February 16, 2014

Area baseball previews: Season kicks off today for local teams

There was snow on the ground just a few days ago in northwest Georgia, but there will be baseball on the diamond this week.

Today is the first day Georgia High School Association baseball teams can open the season. While the action is limited among schools in Murray and Whitfield counties today, all local teams will be in action soon.

Here’s a glance at the upcoming season for all seven local programs:

Christian Heritage

Last year, in their first season of GHSA competition, the Lions reached the Class A private school playoffs. However, they were swept on the road in the opening-round best-of-three series by Macon’s First Presbyterian Day School, which entered the postseason ranked third in the classification.

The Lions and coach Noah Stokes want more in 2014.

“Last year was a fun year,” Stokes said. “This year we want a championship effort — that’s what we’re hanging our hats on — with every rep in practice and every pitch in a game. We want our kids to give effort and be mentally and physically tough enough to sustain that effort.”

Stokes has seven returning starters from last year’s team, which went 12-13 overall and 9-8 in Sub-region 6A-A, but Michael McKinney and Tre Mason — both selections to The Daily Citizen’s All-Area Baseball Team in 2013 — were lost to graduation. McKinney signed with NCAA Division II program Georgia College and State University after hitting .301 and compiling a 6-4 record on the mound with a 2.67 ERA. Mason, a catcher, led the Lions offensively with a .405 batting average.

“With all the guys we have returning, we’re more mature with playoff experience and hope that will carry over into this season,” said Stokes, whose Lions open the season with a 5:30 p.m. game Thursday at North Murray.

Jake Stokes, the coach’s son and another all-area selection who batted .366 and led the Lions with 26 RBIs as a junior, will start in center field with Junior Chase Tidwell in left. Juniors Sam Sikes and Brady Souther are competing to start in right. The left-handed Souther also figures into the team’s pitching plans.

Senior Nich Bartley, an all-state receiver in football, will play second base and pitch. The Robbins twins, juniors Ian and Spencer, play shortstop and first base, respectively. Sophomore Tyson Cooper, who has played shortstop and center field, is replacing Mason as the Lions’ catcher, his natural position.

Senior Trevor Brown, a three-year starter at quarterback for Christian Heritage, returns to the diamond after sitting out the 2013 season. Senior Chandler Coley, who sat out the football and baseball seasons after transferring from Dalton High School, is handling third base and can pitch as well.

Sophomore left-handers Jonathan Lewallen and 6-foot-6-inch Jantzen Smith could also be contributors on the mound.

“It’s good to have that much pitching competition,” Stokes said. “We have to find out how they best fit in the rotation.”

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