Official practices for high school baseball teams in Georgia and Alabama began on Monday. While teams have been able to take the field and throw for a few weeks and were in the weight rooms throughout the fall, Monday was the first day full practices were able to be held.
Smiths Station, led by new head coach Mike Ferry, who has been an assistant with the Panthers for eight years, were in a hurry Monday afternoon to get as much practice in before the winter weather made its way into the area.
The Panthers, like a few teams in the area, want as much practice as they can get to break in new coaches and players. They lost eight seniors who played the majority of the innings last year. Only five seniors, eight juniors “and a bunch of sophomores” return for Smiths Station.
“We’re going to be young,” Ferry said. “We’ll use the next few weeks to evaluate and see who can perform at the varsity level. The biggest thing is we have to get guys experience quick. Eight of those guys had the bulk of the playing time last year.”
By most accounts, 2013 was a success for the Panthers. They won 33 games and spent a portion of the season ranked No. 1 in Class 6A, but lost in the second round to Auburn High.
Ferry said that the area is rich in talent and, while inexperienced, he expects to contend in his first year at the helm.
“Our expectations at Smiths are to be in the playoffs and to go a couple rounds deep (in the playoffs) or more every year,” he said. “Kids in this community have grown up playing baseball. They have success as younger players, and we don’t expect thing to be any different now.”
One program that will likely have a different look to it is right down the road in Russell County. The Warriors, coming off an incredibly successful string of years under coach Tony Rasmus, will get used to life under new head coach Vincent Wiggins.
The team lost a number of players to graduation and a couple more who transferred after Rasmus’ departure.
Wiggins, who wasn’t available for this story, spoke after he was hired about the need for high expectations, but also the challenge that faces a program that lost so much.
“We’ve got about 12 or 13 guys who are left over,” he said. “We’ve got to work with them. I can’t go out and recruit like in college. I’ve got to get in the halls and all that and develop the guys we’ve got. We’re going to give guys and opportunity and develop the best 25-30.
“The goal is still the same. We want to win the region, go to the playoffs and, hopefully, win a state championship. That’s easier said than done.”
Teams like Hardaway and Columbus also look to take steps forward this spring. Hardaway will try to continue its strong momentum after an impressive 2013 campaign that led it to a trip to the second round, while Columbus looks to rebound from a down year by its standards. The Blue Devils played in the second round of the state playoffs, but were swept by Redan, ending a string of three straight state titles.
Games for the 2014 season will begin on Feb. 17 in both Alabama and Georgia.
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