Raiders return seven seniors off state tourney team
Madison County’s veteran players want to make sure last year’s 20-8 season wasn’t a one-and-done type scenario.
The Raiders open today (Thursday) at home against non-region Jefferson, hungry for another 20-win season and trip to the state playoffs.
“We’ve got a bunch of seniors,” Raider coach Charlie Griffeth said. “They came ready to work and accomplish something. They didn’t come living on success they had last year. So it proves that it’s a new year.”
Madison County’s roster includes seven seniors.
Griffeth, in his 22nd year with Madison County, noted that most of these players have started since they were sophomores and got a taste of the state tournament last year — albeit a brief taste.
Marist bounced Madison County from the playoffs in two games.
“They want to go deeper,” Griffeth said.
Though several experienced bats from last year’s team return, Madison County lost two of its top pitchers — Taylor Hart (drafted in the 44th round by Atlanta) and Blaine Seagraves.
Replacing those arms was a major objective of offseason and preseason work.
The bats apparently had the upper hand during preseason practice, which started Feb. 2.
“It’s early to tell,” Griffeth said. “When we were intrasquading a lot, it was like we’re either the best hitting team in the state of Georgia or the pitching is really struggling,” Griffeth said.
But when facing someone else, the Raider arms fared well.
Jack May pitched four strong innings in Madison County’s victory over Hart County Friday in an exhibition, and Dustin Roberts, Matthew “Raybo” Robinson and Matt Kennison each pitched an inning of relief as Madison County rolled to a 10-1 win.
Ethan Seagraves, Ben Morris, Roberts and May all return with mound experience from last year.
The projected starting rotation comprises Seagraves, an established starter over the past couple of years, Morris and May.
Robinson, the starting shortstop, and Kennison, the starting catcher, will also be called into pitching service this year. Robinson, a submarine pitcher, will work as a reliever, while Kennison will shed the catching armor in late-inning situations and toe the rubber as a closer.
Brandon Doolittle and J. Ben Hardman could see time on the mound as well.
Apart from pitching, the rest of the defensive lineup from last year’s state tournament team remains mostly intact. Kennison is behind the plate, Bo Dalton at first, Ian Drake at second, Robinson at short, Fleming at third, Bracken Turner in left field, Seagraves in center and Roberts in right.
Turner will back up at catcher, while Hardman is the reserve at first. Fleming will shift to shortstop when Robinson pitches and Morris will man third.
Matt Dean is the team’s top outfield reserve while Morris is also working in the outfield.
Kyle Dean is the bullpen catcher.
The team has already lost one player, Stephen Tiller, to a knee injury. He’ll be out for a month.
With nearly all the offensive clout back from last year, Griffeth hopes this team puts its share of runs on the board.
“You’re not going to hit it everyday, but potentially, we’ve got a chance (for batters) 1-9 to produce anywhere in the order — a lot of experience,” he said. “Guys are a little bigger and stronger from last year.”
Madison County has six non-region games this year to tune up for a realigned Region 8-AAAA. The region season doesn’t start until March 11. Gone are Jackson County, Dacula, Alcovy and Eastside. Apalachee and Monroe Area join the fold.
The Raiders will especially miss Eastside, having not lost to the Eagles since 2001.
“I hate to lose Eastside,” Griffeth said. “That was somebody that beats a lot of people and we always seemed to beat.”
Madison County enters this year having snapped a three-year state playoff drought..
“Yeah, it’s something to build on,” Griffeth said. “We were just OK the first half and just kept getting a little better and a little better and then we got on a roll. It kind of reminds you of a couple of teams we had in the past.”
Raider Field renovated
Madison County will unveil a renovated Red Raider Field this spring.
Final touches were applied over the weekend.
“It’s been ongoing,” Griffeth said. “It’s been a big undertaking.”
Among the changes to the four-year field is the replacement of backstop. It has also been moved 10 feet closer, so a passed ball or wild pitch isn’t an automatic score.
“It will play different 10 feet closer,” Griffeth said. “It will make it a little more challenging.”
Season tickest available
Season passes cost $40 and are available at the ticket gate.
Student season tickets cost $10. That fee covers admission for any middle school, junior varsity or varsity home game.