Madison County appears to be in the midst of a rebuilding year on the baseball diamond. Trouble is, there hasn’t been much time to rebuild.
Inclement weather has sidelined the young diamond Raiders for much of the preseason as the team looks to replace seven seniors off last year’s squad.
“It doesn’t even feel like we’ve practiced five times, much less like we’re ready to play a game,” 23rd-year coach Charlie Griffeth said. “Of all years, this wasn’t the year (to have that).”
Madison County, which went 21-8 in 2009, began its season Wednesday against Alcovy, but results weren’t available at press time (see next week’s paper for details).
The Red Raiders are in “wait-and-see” mode as far as its retooling process.
New starters taking over at six positions, and some of those projected starters haven’t played in a varsity game prior to this year.
“I don’t know how we’re going to fill them really,” Griffeth said. “We’re kind of wait-and-see. We need to play and see if they can have some success or not.”
But Griffeth said that transition is when special players come to the forefront.
The coach pointed back to 1998 when former Red Raider Ted Cooper didn’t start the previous year, but ended up setting single-season record for walks, batted over .300 and hit seven or eight homers.
“You just got to find out if any kids are going to be able to step up like Ted did,” Griffeth said.
Madison County lost nearly all its offensive firepower from last year, but does return first-team all-region outfielder Dustin Roberts, who hit .424 last year with seven homers and 27 runs driven in. Back also is shortstop Matthew “Raybo” Robinson, who hit .327 with two homers and 14 runs driven in.
In the field, senior Bracken Turner takes over as starting catcher with Zach Escoe backing him up.
J. Ben Hardman is at first, with Kyle Dean and Dylan Chandler serving as Hardman’s understudies. Both subs could see action at designated hitter, too.
In the middle of the infield, Steven Tiller moves into a starting spot at second, while Robinson brings veteran experience to the shortstop position.
At the hot corner, Haden Martin is the new starter, with Brock Turner serving as his backup.
In the outfield, Eddie Gilbert is in left, Matt Dean is in center and Roberts is in right. Utility outfielder Jarrett Seawright will play left or right depending on who is pitching.
And the pitching staff is wide-open right now since there hasn’t been sufficient time to evaluate all the arms.
“The big thing is pitching, getting your arms in shape and getting some innings in, which we haven’t been able to do either,” Griffeth said. “But everybody is in the same boat.”
Sophomore Brock Turner was the Red Raiders’ no. 1 starter, but he’s injured.
That leaves the coaches to pick from a long list of potential candidates for innings.
They include Roberts, Chandler, Gilbert, Brandon Doolittle (pitcher only), Matt Savage (pitcher only) and Hardman. Robinson could also be used in short relief situations.
“It’s just nailing down some starters and who can throw some strikes,” Griffeth said.
They hope to have that sorted out by the time the 20-game region race starts March 10 against Heritage.
Griffeth pegs Winder-Barrow and Loganville as the top contenders for this year’s region crown.
“Winder’s loaded,” Griffeth said. “Winder’s really loaded.”
But Loganville, on the other hand, might be blessed with more team speed.
“They’re both pretty dang good,” Griffeth said.
Heritage should be strong again, but not quite as stout as in recent years. Griffeth noted that Clarke Central “has a lot of kids back” and improved as last year progressed. Apalachee improved over the course of 2009, too, he added.
Other schools have new coaches, so that provides some mystery.
“It’s going to be a dogfight for a spot (to state),” Griffeth said.
Despite the obvious unknowns, Griffeth is looking forward to trying to turn this young group into a winner.
“It is (challenging), but it’s also fun starting over and watching kids get better and seeing them get better each game.”
NOTES: Madison County beat Hart County 10-9 in a scrimmage game last Thursday, winning with two outs in the bottom of the seventh.