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Franklin baseball programs get set for diamond

Belgreen Bulldogs

Nathan Vincent will have a rebuilding process on his hands as he takes over the reins of the Belgreen baseball program.

The Bulldogs lost nine seniors off a team that advanced to the playoffs for the first time in two decades. The majority of the team will be underclassmen. Vincent’s team will have two seniors, one junior and one sophomore, and the rest of the team will essentially be junior high players that will have to make quick strides.

“Our upperclassmen, especially our two seniors, are going to be leaders and carry us while we bring these younger guys along,” said Vincent. “They have worked hard, and they have shown great leadership in the offseason.”

Three returning players Vincent will be looking to are Kostner Bryant, Luke Henson and Koby Collins.

“Kostner and Luke will be two of our main pitchers and will have to be the big guys in the lineup,” said Vincent. “Koby will be behind the plate. We will depend on him back there. He moved up last year and will have to be ready.”

Transfer Jacob Fleming will be vaulted into a leadership role as well because of his upperclassman status.

Phil Campbell Bobcats

Coach Jonathan Raper said if his team is going to make another run at an area title, he’s going to have to rely on youth. The loss of Class 2A Hitter of the Year Peyton Thomas and the consummate leadership of catcher Joe Hardy is a void that’s hard for a team to fill.

“We are pretty young overall,” said Raper. “We will play a lot of 10th-graders, and they will need to step up and grow up quickly. We have some good arms on the team – not great arms but really good arms.

“I think this team is more athletic and has more speed than in teams I’ve had in the past and could be one of the best defensive teams I’ve had if they continue to work hard,” Raper added. “We are going to rely on pitching and defense in the wait on our offense to come along.”

Raper has two seniors he will lean on in Nate Owens and Cole Motes. Both players will be in the pitching rotation and at plate.

“Nate hit the ball well for us last year,” Raper said. “We will lean on him at the plate. Cole has worked hard in the offseason and has a chance to be really good.”

Raper will also lean on the experience of two sophomores, Ridge Raper and Austen Baker. “Ridge is one of our top pitchers,” said Raper. “He’s going to have to pick it up at the plate and help us win. Austen is an iron horse; he caught in all but one game last year. He is a leader behind the plate.”

Raper said fans should also said keep an eye on junior Rilan Garrison.

Red Bay Tigers

The Red Bay Tigers will return seven starters to a squad that went 16-13 last season, which gives Coach Richard Maggerise optimism for the coming year.

“We have a great group of guys coming back,” said Maggerise, who has a career record of 75-70 as the Tigers head coach. “We have a lot of experience and talent and guys who like to work hard.”

The Tigers return five senior starters, including their leading hitter, senior Kolby Bragwell, a two-time all-state selection at third base and a Shelton State Community College signee. Bragwell batted .544 last year with 31 RBIs, 34 runs scored, six home runs and 17 stolen bases.

Other seniors dotting the diamond for the Tigers will be shortstop Alex Burroughs, .404 average, 25 runs scored, 23 RBIs and 27 stolen bases; right-fielder Cade McKinney, .310 average, 16 RBIs, 22 runs scored and eight stolen bases; first baseman Chase Allen, .342 average, 28 RBIs, 18 runs scored and eight stolen bases; and catcher Kaleb Sims, .250 average and 10 RBIs.

Two underclassmen will also be in the lineup for Red Bay: junior second baseman Kaleb Bragwell – .288 average, 17 runs scored, 20 RBIs – and junior centerfielder Kolbie King – 24 stolen bases, 12 RBIs, 12 runs scored.

On the mound for the Tigers this year, look for Kolby and Kaleb Bragwell, Chase Allen and Kaleb Sims.

Tharptown Wildcats

Shannon Benford has been trying to rebuild the Tharptown baseball program since he took over the job. He started with a young squad made up mostly of junior high players. His program is still young – only four upperclassmen – but they are developing experience needed and getting themselves in position to compete and win.

“This year’s team is a little more experienced, but we are still really young,” said Benford. “We only have one senior and one junior. I look for this team to be more competitive this year and continue to improve.”

Sophomore pitcher and outfielder Hunter White returns and adds speed to the team’s lineup and in the field. The team’s leading returning hitter is freshman Greyson Studdard, who will pitch and play the field for the Wildcats. Freshman Jayden Mitchell also gives his coach a lot of optimism.

“Jayden has a cannon for an arm,” said Benford. “If he can control his pitches, he is going to do big things as a pitcher.”

Junior pitcher and infielder Britton Kennamore is still recovering from a knee injury in October and should return for the second half of the season.

Vina Red Devils

One thing rings true across most sports: defense wins championships. New Vina head baseball coach Donovan Hand said he takes that philosophy to heart. Hand, a former standout pitcher at Hatton High School, Jacksonville State and in professional baseball, has seen this philosophy work at every level he’s played and said he wants to instill it in his new team.
“I am big believer in defense first,” said Hand. “That’s where you win and lose games. We need to pitch good and not make mistakes in the field. I think our guys know this.

“Right now I think we can be good defensively, and I hope we can pitch good,” Hand added. “Our infield is solid. We’ve showed some signs that we can hit with authority, but we need to show more consistency.”

Hand will lean on two seniors to help his team along this season: Chance Kennedy and Isaac Harper.

“Chance is long and has a good arm and can be a good outfielder,” said Hand. “We might lean on him as a pitcher too. Isaac is a big kid who swings the bat with authority. He’s a bulldog. He’s an emotional leader. I really appreciate what he’s done so far.”