Bearcat baseball looks to build on successful season
Published 4:41 pm Tuesday, January 24, 2017
The Bainbridge High School baseball team enters the 2017 season with high expectations after finishing the 2016 with a school record 21 wins and advancing to the second round of the state playoffs.
“We don’t think about it as extra pressure,” head coach Brian McCorkle said. “We like the expectations. We like the fact that we’ve done some things that put us in this position.”
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The Bearcats return seven starters from last year’s team with the lone changes coming at second base and first base after last season’s second baseman Conner Strickland made the move to first.
“It has been OK,” Strickland said of the move. “It is different from second base of course. I am just going to have to work hard at it. I have played there before. I’m a little rusty, but I can make that adjustment.”
Bainbridge returns all three outfielders in Clark Wiggins, Caleb Boutwell and Carson Inlow. In the infield, star shortstop Keith Lyle returns for his senior season, junior Will Kelley will once again man third base when he isn’t pitching and Noah Bryant will start as catcher. Griffin Long, who served as a key utility player last season, is the favorite to start at second base and also help plug holes when Kelley pitches.
“We have a lot of starters back from last year’s team, but we have to understand that not a run we scored, not a pitch we threw, an out we recorded, a win we got, is going to count for this year,” McCorkle said. “Our schedule is much tougher and we need to make sure we don’t have complacency.”
The major question for the Bearcats this season is who will step up in the pitching rotation and out of the bullpen. Kelley is expected to be the team’s number one pitcher, but behind him they are still looking for the right mix.
“We are going to have pitch by committee,” McCorkle said. “If a guy gets in trouble we will put the next guy in and see how it goes and change them until we get somebody out… Will is our number one and then we are searching from there. Early in the year we have a lot of tough game and we are going to have see who can get guys out.”
The leader of the team will once again be Lyle who signed a scholarship with Tallahassee Community College in the fall. He was named to the preseason AAAAA all-state team by Georgia Dugout after batting .473 with 26 RBIs as a junior.
Overall, Georgia Dugout ranked the Bearcats at No. 13 in AAAAA entering the season with Locust Grove at No. 1 and new region 1-AAAAA foe Veterans at No. 3.
The Warhawks reached the state semifinals last year and are the favorites to win region 1-AAAAA this season.
“The teams that are in our region, we spent time with them when we were in AAAAA last,” McCorkle said. “The only one that we don’t know a lot about that wasn’t in our region is Veterans. Our region is going to be pretty good. We are going to have to play well every time out.”
The added expectations and increased competition does not change the Bearcats’ goal this season though.
“To at least do what we did last year or top it,” Kelley said of what they hope to accomplish. “We are more likely to top it though. That is what we would like to do. Winning 21 games is a pretty big deal and has never been done here before. We want to at least meet that goal again and win regions and keep going higher in that state.”
Bainbridge will open the season Monday, Feb. 13 with a home game against Lee County.