Baseball fever strikes Tuesday

Published 4:25 am Monday, February 21, 2005

By Staff
Tim Cottrell
It may be the dead of Winter, but Spring Fever is sweeping the Atmore area with baseball season fast approaching.
Escambia County High School's Blue Devils and Northview High School's Chiefs will open their seasons Tuesday. The Blue Devils will travel to Flomaton to face the Hurricanes, while the Chiefs will host the Blue Eagles of W.S. Neal High School. Escambia Academy still has two more weeks to prepare for its season opener in the Patrician Tournament at Patrician Academy in Washington County.
Mike Harrell, who will begin his first season as coach of the Escambia Academy Cougars, said he feels his team can improve from last season.
"We had some problems generating offense last year," Harrell said. "We lost a lot of one-run games, and that can be blamed on not generating enough runs. My specialty is offense, so I think I can help them in that area."
The Cougars will need help in the run department, as they return only three experienced pitchers.
"Buckie Dawson, Norris Brooks, and Joe Drew will do most of the pitching for us," Harrell said. "We're looking for some of our younger players to step up and provide some more innings for us. We have a new guy named John Brantley who I think will be a big help for us."
Harrell also said he expects big things out of his lineup.
"We have lots of depth at every position," Harrell said. "We have a lot of talent for the batting order, and I think we'll be pretty good defensively as well."
Jones also noted that he had been impressed with what he had to work with.
"I come from a public school background," Harrell said. "The competitive level there is very high, and these guys all match up with what I've seen very well. All of these players could play at a public school."
Harrell concluded by saying he felt his team should finish well this season.
"I don't see any reason we shouldn't win the area," Harrell said. "We tied for the area championship this year, but I think we'll be better. Clarke Prep should be our main competition. Jackson Academy won it last year, but they've lost a lot of players."
Escambia County coach Keith Nall was also optimistic about his team's chances for improving on its 11-12 record from last season.
"We lost in the first round of the playoffs last year," Nall said. "Our kids are working hard. We'll be real young. We only have one senior."
Nall said he was looking for big things from a few of his young players.
"Our young kids are going to have to step up," Nall said. "Our one senior, Chris Graham, has been playing for five years now. He's been playing with the varsity since eighth grade. He'll pitch for us and play first base. He can swing the bat. We have a sophomore named Johnathan McNeil who will be pitching a lot. He'll also play shortstop. He played a little varsity last year. We also have a junior, Jeremy Rolin, who we need to step up a lot. Darius English, our junior shortstop, can really swing the bat well. He should be one of our leading hitters."
Nall said his major concern was the outfield.
"We lost all three starters there last year," Nall said.
The Blue Devils compete in Area 1 of the Alabama High School Athletic Association's 4A classification. Thus, they face some stiff competition from the Jackson High School Aggies, the UMS-Wright Bulldogs, and the Gulf Shores Dolphins.
"I think our main competition will be UMS," Nall said. "They're good every year. Gulf Shores made the finals of the baseball playoffs two years ago, but most of that team is gone. They should still be pretty tough though. I don't know much about Jackson."
Nall closed by saying he felt his team could surprise some people.
"I think we'll be pretty good," Nall said. "We might have a slow start with our outfield, but I think we'll be okay."

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