February 19, 2011 10:56:00 PM
STARKVILLE -- Athleticism can only get a team so far.
Attitude and bravado can help compensate for a lack of experience or skill, and the players on the Starkville Academy baseball team said they''re as confident as they''ve ever been.
At this point last year, the Volunteers were starting the season under first-year coach Neal Henry -- Starkville Academy''s fourth head coach in two years -- who began the season as interim coach.
Most of the players had just endured a winless football season and a two-win basketball season.
And though they went 14-16 in baseball and saw Henry become the full-time coach, the players still lacked the swagger needed to be competitive in their conference, senior shortstop Kyle Henson said.
Then came a resurgent football season under coach Jeff Terrill.
"The attitude we had from football, even though we won only three games, has carried over," Henson said. "Even after the season, in the weight room it was intense and everyone was working hard to get better. Everybody''s got a different approach."
That''s good news for Henry, who must replace No. 1 pitcher Will Fuller and three-hole hitter Ben Thebaud from last year''s squad.
The Volunteers also will start the season without outfielder/pitcher Ryan McKell, who had surgery to repair a torn labrum in January. Infielder Doug Pettit is working through a back injury.
Compared to reigning Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA state champion Madison-Ridgeland Academy, which lost 12 seniors, the Volunteers don''t have many holes to plug ahead of their season opener Tuesday at Brookhaven Academy.
Henry expects to be strong on the mound, where the Volunteers return conference starters senior Ian Tharp and junior Alex Holtcamp.
"I''m expecting a lot out of Ian," Henry said. "This is his last go-around and last sport he''ll ever play here. He''s a good right-hander who throws a little bit lower than three-quarters. Ian''s going to be a big part of our rotation."
Henry expects left-handers McKell and Hunter Bolin to fill out the rotation, while Ryan Mann and Drew Pellum will vie for the closer''s role.
"I wouldn''t say we have a dominate pitcher, but we''ve got enough arms that we''re not gonna wear one out," Henson said. "Everybody is gonna see a different guy. It will come down to pitching and hitting, though. They''re gonna put it in play, so we got to make the plays defensively to help those guys out."
Henry is confident his pitching staff will be a strength, but only if the Volunteers have stability behind the plate.
Holtcamp and Adam Crittenden split time at catcher last season, and Henry is still unsettled at the position.
As the team''s starting shortstop, Henson knows the stress passed balls can put on an infield.
"You''ve got to have a good catcher who can block it up," Henson said. "A pitcher can win a game, but a catcher can lose a game. I''d say that''s the spot where we have the most concern."
Henson, a five-year letterman, will be the team''s leadoff hitter and is the most experienced player. He has set a personal goal of breaking the school''s single-season stolen base record of 51, held by Travis Garner. Henson had 30 last season.
"It''s just a little side goal," Henson said. "You just got to get on base. If I do that, I''m helping the team."
Starkville Academy will play host to Winston Academy on Feb. 26 in its home opener.