CONYERS - Coming off three straight Region 8-AAAA titles and last year's trip to the Class AAAA championship series, one would think all the Heritage baseball team has to do is simply reload for another season.
But Heritage coach Casey Teal doesn't see it as that simple. In fact, he has some major concerns going into his team's opener on Monday at home against Marist.
"I have more concerns this season than in any that I can remember. We have holes everywhere," he said. "We are looking for a second baseman, third baseman, center fielder, first baseman, right fielder and more depth behind the plate. We are very concerned about our pitching depth. We only have two experienced pitchers returning. Our base running has been very weak. We have got to be sound on the bases or it's not going to happen. Our biggest concern right now is very simple reads that we are not productive with. If we can be sound on the bases, we might have a chance."
Last year, the Patriots continued their dominance of Region 8-AAAA, posting a 23-1 record en route to their third straight region crown. Heritage battled its way through the playoffs to the Class AAAA championship, where it lost to Greenbrier.
The Patriots lost five key players to graduation - Brent Allen, Justin Dooley, Taylor Whitenton, Matt Bishop and Tim Eisenman.
"All five seniors from last year were key losses," Teal said. "These guys can't be replaced. We just have to find a way to rebuild."
However, the Patriots do return several key players off last year's team.
Sophomore Tyler Austin, who was the Citizen's 2007 Hitter of the Year, is back after hitting .428 last season with 12 home runs and 35 RBIs.
Junior Anthony Bazzani, whose pitching played a key role in the run the finals last year, is also back. He was 8-2 last year with five saves and a 1.71 ERA.
Senior catcher Chunk Smith returns behind the plate to handle the Heritage pitching staff after hitting .356 last season. Another sophomore, Travis Tarleton, is also back after hitting .450 as a freshman.
Teal is also looking for good things from senior Ryan Jubran and junior Brandon Thomas.
"The outlook for our season is learning how to throw and catch. Hopefully, we will be able to execute cutoffs and relays, and be fundamentally sound. We are definitely not there right now," Teal said. "We have two pitchers at the most that hit their spots and change speeds well. We want our kids to understand the game and make adjustments in every area of the game. We have a long way to go. We just hope to make it in the top four (in the region).
"Most of our team is newcomers. We are still learning the system and trying to find players that can win for us. Actually, a big portion of our JV team is still competing for a spot in the opening day lineup for the varsity."
Jeff Gillespie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Heritage baseball
· Coach: Casey Teal
· Last year: 32-6 overall, 23-1 in Region 8-AAAA, lost to Greenbrier in Class AAAA championship series
· First game: Monday at home vs. Marist, 5:30 p.m.