New Apalachee baseball coach Allan Bailey is aggressively seeking to change the culture of a program that has never reached the state playoffs in its 16-year history.
Since he came on board this summer, Bailey has been fast at work, implementing a new offseason throwing program that had most of his players who weren’t playing another sport coming out to the field regularly during the fall.
The very early returns of Bailey’s approach have been promising as the Wildcats defeated Putnam County 16-0 in a scrimmage last week. And Bailey said there were even some positives in the Wildcats’ 4-1 loss to Social Circle on Monday in their season opener.
“It’s nice to see some of that foundation we’ve been trying to lay pay off,” said Bailey who was hired in June after serving as an assistant at Oconee County the last several years. “Our No. 1 goal this year is to make it to the state tournament. We’d like to one day be a team that is winning region championships and competing for state championships, but you’ve got to start somewhere.”
Bailey is the third head coach in four seasons for the Wildcats, who went just 6-19 a year ago but return a deep, veteran bunch for 2017 with seven seniors, seven juniors, three sophomores and a pair of freshmen.
“I was worried about another transition for these older guys at first, but they have really bought into what we’re trying to do,” Bailey said. “We have some great leaders who have been with this program for years and they know what it takes to achieve success. We’re asking them to do a lot but they’ve been great.”
Anchoring the Wildcats in the middle of the lineup and behind the plate is senior catcher Jacob Campbell. Campbell will help guide a pitching staff led by seniors Dustin Sexton and Jon Montgomery, junior DJ Smith and sophomore Alex Cook.
The infield will be junior-heavy with Hunter Linhart at first base and second baseman Ryan Crocker and shortstop Emory Witt manning the middle. Third base will primarily be a combination of Chase Chancey and Sexton and Cook when they aren’t pitching.
Seniors Gunnar Wright, Ryan Miller and Javy Orrostieta will patrol the outfield while junior Jarrett Wallace is also expected to contribute innings in the outfield and on the mound.
Apalachee will use plenty of other arms as it adjusts to the Georgia High School Association’s new pitch-count restrictions that limit how many pitches a player can throw in a game and put triggers in place for automatic rest periods depending on how many are thrown.
“We have several guys who have pitched before and you’ve got to get creative and find ways to develop depth,” said Bailey, who sent six Wildcats to the mound in the Putnam County scrimmage. “That’s really where our offseason bullpen sessions and arm conditioning will come into play and hopefully pay off and with the region schedule set up how it is where you play a team in a three-game series over the course of a week, you really do need that pitching depth.”
Indeed, pitching depth will come in handy for the Wildcats against a loaded Region 8-AAAAAA. Gainesville was a semifinal team last season in Class AAAAA while Winder-Barrow reached the quarterfinals. Lanier and Dacula were .500 teams which are expected to be improved and Habersham Central is seeking to rebound from a 4-22 finish.
“It’s a very tough region and the pitching is going to tell all,” Bailey said. “You’ve got to do a good job of having your pitchers keep their pitch counts down, and on the other side, we have to be able to work the count and increase the number of pitches their guys are throwing.
“We want to make the playoffs and it’s a lot easier to try to do that with six teams instead of 10 or 12. If we can win a series here or there and just try to steal games where we can, those can add up in our favor.”
The Wildcats will also have a challenging non-region slate to prepare them for region play, including a trip to Gwinnett Braves stadium Cool Ray Field on March 11 to play Prince Avenue Christian and a visit to Bailey’s old stomping grounds at Oconee County on March 8.
“It’s a good sampling of schools and it will allow us to see what different options we have with lineups and bullpen,” Bailey said.
“The fun part about non-region play is you get to experiment and get your very best lineup figured out. You’re getting extra guys some key experience but also keeping your starters fresh.”
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