Strong pitching to lead Jackets
The North Augusta baseball team is ready to get on the field.
The Jackets, who were knocked out of the playoffs last year in two games, are looking for a drastic improvement over last season’s 9-14 record.
“I think we will compete at a high level for the region this year,” Vic Radcliff, North Augusta’s head coach, said. “We pretty much set some goals to come out and play hard every game and to do the little things to make good things happen.”
The little things that Radcliff has in mind include playing small-ball on offense and having solid pitching and defense.
“Because of the BBCOR bat, we are not stressing home runs,” he said. “This year, we’re stressing being contact hitters, I think we can bunt the ball. We’ve got some decent speed. I feel like we can put the ball in play. I expect us to be pretty good offensively this year. Defensively, we should be strong and pitching will be good for us. I look at it, if you’ve got a sound defense and your pitchers make good pitches, you’ve got a chance. It starts on the mound, if you’ve got that horse on the mound, you feel like you can win. I feel like we’ve got some kids who have been working hard.”
The pitching staff, which includes Erskine commit Chaz Davey, will be a big factor for the Jackets all season.
“I feel like Chaz Davey will be our number one or number two guy (on the hill),” Radcliff said. “Ryan Lark (the catcher) is going to be big for us this year.”
Lark, who is also committed to Erskine, said the pitching staff has been the strength of the team during the preseason.
“We’ve definitely worked harder than ever, so, playing a lot this season will be good,” Lark said. “We want to jump off from last season. Our pitching is definitely the best we have right now. Our hitting showed up a lot lately, but our pitching is still the best thing we have. That’s going to be key for us going into the season, to help us win some games.”
Trib Reece, the closer for North Augusta, is looking for the pitchers to carry the load early on.
“The expectation is to win a lot of games, that’s for sure,” he said. “Our pitching is going to be big for us and our hitting will be big, too. Our pitchers have looked good, but we’ve got to dog in dog out and get it going.”
The region presents a big challenge for North Augusta, who will face some powerhouse teams in AAAA all season.
“It’s not easy playing in this region with Lexington, South Aiken and those teams,” Lark said. “We’ve really got to show up and play our game every day.”
Along with the tough slate of region games, the Jackets will face Fox Creek, a team expected to compete for the Class A state championship and a rival for North Augusta.
“I look forward to playing Fox Creek,” Radcliff said. “A few kids over there used to be over here, the kids are kind of back and forth talking right now. I’ve told them it’s not about talking, it’s about what you do between the white lines. I look forward to it and it’ll be good for the community. You’ve got a lot of family members and everybody (on both sides), so it’ll be good for the community.”
While Radcliff is looking forward to playing the Predators, Lark and Reece are not placing any significance on the contest, although they do want to come away with a victory.
“I think we’re going to play it like every other game, we’re not going to treat it any different from we do Lexington or South Aiken,” Lark said. “We’re going to come at them the same as we always do.”
“Well, I mean, it’s kind of funny that we’re playing them,” Reece said. “It won’t look too good (to lose), we’ve got to show out for them.”
Although the team has a schedule full of tough games, Radcliff is hoping the preseason work of his team will carry them through the season.
“The chemistry is really good and we have a good senior leadership class,” he said. “It’s going to be very important, we have some seniors who lead by example, not by just saying something. Going into the fall, this group has been really excited and has worked hard in the weight room and conditioning. I think it’s going to pay off this year for us.”
T.J. Lundeen is a reporter for the North Augusta Star. Follow him on Twitter @lundeentj for more updates.