Earnest returns following surgery

February 6, 2009

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After having open heart surgery two months ago, Hamilton High School baseball coach Lewis Earnest will get a chance Saturday to see if he''s ready to return to coaching this season. 

 

Earnest''s Hamilton Lions are scheduled to play in a jamboree at Caledonia High School''s Tommy Smith Field. The games will prepare the Lions for their season opener Feb. 13 against Hatley in the Monroe County Tournament. 

 

Saturday''s action will be the first time Earnest, 45, who is beginning his 15th season as Hamilton''s coach, will be able to see how he will deal with the rigors of coaching after having a five-way bypass operation on Dec. 1. 

 

"I''m doing good now," Earnest said. "They pretty much reconstructed my heart. I started back to work (a week ago) Monday. I''ve only been back to work for a week and a half." 

 

Hamilton is scheduled to play New Hope at 2 p.m. and Caledonia at 6 p.m. 

 

In other games in the jamboree, New Hope plays Houston at 10 a.m., Columbus plays Houston at noon, and Caledonia plays Columbus at 4 p.m. 

 

The games will be four innings each and don''t count on the teams'' records. 

 

Two innings is the most a pitcher can throw in the jamboree. 

 

Earnest believes he''ll be up to the task of coaching, but he will have to do things differently in preparing his players for games. 

 

"I can''t swing a fungo, I can''t throw batting practice, and I can''t do much physically out there right now except walk around and coach," Earnest said. "I may have to coach from the dugout and let (the assistant coaches) handle the bases. I don''t know which will be worse, sitting there (in the dugout) and feeling like I''m not in the game as much or being in the coaching box. I''m going to try it and see what happens." 

 

Earnest lost only two players, including catcher Travis Frembgen, from last year''s team that finished 24-11 and lost in three games to Richton in the Class 2A state championship series. 

 

The runner-up finish was the team''s second in a row. During Earnest''s tenure, the Lions have won state championships in 1997, 1999, and 2001, and finished second in 1996, 1998, 2000, 2003, 2007, and 2008. 

 

Earnest believes he can have his best team this season. 

 

"We''re ready for (the season) to get here and see what we''ve got," Earnest said. "On paper and at practice we look like we ought to be pretty good." 

 

Hamilton''s hopes center around left-handed starting pitchers Chase Reeves and Dylan Earnest, Lewis'' nephew. Reeves (8-2 last year) was the winning pitcher in the team''s victory against Richton in the championship series. 

 

Reeves starts in center field and Earnest starts in right field when they''re not pitching. 

 

Also returning for the Lions are outfielder Kevin McCartney (who led the team in batting last season), shortstop Isaac Winders, first baseman Austin Earnest (Lewis'' son), outfielder Cole Johnson, and infielder Graham Pritchett. 

 

Hamilton has added transfers Devin Hopper and Cody Crouch, who can pitch, catch, and play first base and third base. Hopper transferred from Caledonia. 

 

n Caledonia Confederates: The host team hopes to show signs of improvement after finishing 20-16 last season. 

 

The Confederates have high hopes with Tyler Aldridge and Tyler Pounders on the mound. Last season, Aldridge was 8-2 and Pounders was 7-3. 

 

"We''ve always got high expectations, especially with Tyler Pounders and Tyler Aldridge," Caledonia coach Sam Adams said. "There are some scouts looking at them. Hopefully they''ll have a good season. There are some high expectations out of those two guys." 

 

Adams intends to use six pitchers in the jamboree. 

 

Caledonia begins the season Feb. 13 against Mooreville in the Columbus Classic at Columbus High. 

 

n Columbus Falcons: The Falcons also hope to improve after being 6-18 last season. 

 

"I feel we''re going to be vastly improved," Columbus coach Jeff Cook said. "We''ve got a great group of kids who are working real hard. We''re going to be much improved over last season. We have a lot of guys who got a lot of playing experience last year at a young age. After having a good summer, we''re looking forward to having a good year." 

 

Cook wants to use the jamboree to find a lineup and get it set for the start of the season. The Falcons will play New Hope on Feb. 13 in their first game in the Columbus Classic. 

 

Cook intends to use his less experienced pitchers in the jamboree to help the Falcons prepare for the season. 

 

"We''re going to be using a lot of different guys pitching," Cook said. "Getting them in a game situation against somebody else is what we''re looking for. 

 

"We''re probably not going to throw our top two starters (Dylan Anderson and Tyji Hawkins). We''re going to let our other guys get more innings this weekend, guys like Avery Ford and Stefan Hairston. We''ve kind of moved Billy Autrey to the closer''s role. We''re going to do some experimenting with Billy closing this weekend." 

 

n New Hope Trojans: New Hope coach Stacy Hester is anxious to see how players who were injured and didn''t play Dizzy Dean baseball this past summer are going to fare. 

 

New Hope players coming off injuries are pitchers Hilton Gibson (ligament damage in his knee), Dylan Hawkins (Tommy John surgery), and Blake Roberts (bone chips in his right elbow). 

 

"We''re fortunate to get those kids back," Hester said. "I hate they got hurt. That''s the most injuries we''ve had in a long time to our pitching staff. We''ve had a lot of injuries. I''m hoping we get those pitchers back, and if we do we''ll be OK." 

 

New Hope finished second in the Dizzy Dean World Series this past summer despite not having the three pitchers. 

 

New Hope''s high school team is coming off a 25-10 in which it made the third round of the Class 4A state playoffs. 

 

New Hope has to replace Matt West, who transferred to Pascagoula after being the Trojans'' MVP last season. 

 

"You don''t like losing one of your best players," Hester said. "We also lost some young kids to Heritage (Academy), but we''ve got some good kids coming back." 

 

Hester looks for contributions from Daniel Bogue, Gabe Franks, Derrick Saucer, Jake Smith, Jake Upton, and T.J. Upton in addition to Gibson, Hawkins, and Roberts.