Pitching will be key for Eagles' turnaround
The South Putnam baseball team struggled last season, and they're not hiding that. But the team, led by new coach Zach Love, is ready to take a significant leap forward.
"We're optimistic," Love said. "We're hopeful that things will start to turn around. We've got a good group of seniors that should provide some good leadership."
The senior group is led by pitchers Aaron Parker (set to throw next year for Olney Central) and JD Briones.
Briones missed last season with a knee injury and his return will help give the Eagles depth on both the mound and in the infield.
"I think that we're going to be a little stronger pitching-wise than we were last year," Love said. "Hitting-wise we should be improved. The middle of the order should look a little bit better."
Absent from the lineup is Rob Gibson, who led the team last year in both batting (.458) and stolen bases (26).
While the team won't have the speed to replace Gibson, Love said they'll attempt to duplicate the effect with a little more small-ball.
"We've got a good group of seniors, but we've also got some young guys that are coming up and some guys that haven't played in a couple years that are going to be asked to contribute," Love said. "We're going to have to be able to bunt, we're going to have to really get back to the basics and fundamentals and hopefully we can excel in those areas."
Like any team that's entering a new season and trying to fill holes in the lineup, the Eagles are working players into new spots and seeing who fits.
There may be an adjustment period, but the team will improve quickly when things get settled.
"A lot of it is really going to kind of depend on the new guys in new spots," Love said. "We've got some guys playing in some different positions that they haven't played in a little while so it'll depend on how they adapt to their new spots and really how everything gels together as a whole."
South Putnam won just four games last season and was shut out in the conference. It may be easy for opponents to overlook them, but Love said he expects the team to come to play each game, beginning Monday at Cloverdale.
"We should be able to play with our conference opponents," he said. "Last year was a bit of a struggle, but we are confident that we've got an opportunity to compete with some of those teams this year."
Love is beginning his first year as the Eagles' varsity coach, but he spent the past few years guiding the JV team. His familiarity with the players should help ease the transition and help the team reach its potential quickly.
Seniors Parker, Briones, Nick Scott, Justin Bumgardner, Brandon Smith and Tanner Thompson have spent the majority of their high school career becoming familiar with Love's style.
"I was JV coach for their first three years here," Love said. "It's kind of cool to be able to grow with these guys and hopefully send them off onto their next step in life on a successful note at the end of the year."