Baseball season has started up, and while there have been some cancellations due to weather, this season has already lasted longer than 2020’s.
Both players and coaches are chomping at the bit to be back on the field with their teams. The recent rain and snow kept teams off the field. Many scrimmages and games were canceled, but more games are happening.
And that’s good news.
Here is a look at the six Robertson County and White House teams one year after the shut down:
Derek Wix enters his 11th season as the head coach of the Indians. He has a team who, like most teams, has less experience on the roster than usual.
“We’re at a phase in our program where we’re just trying to evaluate kids,” Wix said. “Without scrimmages this year, too, we’ve put a lot of emphasis on practice and evaluating kids through practice.”
Peyton Smith returns for his senior season. Smith, a right-handed pitcher, has garnered all sorts of accolades on his way to signing with Vanderbilt University. His name could also be called in the MLB draft in July.
He is East Robertson’s second pitcher to sign with Vanderbilt in recent years as Luke Murphy is currently a “Vandy Boy.”
“We’ve been through this before,” Wix said. “Just having a guy that you can throw up there and you know what you’re going to get, it means a lot. It means a lot to our guys. It means a lot to our coaches. We know what we’re going to get when we put him on the mound.
“With COVID last year, with our juniors, sophomores and freshmen, a lot of those guys haven’t even had varsity innings. I guess to have that rock to build upon is good for sure.”
Alex Patterson, Carson Searcy and Van True join Smith as the other seniors on the team. True signed with Christian Brothers University in Memphis in December. All three will spend time on the mound for the Indians.
Justin Alberson has five seniors on his roster in his third year at the helm of the Bobcat program.
Alberson said senior Eli Hawkins, a first baseman and outfielder, has been the vocal leader of the team so far.
“He seems to be kind of the vocal guy with the team,” Alberson said. “He’s always talking to them in the huddle. He just kind of seems like the vocal leader of our team.”
Stoney Smith, Harley Fort, Gabe Matherly and Hunter Thaxton are the remaining seniors on the roster. Smith, a middle infielder, signed to play college baseball at Middle Tennessee State University in November.
Left-handed pitcher Matthew Holliman, a junior transfer from Sycamore, has also given his new team an energy boost.
“He is one of those types of kids that is just an energy giver,” Alberson said. “I think the kids kind of build around his energy and what he brings everyday. That feeds off and rubs off on the other kids.”
There will be competition for the spots in the lineup as the Bobcats start the season. Since weather has been an issue this month, players have not gotten the chance to prove themselves in game-like pressure.
“I feel good about them,” Alberson said. “They’re very excited. With the loss of the scrimmages, the snow, the bad weather we’ve had has set us back some. Normally, those scrimmages, you can put those kids in different situations to find out if they can handle it or not.
“Right now, we don’t know a lot about all that because we haven’t been able to play, and we haven’t had those scrimmages. There’s a lot of competition on our team, amongst the players to win positions, and that’s something we’re going to have to figure out pretty quick as we move forward.”
Fifth-year head coach John Mark Hendricks has noticed a definite uptick in excitement to be able to play this season after the cancellation of last.
“Kids are always pretty eager at the beginning of the year when basketball winds down and baseball gets started, but you can definitely tell the kids want to be there more,” Hendricks said. “They want to put in more work. They love being at the park and (putting) extra time in the cage. You can just tell they’re not taking it for granted.”
Jake Chennault, Bryce Cox, Dylan Dotson, Eli Farmer and Jackson Head are the five seniors that remain for the Red Devils.
“That whole group, I move [them] around a whole lot,” Hendricks said. “They switch up a lot. They’re asked to play multiple positions and do a lot of things for us.”
Cox was a crucial piece of the basketball team as they made their historic run to the sectional round this season. He will be a key pitcher for the Red Devils and will play first base when he is not on the mound.
Sophomore pitcher Taylor Head also starred on the basketball team and has already gotten on the mound. He started their opening game pitching five-and-two-thirds innings with 12 strikeouts
He started for the team last season in the couple of games they actually were able to play.
Hendricks thinks his team is deeper than normal this season, and he believes that will drive up the level of play as more players may feel their spot could be taken.
“Our depth is better than it’s been in a long time,” Hendricks said. “I’ve had kids that can play but haven’t been as deep as I am right now. I really feel it’s going to push them, make the starters work harder because there are kids behind them.”
J.J. Martone is in his third season as the head coach of the Yellow Jackets and only brings back two seniors, Michael Crawford and Dale Reid. Both play in the infield and take turns on the mound. Junior Grant Donkin also has some experience from his freshman year.
Behind them, nine of the 15 Yellow Jackets are freshmen or sophomores. Missing last season really limited the younger players exposure to the high school varsity level.
Martone said he tries to keep his guys’ minds off of how little time they’ve been on the field and get them to focus on the game and work hard.
“With our inexperience, I try to coach them not to worry about that,” Martone said. “Just go out there and play the game, be gritty.”
The Yellow Jackets opened the season against district opponent Rossview. Springfield historically has not fared well against the Hawks, but in both games Martone felt like his team showed they could keep up.
“We stuck in there,” Martone said. “In the past… they’ve usually run-ruled us, but we played a full seven innings and we were in the game.”
Blue Devil head coach Seth Long has limited experience coming back for his eighth season. Three seniors Dustin Palmer, Sam Abshire and Jacob Holland are the only ones with “substantial varsity experience.”
Palmer is a center fielder and a stellar pitcher.
“He’s got the kind of stuff where he’s going to be able to go on and keep playing at the next level,” Long said. “He’s a guy that we’re going to rely on in district games to go out there and put us in a position to win.”
Abshire plays shortstop and middle infield. Long called him a “jack of all trades.”
“We can really move him anywhere on the field and expect him to be a top-of-the-lineup type of guy,” Long said. “He’s extremely athletic, and he loves baseball. He’s the guy that can kind of put everybody in position and kind of correct things out there on the field.”
Long said this season will look different than past years because the evaluation period has not truly happened for many of these players. There is no set lineup or rotation. It will take some time for the team to know what works and what does not.
“You’re trying to trust your eyes again,” Long said. “That’s an entire year for your guys that are now frontline starters. It’s been a little bit different this week and going into next week. A lot of it is just going to be giving different guys opportunities whereas in years past, you walk in and say these nine, eleven guys are going to be our everyday guys.
“This year is just a little bit different. It’s daunting, but it’s exciting at the same time. It’s wide open. Personally for us and I think a lot of other teams, it’ll be the first part of April before we really have a good feel of who we are and this is what we’re going to do.”
White House Heritage
The Patriots have ten seniors on their roster, which provides more stability than most schools have this season. Chris Logsdon is in his 12th year with the program and said his players were ready to put the Patriot jersey on again.
“They were itching to get in the weight room at the end of September, October, and they worked really hard and were so excited to get back out there,” Logsdon said. “I haven’t had to push them; they’re ready to go.”
Senior Caleb Guisewite, a pitcher and outfielder, will play college ball at Belmont University. Logsdon said his arm and his brain are the two things that make him special.
“He’s physically gifted,” Logsdon said. “That’s where it starts. He’s got a pitcher’s body. He’s got a pitcher’s mind in that he can think through everything. He’s not a thrower. He’s a pitcher. He breaks down his mechanics on a daily basis. He works nonstop.”
Centerfielder Braden McFarland has also committed to play at Motlow State. Logsdon said his team is tired of hearing him suggest they could work like him.
“Braden’s the first one in the weight room, the last one to leave,” Logsdon said. “He’s a fantastic guy in the classroom, a calm demeanor. He just wants to play. He’s a good leader. He’s a good example. He’s a guy I want the guys to look at.”
This group has been together for years, dating back to their middle school days. Logsdon really wants his team to “take the next step” and take advantage of the opportunity they now have.
“The valuable part is that this group has even… played travel ball together before they even got to middle school and high school,” Logsdon said.
“More than anything else, this is one of those years where I basically said, ‘We’ve taught fundamentals. We’ve worked really hard on fundamentals, but we’re able to take the next step to the next level of things.’ They’ve taken it well. They’ve really grabbed a hold of the young guys and taught them, so I’m really proud of their leadership.”