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Neal baseball to focus on the little things

With the baseball season set to be in full swing later this month, the W.S. Neal Eagles are looking to make a successful run.

Last season the Eagles finished 14-10, finishing runner-up to UMS Wright in the area and losing to Headland in the first round of the playoffs.

The Eagles will have nine returning seniors and six sophomores.

Campbell said the team will always dress out 15 players. Twelve will remain the same with the final three depending on player progression and the need against a certain opponent.

“If we played tomorrow, we would start seven seniors defensively with two sophomores, “ Campbell said.

Campbell said seniors Jared Cooper, Lane Chavers and Dalton Shell will be the workhorses on the mound. Sophomores Jacobey Hawthorne and Matt Hutchins will see time at pitcher as well.

On the infield Campbell said Hutchins will play third base. Jacobey Hawthorne will be at shortstop. Seniors Dalton Shell and Lane Chavers will share time at second base. Bryce Booker, Jared Cooper and P.J. Lovelace will share time at first base. Senior Dakota Graves will serve time behind the plate at catcher.

“This will be Dakota’s second year behind the plate. He’s gotten a lot better behind the plate from last year to this year. I’m looking forward to him being one of our leaders,” Campbell said.

Senior core group: center fielder Malcolm Hawthorne, right fielder Derrick Barton and left fielder Sam Frazier will man the outfield.

Campbell said this year’s team has the experience and  athleticism to be a good ball club.

“The question mark will be the pitching,” he said. “We’ll play defense and we’ll swing it.

“This is maybe the fastest team I’ve had one through nine,” he said. “It’s going to come down to our pitching and our leadership and how we react to pressure situations. Which I feel like this group will overcome.

“This group has been together for a long time,” Campbell said. “Our seniors have been around what it takes to win. Some good leaders have surrounded them in past years.

“Some guys have stepped up and taken that leadership role for this group.”

Campbell said the fundamentals will also be key to the team’s success.

“We stress the importance of playing the game the right way. The little things in this game make the biggest difference.”

Campbell is entering his fifteenth season as head coach at Neal. He currently sits at 297 wins as a head coach with Northview and Neal. He has 246 wins at Neal.

Campbell said his philosophy about coaching the game hasn’t changed over the years.

“My belief is if you’re going to play whatever sport your playing, you’re trying to win the big prize,” he said. “In this case that’s the state championship. My goal as coach will always be that.

“It’s great to win more than you lose,” he said. “It’s great to win area championships. Those are the stepping-stones we set as a team every year. But the big picture is to be that last team standing at the end.

“It’s hard to reach that pinnacle,” he said. “But at the same time, if you’re not striving to do that, why do you spend all those hours, days and months putting in the work?”

Neal will face Satsuma and UMS Wright in region play this season.

Neal begins its season Tues. Feb. 16 against Flomaton.