February 17, 2013 12:49:10 AM
BY DAVID MILLER
Special to the Dispatch
With less than a week before the start of the regular season, area baseball coaches were anxious for the their respective teams' first crack at competition.
Some left the Columbus High School jamboree Saturday with more questions than answers, as two of the five teams -- Caledonia High and Hamilton High went 0-for-2.
West Point and New Hope won both of their games, while Columbus split ahead of a full slate of classic games next Friday and Saturday.
While the common thread among the five head coaches was getting competitive innings under their belts, some used Saturday for extensive player evaluation.
Hamilton coach Lewis Earnest, whose team lost 6-0 to West Point and 8-2 to Columbus, is looking to replace eight seniors and five pitchers from last year's squad that reached the second round of the Class 2A playoffs.
"We have maybe two or three with any experience coming back," Earnest said. "So I knew it'd be testy for a while until we get our feet wet. We hadn't been on the field enough against competition, so today went about how I expected."
At the top of Earnest's list of "must-haves" is a pitcher who can consistently throw strikes. He got that in sophomore John Wesley Inmel, who pitched three innings against Columbus. Inmel gave up three runs but managed to strike out three batters and keep a clean inning in the second.
"None of us threw strikes except for [Inmel]," Earnest said. "We got outs when he was in the game. If you throw strikes, I'll put you on the mound. He made a statement for himself."
Caledonia, which was one-hit in a 5-0 loss to West Point and later fell 11-0 to New Hope, experimented with its lineup, too. Coach John Wilson used eight different pitchers and 17 different players in the two four-inning games.
Wilson said there's plenty to clean up before the Confederates host Sulligent and Varadaman next weekend, particularly in the field. Caledonia committed 10 errors in eight innings of work. Wilson said the miscues marred an otherwise decent day on the mound.
"Last year, we averaged one error a game," Wilson said, "so we have to get that cleaned up. Our pitchers threw well, but who would be confident pitching for us with all of the errors we had?"
Wilson pointed to pitcher Zach Cox's progression with his throwing motion and Trey Lancaster's early success against West Point as one bright spot Saturday. But again, he lamented the errors that cost two early runs in the loss.
"Cox came in and threw the last inning against West Point, and we'd been working with him since August to drop down and throw," Wilson explained. "He gets ground ball, ground ball and ground ball -- he threw well. Trey Lancaster threw well the first inning of that game, but you have a couple of errors early in and it puts a black eye on it. It was tough."
Columbus coach Jeff Cook's roster is mostly intact from last year's playoff squad; he used Saturday's games to further identify the key contributors for his bench.
"There's a couple of positions, like when someone comes in to pitch," Cook explained. "We're looking for the ninth or 10th guy who, when Hunter (Mullis) is pitching, who is going to play his outfield position? When Chris (McCullough) and Trace (Lee) are pitching, who is going to fill in? Deonteau Rieves, Isiah Farmer and Michael Sturdivant are the guys we're looking to fill those roles."
Without the stress of heavy turnover, Cook's Falcons executed in the same fashion as they did in 2012; Columbus executed in a pair of bunts and ran down numerous fly balls in the outfield.
Columbus capped the night with a 2-1 loss to New Hope.
"We're gonna bunt, run -- we have good athletes," Cook said. "Our strength is pitching and defense. I feel like, if we can get a couple of runs anyway possible, our pitching will be able to last. We ran the bases well, got a couple of bunts down early -- we played small ball well last year and that's what we'll do this year."
West Point coach Buddy Wyers was elated to see Tez Lane back on the diamond as his most experienced pitcher. But it was the performance of his young arms that led the way Saturday.
"We have some lefties -- Rico Lane, Antonio Reece and Steffon Moore -- who are 10th graders," Wyers said. "They came in and threw well. Even if we lost today, I wanted to make sure we competed and threw strikes. They did. And when they do, they have some good stuff. They're not gonna blow it by anyone, but they're effective."
Lane threw two shut-out innings, struck out a pair and surrendered one hit.