With the 2013 baseball season rapidly approaching East Jackson head coach Matt Pruitt has one key goal in mind for his team – to compete from the first out to the last, without letting up.
Pruitt has faith that his young Eagle squad has the ability to compete with the other teams in region 8-AAA, but to do that, it’s going to take focus and determination.
“We gave away too much last year — gave away outs, gave away bases and runs, gave away at bats,” said Pruitt. “When you do that in our region, games get away from you in a hurry. If somebody’s going to beat us, I want them to have to earn it and know they were in a fight.”
The Eagles finished the 2012 season at 4-17, leaving plenty of room for improvement.
Heading into his second year at head coach, Pruitt says his personal goal is to take the program forward by instilling the right mentality and work ethic in his players.
“The guys are older, wiser, physically more mature and have more innings and at-bats under their belt,” he said. “I now expect them to put in the hard work, trust their training and experience and then go have faith that they can compete with anybody out there. We have good ballplayers. They just need to adopt a bulldog mentality and learn the joy of giving every bit of themselves — really emptying the tank every time they go out and compete.”
The Eagles only graduated three starters last year, leaving a roster filled with in-game experience. Even so, Pruitt feels that several starting positions are still up for grabs.
Seniors Austin Johnson (P, OF) and Tyler Shipp (C,P) saw substantial playing time last season and are expected to step up in 2013.
The Eagles also have a strong junior class with several returning starters, including Josh Vales (1B), Brandon Brown (2B), Trey Mimes (RF) and Robert McKay (P).
Sophomores Alex Martin (3B) and Colton Puckett (LF) also played several innings as freshmen and are expected to be key players for the Eagles this season. Pruitt pointed specifically to sophomore Josh Hansard (SS) as an improved player and potential starter.
“(Hansard) played very little varsity last year, but he’s really come a long way in a short time,” added Pruitt. “We’ll expect him to play a big role this year. He’s versatile and willing to work hard, and we’re looking forward to seeing what he’ll do this year.”
Pruitt also believes senior Anthony Sims (OF) and junior Adam Minnick (1B, OF) will add depth to the Diamond Eagle roster.
Pruitt also made special note of freshman standout, Ty Smith.
“(Smith) has impressed us not only with his physical skills but, just as much with his work ethic and willingness to take instruction,” said Pruitt. “If he continues on the path he’s been on, he’ll make some important contributions to the varsity team this year.”
As it is still very early in the season, the East Jackson coaching staff is focused on building a strong foundation. Pruitt’s strategy is to build that foundation with repetition.
“You can’t be too good at the fundamentals,” he added. “We believe in high numbers of repetitions when it comes to the things that win or lose ballgames: fielding ground balls and fly balls, throwing and catching, getting the ball where it needs to go, etc. I’ve watched footage of major league players doing the same kind of basic fundamental work that we do. I figure that if the most talented players in the world work on that stuff, it can’t hurt us to do it too.”
The Eagles will kick off their season on the road on Wednesday, Feb. 20, when they will travel to Athens Christian. Game time is 5:55 p.m.