Prior to the start of the 2016 season, the talk for Region 1-5A baseball was, once again, how tight of a race it looked to be.
Harris County and Hardaway are always players in the region race, Shaw has steadily improved over the past couple of years, and Northside looked to have its strongest roster top-to-bottom in the past few years.
And then there was Columbus, always a favorite and the defending region champion after battling through a turbulent 2015 season to take the top seed into the playoffs.
As region play is set to begin this week, not much has changed:
There are a lot of good teams, and the Blue Devils still have the targets on their backs.
Columbus coach Chad Mathis, who is in his first full season at the helm after the departure of former coach Bobby Howard, said there were more question marks than usual as the team began preparation for the season.
“That’s not typical of Columbus High, but there are a lot of unanswered questions,” he said.
The Blue Devils have answered quite a few of them.
Columbus has started the season off hot, winning each of its first six games by more than a seven-run margin. It has recorded three shutouts, and only once has the deficit been closer than six runs, a 1-0 victory over perennial Class 5A contender Northgate.
It has done it with help from a number of different sources. On the mound, there is returning All-Bi-City pitcher of the year Cason Greathouse, who has started the season 3-0 on the hill. He has already pitched over 15 innings and allowed just seven hits and two earned runs while striking out 20.
At the plate, Jack Copley has started off on a tear, batting .429 with a home run and 12 RBIs in six games. Other players like Gage Dempsey and Dawson Weaver, among others, have made their presence known, as well.
Columbus begins region play against Harris County on Tuesday. Despite some questions of its own entering the season, like how to fill the holes left by a number of graduations off of last year’s team, the Tigers have started off alright. At 3-2-1, they have proven that they will remain a threat in the region despite the roster turnover.
The same can be said for Hardaway (3-1) and Northside (4-2), which face each other on Thursday. Even Shaw, off to a 2-3 start, appears poised to pose a threat to some of the region’s top teams. It has wins over Northgate and Central-Phenix City, both strong clubs.
As the teams move into the second phase of their seasons, the statement Northside coach Dee Miller gave before the season still rings true.
“There’s no doubt this region is going to be tight every year,” he said. “Some teams graduated key players, but they’ll be just as talented. It’ll be a dog fight every week. We just have to be prepared.”
Tuesday’s region schedule
Harris County at Columbus, 4:30 p.m.
Shaw at Hardaway, 4:30 p.m.
Northside at Carver, 5 p.m.