FLORENCE — The area’s two 2012 state baseball championship teams will open the season today in the TimesDaily Classic at much less than full strength and with plenty of questions their coaches hope to have answered sooner rather than later.
Class 1A champ Shoals Christian opens the season at 6 p.m. today at Deshler, while Mars Hill, which won the Class 2A title last season but is now competing in Class 3A this season, takes on Priceville at Sheffield at 6 p.m.
Shoals Christian coach Jason Anderson and Mars Hill coach Jay Mitchell will get their first glimpse at their new teams, but they won’t be at full strength. Both coaches are waiting for players to join their teams as soon as basketball season ends. Anderson said he has seven players still in basketball, while Mitchell has “four of five” still playing hoops.
Both coaches must replace key players from their championship teams.
“We lost some really good players,” Anderson said of trying to replace the six players he lost to graduation. “I like the guys we have coming up, and we’ve got good seniors and good leadership. I feel good about us going into the season.”
Mitchell echoed those sentiments.
“We lost seven guys from last year,” he said.
“Five started every day and all seven started at different times. We’ve got the bulk of our pitching coming back and that’s what a lot of people look at, but we have to fill in the pieces around them and they have to play up to their potential.”
With players still in basketball and a bevy of newcomers in their lineups, both coaches realize their won-loss records could suffer early.
Results, however, aren’t their main focus. Preparing for area games is.
“With so many guys still in basketball, I don’t see us coming out of the gate too fast,” Anderson said. “The past few years have been nice but we’re not trying to defend anything. We are just trying to get better every day.”
Added Mitchell, “If you look at our track record, we lose a lot early. We’re trying to win, but wins and losses aren’t a concern. Our season starts when area games start.”
Pitching is an early concern. Don’t expect to see many complete games from any starter as Anderson, Mitchell and other area coaches try to bring their staffs along slowly in the early going.
“Our depth is always a concern, and six of the guys playing basketball are pitchers,” Anderson said. “We’re going to bring them along slowly. We have to be real careful early.”
Mitchell said everybody on his team is available to pitch at any time during the early glut of games.
“If you’ve got an arm, you’ll pitch,” he said. “We’ll send them all out there. It really builds depth. I enjoy seeing different guys go to the mound and compete. It gives us a different look defensively.”
Of course, in this part of the state teams don’t have to travel very far to find good competition. Teams such as Russellville, Lauderdale County, Central, Deshler, Sheffield, Brooks and Muscle Shoals are annual state title contenders. Florence, the only 6A school in the area, is improving.
“We’ve been fortunate lately,” Anderson said. “There’s a lot of great baseball being played around here.”
“There are good coaches and good players on every corner around here,” Mitchell said. “That’s nice to have that luxury that you don’t have to travel a long distance to get challenged.”
Contact Gregg Dewalt at 256-740-5748 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @greggdewalt on Twitter.
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