Baseball Blue Eagles look to overcome youth
By By BRUCE HIXON Sports Editor
Over the course of last season the W.S. Neal Blue Eagles baseball team got good pitching, timely hitting and stellar defense.
The problem is they did not get all three areas on the same day as often as they would have liked.
That inconsistency showed up in W.S. Neal's record, as the Blue Eagles hovered around the .500 mark all season and perhaps fittingly finished right at the break even mark at 13-13.
"We'd get a game or two below .500 and then fall a game or two below .500. We were just never able to separate ourselves from that mark. It was one of those seasons where on days we'd get good pitching, we wouldn't hit or if we hit, our pitching struggled. Then there were some days where we got the pitching and hitting, but made mistakes in the field," W.S. Neal coach Coy Campbell. "If there was some consolation to all that inconsistency, it was we probably played our best ball at the end of the season, especially at the county tournament (where W.S. Neal finished second)."
With just three seniors on their roster, the Blue Eagles will have to rely a lot on their youth to improve on last year's mark.
"We're pretty junior oriented. Six of our projected 13 varsity players are juniors. Our best ball may be a year away, but we're certainly hoping for a good season this year," Campbell said.
W.S. Neal's youth probably shows up the most in its infield where it could have to count on a freshman and a sophomore in its starting lineup.
The freshman would be first baseman Jared Cooper although Cooper has some experience since he started in that spot last year as an eighth grader. Junior Deric Smith may also get some time in that spot.
"Jared held his own last year as an eighth grader. He hit pretty well. This year he has gotten bigger and stronger," Campbell said. "Deric could also see some time at third base. He is one of our better contact hitters."
Daniel Hodge, a junior, is expected to get the call at second base.
"Daniel could also see some time at shortstop. He has worked hard and had a good summer last year. I think he has the ability to be one of our leading hitters," Campbell said.
Sophomore Whitney Qualls handled shortstop duties at the junior varsity level last year. Campbell plans to give him a shot at that spot with the varsity this spring.
"Whitney plays pretty good defense. He'll make the routine plays, which is what we need from him. We're hoping he'll improve at the bat this year," Campbell said.
The hot corner, better known as third base, will be handled by senior Cody Anthony.
"Cody is a five-year player. He has played everywhere in the infield except first base. He played third base last year and since then he has gotten stronger," Campbell said.
In the outfield, senior Cory Freeman is penciled in for leftfield.
"Cory has some strength and power. He runs pretty well. Last year he led off for us, but this year we'll probably drop him to the number three or four spot in the lineup," Campbell said.
Freshman centerfielder Justin Smith missed most of last season with a broken ankle. Campbell is anxious to see what a now healthy Smith can do.
"Justin only got to play a couple of games last year before he got hurt. He has good tools. He
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runs well, throws well and hits well," Campbell said.
Rightfield is one of the most unsettled spots in the W.S. Neal lineup. Campbell is looking at junior Brandon Douglas, senior Jonathan Qualls and senior Buddy Ziglar for the job.
"I'd like to give our seniors the first chance at it, but it is probably going to depend on which one of them hits the best. They are all about the same when it comes to their defense," Campbell said.
The catcher spot is also unsettled going into the season, as sophomore Spencer Williamson and Ziglar will battle for the job.
"The catcher spot was a position where we struggled some last year. A lot of times the walks and singles would turn into doubles and triples (through stolen bases). Again, it is a lot like rightfield. Both Spencer and Buddy are similar in terms to their defense. It probably depends on who hits the best," Campbell said.
The pitching staff will be anchored by junior righthanders Chad McCall and Brandon Douglas. Whitney Qualls, Hodge and Anthony, all righthanders, will follow in the rotation.
"I feel both Chad and Brandon will give us a good year. We're a little thin after that. Whitney, Daniel and Cody are all basically positions players who will have to pitch some," Campbell said.
W.S. Neal Blue Eagles
Mar. 1 Escambia County Away 6 p.m.
Mar. 2 Hillcrest Away 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 4 J.F. Shields Home 4 p.m.
Mar. 5 Bayside Academy 5 p.m.
Mar. 12 T.R. Miller Home 6 p.m.
Mar. 15 Jay Home 6 p.m.
Mar. 16 Flomaton Home 6 p.m.
Mar. 25 Red Level Away 4:30 p.m.
Mar. 25 Pleasant Home Away 7 p.m.
Mar. 29 J.F. Shields Away 3:30 p.m.
Mar. 30 T.R. Miller Away 6 p.m.
Apr. 1 Flomaton Away 6 p.m.
Apr. 5 Jay Away 6 p.m.
Apr. 8 Hillcrest Home 5 p.m.
Apr. 9 Clarke County Home 4 p.m.
Apr. 13 Clakre County Away 4 p.m.
Apr. 15 Escambia County Tournament (Escambia County) Home 7 p.m.
Apr. 16 (Escambia County Tournament (T.R. Miller) Home 7 p.m.
Apr. 17 Escambia County Tournament (Flomaton ) Home 12 noon
Apr. 19 Bayside Academy Home 5 p.m.