COVINGTON, Ga. — Two weeks into the 2021 baseball season, Alcovy has already matched its win total from a year ago.
By the end of the day on Saturday, March 6, they’ll have surpassed 2020’s game total as well.
When the Tigers walked off the field last March 9 following an 8-5 region victory over Evans, they were unaware they’d just played their last game of the season. Less than a month later, however, they were forced to pull the plug as the impact of COVID-19 turned a two-week hiatus into an indefinite suspension of play.
“I don’t have the words to describe what we went through at the end of last year,” Alcovy head coach Jimmy Hughes said. “I don’t think anything will ever hurt me more emotionally, as far as baseball goes, than having to look our seniors in the eye and tell them their season’s over. Having to tell them that due to things that were out of their control, they wouldn’t be playing anymore.”
Alcovy’s shortened 2020 campaign ended at 5-6. With the heart of region play still on the horizon, the realm of possibilities were limitless before they had their season stripped away from them. After dismantling Rutland, 16-1, on Saturday, the Tigers are now sitting at 5-4 in the new year with all their goals still well within reach.
The new year has gotten off with minimal hiccups, but it remains to be seen how far into the season clubs will be allowed to advance this spring. With that in mind, Hughes and his staff have made it a point to be grateful for every opportunity they have to return to the diamond.
Their renewed appreciation for the game has carried over into the mindsets of their players.
“We’re not promised to even have practice tomorrow depending on how the numbers are, so just getting to play is kind of a win,” Hughes said. “I think just the fact that these kids can get out here and play the game they love, get better every day, and become more respectful and just better men — that’s all I want.”
Chief among names to keep an eye on this spring is senior pitcher Lamar Williams, who gives the Tigers a fighting chance any time he’s on the mound as well being a formidable two-hole hitter. Fellow senior Jayden Bishop, the starting center fielder, has earned his spot leading off the lineup with his compact swing and ability to wreak havoc on the basepaths. Senior Raquis Holmes holds his own in the middle of Hughes’ batting order while also providing shutdown innings of relief to help close doors on opponents.
The trio of seniors make up the backbone of Alcovy’s team, but the team’s spark plug could very well be a newcomer. Freshman Reece Payne — who batted .625 on the Tigers’ JV team as an eighth grader — has already cemented himself as an everyday outfielder who has the ability to bat near the middle of the order.
“I’m biased here, but I believe the Freshman of the Year is coming from our program,” Hughes said. “Reece is a solid left-handed hitter. He squares the ball up offensively; he’ll throw strikes; he’s got a glove heavy fastball and great off-speed stuff; and defensively, he can play right field, first base — he can move all over the place.
Hughes lauded Payne’s baseball IQ and maturity, saying that spectators “would think, just by how he handles himself, that he’s an upperclassman.”
With that quartet in tow, as well as a renewed devotion to working on the minutiae of becoming a better baseball team, the Tigers have the potential to make a little bit noise this spring.
Alcovy is slated to return to action Thursday when it travels to Jasper County (6-1) for a non-region game at 5:30 p.m. Two days later, the club will travel to county rival Newton for a doubleheader starting at 12 p.m.