Winter storms and missed school days have forced area baseball coaches to get creative.
Buford coach Tony Wolfe’s players have thrown bullpens and had batting practice in their indoor facility, while also taking infield on the school’s football practice field.
Flowery Branch coach Scott Myers encouraged his players to work out on their own because of so many missed school days, hoping they can stay in shape.
Wolfe, in his 19th year as Buford’s coach, said his program’s facilities have eased the impact it felt from the weather. But the Wolves still weren’t on the field for 13 straight days before Friday’s 5-2 win at 2014 state semifinalist Westminster.
“It’s been interesting,” Wolfe said. “It’s been the longest stretch of bad weather that I can recall in my time. You have to make the best of the situation.”
After a Wednesday home game with Whitewater, his team will face DeSoto (Miss.), Sparkman (Ala.), Trinity Christian (Fla.) and one other tough opponent in a tournament hosted by LaGrange this Friday and Saturday.
“It’ll be great for us to catch up,” Wolfe said. “We’ll be catching up against nationally-ranked teams.”
First-year White County coach J. Wright’s team had its first practice in two weeks on Monday after playing three games in that span. It didn’t take long for him to identify the toughest part of the weather woes.
“When we’re out of school, the kids aren’t in a routine,” Wright said.
Buford and Gainesville should once again be capable of deep postseason runs after each reached the state semifinals in 2014. Gainesville lost pitcher/centerfielder Michael Gettys to the MLB draft but has the talent to remain a contender.
The Wolves were No. 4 nationally in a preseason poll released by Collegiate Baseball. Buford returns its top hitter in catcher Joey Bart, a Georgia Tech signee who batted .455 with 12 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBIs a season ago.
Though the Wolves have to replace three infielders and their centerfielder, they boast a deep pitching staff led by lefty Jake Higginbotham, a Clemson signee. Kevin Coulter (Mercer), Keyton Gibson (Georgia Tech) and Connor Bennett (West Virginia) also return, with Georgia commit Justin Glover a newcomer who moved from Albany.
“We’re more than blessed in terms of quality pitchers. Early it will not be as difficult because guys just aren’t going to be ready to throw long outings,” Wolfe said. “But as the season progresses, finding innings for everybody will be some trouble.”
Myers said his Falcons will be bolstered by a pitching staff featuring Georgia Tech signee Jonathan Hughes. The coach also likes what he has seen from Trevor Roof, Jackson Harrell and left-hander Kholton Hamann.
Flowery Branch reached the AAAAA second round and compiled a 20-10 record in 2014. Myers said nothing will be easy in a region featuring Gainesville, Winder-Barrow, Heritage and Loganville, but the Falcons’ goal is a region title.
“We’re just going to tee it up every Monday, Wednesday and Friday and see where we stack up, see if we can get in there,” Myers said.
North Hall went 21-10 and reached the second round in 2014, which was expected to be a rebuilding year after losing the bulk of the program’s 2013 runner-up team. But Trojans coach Trent Mongero pointed to the importance of replacing four starters, including shortstop Andrew Smith, whom the coach called the best player he’s coached in 24 years.
Left-handed ace Corbin Lewallen is playing right off the bat after missing the first third of last season with an injury.
“We’re certainly cautiously optimistic. We feel like we have more depth in some areas, but the pieces we lost last year were key pieces, and in some instances not replaceable,” Mongero said. “We do have a lot of guys that got their feet wet that had to grow up last year. We’re going to have to play fundamental baseball to win.”
Wright said pitchers Joel Pritchett, Chris Jackson, Trey Cantrell and John Henry Mullis, plus catcher Stetson Gearin, are leading the Warriors thus far. White County graduated pitching ace Spencer Adams, a second-round MLB draft pick by the Chicago White Sox.
Region 7-AAA will be ripe for a new team to rise after playoff teams Buford, North Hall and White County moved up to Class AAAA. West Hall returned to the playoffs in 2014, its first postseason trip since 2003.
Dawson County coach Thad Burgess’ team was 15-11 a season ago and will look to move up into the playoff picture with a lineup that includes five left-handed hitters.
The Tigers will have to replace top hitter and pitcher Logan Burt, the region Co-Pitcher of the Year, and fellow four-year starter and catcher Colton Chester.
But Dawson County also returns six players who had starting roles.
“We do know our region is wide-open,” Burgess said. “Everyone will think they’ll have a chance to get to the playoffs or even win the region.”
Sports Editor Jared Putnam contributed to this story.