A new baseball season is scheduled to begin this week. With the return of several of the area’s top players, teams look to the new season with plenty of optimism.
Last season, Alexander was the only team to reach the state playoffs, and the Cougars return the reigning pitcher of the year in C.J. Fehribach and several other top players.
Chapel Hill will start the season with a new coach in Alan Adair, who replaces Mickey Harper. At the conclusion of last season, Harper stepped down as the Panthers coach to concentrate more time with his family and his softball duties.
Since the school opened in 1999, Harper had been the only coach for the successful program.
With several returning players, Lithia Springs and Douglas County look for solid seasons as they try to make a run for the postseason.
Here is a look at the upcoming season involving area teams:
Coach: Chris Brown
2015 season: 20-12, lost to South Effingham in second round of the playoffs
2016 Schedule: Feb. 20 vs. Smith Station (at Harris County), 11 a.m.; Feb. 20 at Harris County, 2 p.m. ; Feb. 23 vs. Calloway, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 29 at Lanmark Christian; March 4 vs. Central-Carroll, 5:30 p.m.; March 7 vs. Allatoona; March 8 vs. Harrison; March 9 at Allatoona; March 11 at Lithia Springs; March 14 vs. Lithia Springs; March 16 vs. Villa Rica; March 18 at Villa Rica; March 21 at Chapel Hill; March 23 vs. Chapel Hill; March 25 vs. South Paulding; March 28 at South Paulding; Mach 30 at Paulding County; April 1 vs. Paulding County; April 11 vs. East Pauding; April 13 at East Paulding; April 15 vs. Hiram; April 18 at Hiram; April 20 at New Manchester; April 22 vs. New Manchester (Senior Day). All games start at 5:55 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Key returners: INF/P C.J. Fehribach, Sr.; 1B Jacob Earley, Sr.; C/P Gavin Harmon, Jr.; P Matthew Derington, P/INF
Key newcomers: INF/OF Dalton Hill, Jr.; SS/2B Adam Smith, Jr.; 3B Jason Hinchman, Jr.
On the mound: The pitching staff will be built around Fehribach, who is the reigning county pitcher of the year. Last season, he compiled a 6-2 record with a 2.98 ERA in 38 innings of work. Brown is looking for a few more players to step up and help strengthen the staff, which graduated it other two top pitchers. Brown said the first 10 or so games will be used to help develop the state before the Cougars get into their region schedule.
At the plate: This might be the best offensive production team the Cougars have fielded in the last three seasons. The team will rely on experience that has some power and speed to help produce runs. Fehribach is the top returning hitter after producing a .370 average with 19 RBI last season. Early had a .325 average with a team-leading 11 doubles and 18 RBI. Also Gavin was productive at the plate with a .296 average and a pair of doubles.
What to know: Two key players from last season - Mike Wright and Jake Pratt - transferred to Carrollton. The Cougars will have to find replacements for those two productive players as Wright started in the outfield and was a two-time all-county player. Seniors Ryan Leake and Aden Copeland will be looked on to fill the void left by the transfers. The Cougars will be battled tested by the team they get into the core of their region schedule. Alexander opens the season against Alabama large-school state champion Smith Station and plays a nightcap against host Harris County next week.
What coach Brown says: “We are not as concerned with the won-loss record this time of year as we are preparing for what should be another tough region schedule. We want our guys to be playing at the highest level possible when we get into the region.”
Chapel Hill Panthers
Coach: Alan Adair
2015 season: 11-12
2016 Schedule: Feb. 17 vs. Douglas County; Feb. 22 at Douglas County; Feb. 23 vs. South Cobb; Feb. 29 vs. Campbell; March 3 vs. Pike County, 5:30 p.m.; March 4 vs. Grissom (Ala.), 4 p.m.; March 5 vs. Ringgold, 1 p.m.; March 5 vs. Evans, 5 p.m.; March 7 vs. New Manchester; March 9 at New Manchester; March 11 at East Paulding; March 14 vs. East Paulding; March 16 at Paulding County; March 18 vs. Paulding County; March 19 vs. Allatoona; March 21 vs. Alexander; March 23 at Alexander; March 29 at Allatoona; March 30 at South Paulding; April 1 vs. South Paulding; April 11 vs. Lithia Springs; April 13 at Lithia Springs; April 15 at Villa Rica; April 18 vs. Villa Rica; April 20 vs. Hiram; April 22 at Hiram. All games start at 5:55 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Key returners: C Neil Powell, Sr.; P Savontae Williams, Sr.; P/INF Jamison Arnold, Jr.; C Zachary Nail, Jr.; OF Devon Sanders, Sr.; OF Daetron Bray, Jr.; P/OF J.T. Seikerman, Jr.
Key newcomers: INF Izaiah Rodriquez, Sr.; INF/OF Dylan Galm, Jr.; OF D.J. Franklin, Jr.
On the mound: The Panthers look to be solid at the pitching spot with the return of Williams and Arnold. Williams missed some of the preseason workouts because of his obligation with the basketball team. Adair said there has been a big emphasis placed on the pitching during the preseason workouts. Siekerman, Sanders and Guy English can also come on to help shore up the pitching staff.
At the plate: Arnold is the leading hitter from last season with a .314 average in 39 plate appearances. Siekerman hit .308 in 66 plate appearances with a team-leading 16 RBI. Williams was also solid at the plate in 59 appearances with a .209 average. The Panthers 105 runs with 88 RBI last season. Williams and Arnold produced the team’s only home runs from a year ago with one each.
What to know: For the first time in school history there is someone other than Mickey Harper calling the shots for the team. Adair, who has been an assistant for five years, takes over for Harper, who started the program in 1999. Adair coached previously at Douglas County High and looks to continue to build the program. The Panthers missed the postseason last season but with seven returning starters they look to make a run at securing a spot in a tough region. Chapel Hill graduated some top players but have a good nucleus returning to keep them competitive. Galm, a transfer from Landmark Christian, looks to help. In 21 games for the Class A school, the junior hit .262 with 11 hits and four RBI with six runs scored.
What coach Adair says: “We are looking to compete and hold our own in a very tough region. I’m thankful and blessed to have the opportunity. It is really a challenge to step in and follow someone that was very successful with the program. We hope to continue the success that this program has had in baseball.”
Douglas County Tigers
Coach: John Cunningham
2015 season: 8-13
2016 Schedule: Feb. 16 vs. Lithia Springs; Feb. 17 at Chapel Hill; Feb. 18 vs. Paulding County; Feb. 19 vs. South Paulding; Feb. 22 vs. Chapel Hill; Feb. 23 at Lithia Springs; Feb. 25 vs. New Manchester; Feb. 26 at Paulding County; Feb. 29 vs. Wheeler; March 1 at East Coweta; March 3 at Wheeler; March 4 vs. East Coweta; March 8 at Westlake; March 9 at Marietta; March 11 vs. Westlake; March 15 vs. Pebblebrook; March 18 at Pebblebrook; March 22 vs. Campbell; March 25 at Campbell; March 29 vs. Newnan; April 11 vs. Mays, 5:30 p.m.; April 15 at Mount Zion (DH), 5 p.m.; April 19 vs. Langston Hughes; April 20 at Langston Hughes. All games start at 5:55 p.m. unless otherwise noted.
Key returners: SS/P Carson Wiles, Sr.; P/3B Michael Gillespie, Sr.; C Will Carney, So.
Key newcomers: Several talented freshmen are expected to contribute.
On the mound: Carson Wiles and Michael Gillespie will be counted on to throw a lot of innings for the Tigers this year. Gillespie brings experience, having thrown a significant amount of innings in the past, while Wiles will take the mound more than in previous years in order to fill a void Douglas County has for pitching. Will Carney also might see time on the mound for the Tigers as well as left handed freshman Parker Ball and other young pitchers. Derek Brutcher and Harrison Hawtley, two new pitching coaches in the Douglas County program, have been working on the mechanics of the Tigers’ hurlers.
At the plate: Douglas County intends to play small ball as there has been an emphasis on getting the leadoff batter on base and moving him around the bases this preseason.
What to know: Douglas County lost 11 seniors from last year’s team, but Cunningham feels good about the young players in his program. Having coached baseball in the past, last season was Cunningham’s first as Douglas County’s baseball coach. For the previous five years he was the head coach of the school’s successful boys’ soccer team. Cunningham likes the way the Tigers are meshing and embracing their spots on the team in his second season. Cunningham wants all of his players to find a way they can contribute to the team.
What coach Cunningham says: “I’ll like to think we’ll have the chance to surprise some people in our region (3-AAAAAA). We’re obviously working very hard in getting the fundamentals down. I think if we can do that we don’t have to do anything fancy. As our pitchers come into their own and batters move [runners] around the bases, not only will we be okay, but we’ll be able to maybe surprise some people.”
Lithia Springs Lions
Coach: John Fulkerson
2015 season: 2-20
2016 Schedule: Feb. 16 at Douglas County; Feb. 17 at Osborne, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 19 at Temple, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 22 vs. Pebblebrook, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 23 vs. Douglas County; Feb. 25 at Langston Hughes, 5:30 p.m.; Feb. 26 vs. Temple, 5:30 p.m.; March 2 vs. Osborne, 5:30 p.m.; March 7 at Paulding County; March 9 vs. Paulding County; March 11 vs. Alexander; March 14 at Alexander; March 16 at New Manchester; March 18 vs. New Manchester; March 21 at East Paulding; March 23 vs. East Paulding; March 25 vs. Hiram; March 28 at Hiram; March 30 vs. Villa Rica; April 1 at Villa Rica; April 11 at Chapel Hill; April 13 vs. Chapel Hill; April 15 v. Allatoona; April 18 at Allatoona; April 20 at South Paulding; April 22 vs. South Paulding. All games begin at 5:55 p.m. unless otherwise indicated.
Key returners: SS Ira Dorin, Sr.; OF/C Chase Wilborn, Jr.; P/INF/C Tyler Ryan, So.; OF/P Emmanuel Scott, Jr.
Key newcomers: OF Arin Wilson, Sr.; 2B Kendall Stephens, Jr.
On the mound: Fulkerson is calling this one of the deepest pitching staffs he has coached at Lithia Springs. He is relying on Ryan Scott, Dakota Holt and Chance Jarrard to help carry the team on the mound. Look for Dorin to come in some at relieve. With an improved pitching staff, the team should have a chance to win a few more games. Each of the returners had significant time on the mound and the experience should help.
At the plate: Dorin is the leading returner with a .385 average. The team looks to be much improved at hitting with several returners.
What to know: The Lions kept several games close last season and look to do the same. With more leadership returning at key position, more wins could be on tap for the Lions, although they play in one of the top Class AAAAA regions in the state. Fulkerson says he likes the makeup of the team both on the field and in the classroom. Dorin is the leader and has already signed a scholarship with Div. II Pfeiffer University in North Carolina.
What coach Fulkerson says: “We have some question marks as far as experience at certain positions. It is very important that we have some success early as to help us build some confidence. We have a tough region schedule ahead of us so we are looking to get some experience early and compete. We are very thin as far as numbers so we will have players moving around and we have to stay healthy.”