, though, Rasmus said of Russell County. Every day, the gist of our conversation is what we can do to get better. This team wants to be better than it was last year, and we feel like weve got a great shot.
David Mitchell 706-571-8571; Follow David on Twitter @leprepsports.