CONYERS - First-year Salem baseball coach Chad Kitchens faces the daunting task of replacing a man who led the Seminoles to a school-record 28 wins in 2008.
Kitchens - who was previously the Social Circle head coach for 12 seasons, setting a school record with 163 wins - replaces Chris Davis. In 2008, Salem went 28-8 overall and 20-4 in 8-AAAA, good for third place. As well as the record for wins, the Seminoles advanced farther in the state playoffs than ever before, reaching the semifinals before losing to region rival Loganville.
Kitchens said he plans to optimize the talent on his team.
"My goal for this season is like every other one that I've been a head coach. I want us to do the very best we can with what we have," Kitchens said. "I think we have a chance to be pretty good, but it will all come down to how hard we work and how much we believe in ourselves; nothing is going to be given to anyone. You have to go out and earn it.
"So far, I have been very happy with our approach to things and how hard we've worked."
The Seminoles have been spending approximately 40 minutes per day in the batting cage focusing on tee and soft toss drills. They do not take many live-arm or batting practice swings; therefore, the baserunning has been somewhat neglected.
Yet this leaves room for plenty of other areas to focus on.
"I think that all phases are just as important as the other, and each of them will get you beat just as fast as any," Kitchens noted. "However, pitching is the key. We have been able to get all of our guys a lot of time in the bullpen so far this year."
Key returning pitchers for Salem include Brandon Crumbley, also a first baseman, T.J. Cash, who also catches, and Logan Singleton. Shortstop Corey Womack and outfielders Josh Bailey, Cameron Gibson and Cody Davis round out the rotation.
Each started a handful of games last season, bringing plenty of experience back for Salem.
Other notable standouts who should play a factor this season include Cody Strange, Wells Baldwin, Jimmy Gerard, Levi Bonilla and Michael Roden.
"We have others who have come out late from wrestling and basketball who are still getting their legs under them, like John Muirhead (to) name one," Kitchens said.
Kitchens said Heritage and Loganville are the two squads returning with the most talent.
"They are year-in and year-out the teams to beat in this region," he said. "However, I think that there are several other teams that are right there, and we will have a pretty even region with some upsets and some teams doing a lot better than some think.
"I believe that anyone in this region can beat you, so if you don't come to play, you will be beaten that day," Kitchens said. "The team that doesn't overlook anyone and treats each game the same will win the region."
Regarding Salem's strengths and weaknesses as of now, it remains questionable.
"I don't think I can really make a decision on (that) yet until we play some games. Their fundamentals are strong; they know how to play the game," Kitchens said. "I think we are going to have to work really hard in all areas in order to be successful."
Jason Murdock can be reached at email@example.com.
SideBar: At a glance
Team: Salem baseball
Coach: Chad Kitchens (first year)
Last year's record: 28-8, 20-4 in 8-AAAA
First game: 5:30 p.m. Monday at Alcovy