In baseball, Newton County has a state champion hopeful and two other squads that have aspirations of solidifying their footing in region play with hopes of a state tournament berth. It’ll be interesting to see which of these teams can end the season with county bragging rights. Here’s a brief preview of what we can expect from our three GHSA baseball squads.
Coach: Ashley Senn, in his second season.
2016 Record: 9-17 overall, 6-9 in Region 2-AAAAAA
Players Lost to Graduation: Alcovy graduated seven seniors from last season’s team.
Key Players Returning: Senior pitchers Dalton Smith and Logan Hinson; junior catcher Walker Edmondson; senior second baseman Jacob Spivey.
Key Newcomers: Sophomore outfielder/pitcher Aaron Cox; freshman outfielder Chandler Hicks.
Key Games: at Ola (Feb. 18); at Eastside (Feb. 21); at Griffin (Feb. 25); vs. Heritage (April 14, 17, 19).
Season Outlook: Coach Senn says the strength of Alcovy’s team as of now is offense. Solid bats, good team speed and strong pitching will make this team a tough out for any 2017 opponent. In the Tigers’ 5-4 loss to Ola back on Feb. 13, Senn said “it was defense and errors that killed us.” Alcovy had five errors in that setback. But those are kinks Senn believes can be ironed out, especially now that he’s in year number two of building the Tigers’ program.
“Last year being a new coach, I spent half the season getting everyone on the same page,” Senn said. “This year, everyone is already on the same page. We have an attitude of knowing what I expect as a coach. I’m looking at our seniors and basically looking at them for leadership for this team. I think if we can get our defense on track, we’ll be one of the better teams around.”
Coach: Bruce Evans, in his third year.
2016 Record: 23-11 overall, 12-4 in Region 4-AAAA.
Players Lost to Graduation: Six seniors including Nick Womack, Austin Taylor, Ritchey Gray, Chase Raines, Charlie Greenich and Connor Hewell.
Key Players Returning: Coach Evans said the nature of his team and the expectations he has for them doesn’t lend him to single out many players. But among those he called “proven guys” are senior catcher Austin Holloway and senior pitcher Josh Sims.
Key Games: vs. Newton (Feb. 20); Woodward Academy (March 22, 24).
Season Outlook: Expectations are high for the Eagles after a state semifinals appearance in 2016. Several players who represented senior leadership on that team are gone, but now it’s Holloway and Sims’ turn to step into those spots. Last season, the Eagles seemed to sneak up on many, especially in the region and the state tourney, and Evans is counting on the element of surprise to be in his favor again in 2017.
“I don’t suspect many people think we’ll do much this year, especially with Woodward (Academy) in the region.” Evans said. “They didn’t think we would last year either, but we’ve got some young guys on this team who can really generate some solid offense for us. And we have a couple young pitchers along with Josh. If those guys can’t get it going, we can be a really solid bunch.”
Coach: Andre Byrd
2016 Record: 14-14 overall, 7-8 in region 2-AAAAAA
Players Lost: Seniors Alex Johnson (four HRs last year); Mason Calloway (batted .421 in 2016) ; Augustus Murray and Victor Medina
Key Players Returning: Junior Parker Kauffman; junior pitcher Jacob Redmond; junior second baseman Jamal Boykin.
Key Games: at Eastside (Feb. 20); vs. Rockdale County (April 10, 12 and 14).
Season Outlook: If the Rams haven’t proven anything else in the early part of the season, they’ve shown they can hit and score. In its first three games – a win at Woodland and losses at Morgan County and against Heritage – Newton has averaged close to 11 runs per game. Some of their biggest bats from last season, like Kauffman and Boykin have returned. But perhaps just as impressive is the play of Kauffman. The junior hurler coupled a .583 batting average and five RBIs with 11 strikeouts and 0 earned runs during the past week of action. As far as the region goes, after Rockdale, Newton is probably the most talented team in the region on paper, so a region title may come down to what the two schools from neighboring counties do against each other.