Academy ready for hardball

Published 10:13 pm Monday, February 20, 2006

By By Matthew Nascone
Last year the Escambia Academy Cougars baseball team made it to the Final Four before having their season end and first-year head coach Mitch Hughes said he wants to get them back there.
"We lost seven seniors and three of those guys were pitchers, but we have some real good guys on this team and we should be alright," Hughes said.
Hughes admits the biggest obstacle this year will be finding guys to replace the seven lost seniors from last year, but he said he believes these guys will step up and do some great things this year for EA.
The top three hitters for the Cougars will be Joe Drew, John Brantley and Cody Norton, Hughes said. And Norton and Drew will also help EA on the mound.
"Brantley is a great ball player and when Joe and Cody are not pitching they will be in the field helping us win," Hughes said.
The third man in the pitching rotation for the Cougars is Tyler Brown and Hughes said he is the location guy of the bunch.
"He can place the ball and he will hit his spots," he said.
Of course these are the team's best pitchers and Hughes said they will be saved for area games, but there are other pitchers on the squad.
Kevin Maher, Austin Eicher and Jon Dean are the other three pitchers the Cougars will throw on the mound.
One of the keys to winning is to have a good defensive unit and Hughes said this group could field the ball well.
"If we could get the bats to catch up with the defense we would be in good shape," he said.
Another key to success is experience and with the loss of seven seniors in 2005, the Cougars are starving for some experience. The squad has only two seniors in Bruce Smith and Matt Quimby, but Hughes said the leadership of Smith is uncanny.
"These guys will do anything for Bruce because he is such a great leader," Hughes said.
Another leader on the team is sophomore Ethan Brooks. Hughes said Brooks is a vocal leader on and off the field.
"He is the vocal type of leader and that is something you always need," he said. "He is only a 10th grader, but the guys listen to him and his leadership is vital to our success."
Chris Kirk and Jimmy Dean will be assisting Hughes in the dugout in 2006 and Terrell Still will be making sure everything is in order as the team's manager.
The team's first game is Feb. 28 against Northview in Bratt, Fla. at 4 p.m.
Large senior class to lead Cougar softball
Senior leadership is one of the key elements any coach will say is essential to winning ball games. The Escambia Academy Lady Cougars softball team will not have to worry about that this year.
EA could field almost an entire starting roster with its eight seniors. Lori Bonds, Jaime Drew, Stacey Gibbs, Allison Thomas, Cynthia Allen, Holly Harrison, Ashley Smith and Courtney Smith will lead the Lady Cougars into battle this season.
"We have a group of outstanding seniors and the whole team is showing a lot of promise so far," EA head coach Darrell Jackson said. "I am excited because with this many seniors it allows me to relax when they are on the field. I can do this because with these seniors out there, there is no doubt in my mind they will get the job done. With that many seniors, it makes this team easy to coach and these girls will do whatever I ask them to do."
This group of seniors has also produced on the field as they have posted a 40-14 record in the previous two seasons.
Jackson said the girls will be tested early as they open the season Feb. 28 against the Northview Lady Chiefs and then travel to compete in the Patrician Tournament on March 3-4.
"That tournament will have a lot of good teams in it and we should have a good idea of where we stand at the end," Jackson said.
In the tournament EA has the possibility of facing Tuscaloosa Academy, the defending Alabama Independent School Association Class 2A champion and defending AISA Class 3A champion Mobile Christian Academy.
The bulk of seniors for the Lady Cougars also bring back six starters to a club that finished the season 20-8 in 2005.
Jackson said there is something special about these girls.
"They are a close-knit group of girls and they are always there for each other," he said. "They play with one mindset and there is no individuality on this team, they are strictly team oriented."
The speed of the Lady Cougars is what Jackson said he will use to win some games this year.
"Our biggest attribute is our speed," he said. "We have a very talented group with a lot of experience and we can use that to our advantage."
The pitching staff is solid in 2006 with three seniors and a freshman looking to contribute on the mound.
"Our staff is anchored by Stacey Gibbs," Jackson said. "She is a little keg of dynamite and she has the aggressiveness needed to pitch."
Gibbs is also the most feared member of the Lady Cougars.
"Other coaches are always asking me when is she going to graduate because she is such a dominating pitcher," Jackson said.
Jackson said the acquisition of Keri Payne to the coaching staff will be beneficial to the Lady Cougars.
"Coach Payne brings a wealth of knowledge and she also brings youth to this coaching staff," he said.
Payne graduated from Ernest Ward High School and played softball at Okaloosa-Walton Community College.
Payne is in charge of the JV team and she said they will play three games, one against Northview on opening day and a double-header against Carver March 10.

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