Following a dominant dash to the region crown a season ago, the Carrollton High School baseball team is ready to make another run at the 7-AAAAA championship this spring.
The grind of league play officially begins today at 5:55 p.m. when the Trojans travel to East Paulding, kicking off a journey where nine teams will be fighting it out for the coveted four postseason spots and, ultimately, the No. 1 seed for the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
"Our region is going to be very tough. There's a lot of guys that have some really good pitchers. You've got some good No. 1s that can compete with anybody," Carrollton head coach Ryan Zaideman said. "Rome is going to be really tough this year. East Paulding and Kell are always some of the top programs in the state. Villa Rica is going to be very strong again. They've got a lot of pitching coming back. They're going to be a very tough team to deal with. Woodland is going to be solid, Hiram I heard has got a couple of arms. So it's going to be a dogfight when it comes to the region."
Carrollton (10-3, 0-0 Region 7-AAAAA) is off to a promising start to the 2018 campaign after challenging itself with a quality non-region schedule and Zaideman is excited about the leadership and talent he has returning from last year's elite eight squad.
On the mound, the trio of seniors Jared Soliz, Rhett Daniel and Will Carney serve as three quality arms in the starting rotation, while the bullpen is deep with middle relief and late-inning specialists that includes Ty Murray, Brock Britton, Ryan Anderson, Chris Gaiter, Zeke McDonald, Zack Broome, Kannen Christian, Destine Udombon and Colin Broz.
"We've got some guys with a lot of big-game experience. We can't be complacent with that, though. We've got to stay hungry and guys have got to go out there and really compete when they get on the mound and have a good mound presence," Zaideman said. "We feel we have a very good defense, so as long as they're going out there, throwing strikes, forcing weak contact and letting the defense play behind them, we're in good shape."
Catchers Jared Aldridge and Luke Schilling return behind the dish, while the infield features first baseman Chris Gaiter, middle infielders Asa Awbrey, Grayson Udombon and Brandon Prince, along with Murray at the hot corner.
Roaming the outfield will be the likes of Destine Udombon, Jacob Cotton and Charlie Lanier, although that unit took a tough hit with senior standout Andy Smith being limited defensively due to a shoulder injury.
Smith has been able to contribute offensively as a designated player and Zaideman said he may be able to play some defense here and there, but will primarily be used on offense.
"We're really counting on Jacob Cotton and Charlie Lanier in the outfield with Andy's injury to his shoulder," Zaideman said. "We need those guys to step up and be big for us out there defensively. They've done a good job for us offensively, but they've had to really work on their defensive game. Those are some big shoes to fill with Andy's presence out there and the real estate he covered."
Following today's trip to Dallas, the Trojans will host the Raiders (3-9, 0-0) on Wednesday at 5:55 p.m. and close out the week by welcoming Hiram (3-7, 0-0) to Cole Field on Friday evening.
As the intensity of the season cranks up with region action getting into full swing, Zaideman is looking forward to seeing his squad compete for another league title and he's confident this group can get it done.
"It's a special group because it's a group of selfless individuals. They put the team first and we have a very good chemistry in the clubhouse. We've got some guys who have really put in a lot of work. We've got excellent leadership with our senior group. It's been a trickle-down effect. We've had some younger guys step up and show some great leadership skills," Zaideman said. "It's a good group. It's a fun group to be around. I look forward every day to coming out and competing in practice or games with them. Just really excited about them."