Published Sunday, February 17, 2013

Prep Baseball: Talented East Coweta puts ball in seniors hands


East Coweta’s baseball program didn’t exactly take a step back last year. But a 16-11 season — which included a trip to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs — admittedly didn’t have the same feel as back-to-back, 25-plus win campaigns in 2009 and 2010.

Which is why you may see some changes in how the Indians are doing things on the diamond, a good number of which have come off the field with head coach Franklin DeLoach’s philosophies.

The staff is smaller, despite adding a familiar face in former Hiram head coach Mark Bowles. The roster also began Friday’s scrimmage against McIntosh at just 15 — made up entirely of juniors and seniors for the moment.

“Offensively [and] defensively, we’re just as good as we were last year, maybe even a year older,” DeLoach said prior to his team’s 8-1 win over the Chiefs. “You might not be able to tell right away because we haven’t had too much live action with this weather. I feel like in time we should be just as good.”

While numbers have been limited more this spring, the expectations may have changed for a group of 10 seniors that have the potential to produce another 20-win season and more importantly a chance at contending for a Region 3-AAAAAA crown.

East Coweta hasn’t missed the GHSA state playoffs since 2005, but is looking to reach the Elite 8 for the first time in four seasons.

“We’re going to need seniors to be men of character in their work ethic,” DeLoach said. “Our coaching staff shrank a little bit. We’re not going to be able to eye you every second of practice.”

As predicted, having stayed off a soggy infield for almost all of last week, five errors might not have been what Indian coaches had hoped for to begin the year, though, McIntosh coughed up six miscues of its own in the scrimmage.

But a handful of East Coweta pitchers — the majority of which threw less than 20 varsity innings last year — provided plenty of positives while holding Chiefs bats to just three hits.

Returning senior starters Zach McCurry and Brandon Ruston, both of whom signed with college programs on national signing day, worked their way out of early jams that produced a 1-0 lead for the Chiefs in the top of the second. The pair, along with senior Cole Amtmann, provide the bulk of experience returning on the mound from last year.

“If we had a so-called question mark, it would be our pitching simply because three of our five pitchers who ate up most of our innings last year are gone. We lost them in one capacity or another,” DeLoach said. “We only have two guys back who have thrown 19 innings or more.”

Ruston is one of the the above duo while McCurry may have been as consistent as any Indian hurler in 2012. Along with Amtmann, who makes up one-third of an outfield dominated by returning starters, Senior Jay Mann expects his outings to increase on the mound among a group of ECHS pitchers that also includes senior Jordan Lewis and juniors Matthew Meyer and Bryce Gemmel.

The Indians staff equally has kept a watchful eye on their sophomore class and there’s potential for a newcomer to make an impact.

“You may see us do that,” DeLoach said. “For now, though, we’re letting things stand as they may with the roster.”

The offense should have plenty of potential. Three Indians including Amtmann and fellow senior outfielder Geremy Walton, who is headed to Tallahassee Community College, had multiple-hit games on Friday.

Walton went 3-for-4 with an RBI as East Coweta responded for four runs in the second and two more in both the fourth and sixth innings.

Lewis along with juniors Cameron Smith, Bellamy and Gemmel all have the potential to see action in the outfield as well. Bellamy and Gemmel both had singles on Friday.

An infield full of veterans returns junior first-baseman Matthew Meyer — who went 2-for-5 against the Chiefs with an RBI — and senior third-baseman Jon Banks, a Kennesaw State signee, at the corners. Senior Tim Manning returns at second and senior Travis Williams at shortstop, though both could alternate.

Senior Blake Lorow and Austin Jones give East Coweta depth behind the plate.

“My expectation is we will continue to get better as the season progresses,” DeLoach said. “Getting the guys we are getting back, I think work ethic and trying to do things a bit different than we may be have in the past, can pay off for us.”

There’s as much change in a move to a tighter six-team region. In addition to the addition of Douglas County and Tri-Cities, the region schedule will feature week-long, three-game series instead of the traditional home-and-home format.

While it has drawbacks, considering some weeks may be much less competitive than others, region play should allow coaches to see how their rotation may set up come playoff time.

“It’s going to be tough at times,” said DeLoach, possibly looking ahead to the week of April 11 — when East Coweta and Newnan hold its region series. “I think the plus is that in time it will tell you who are the better teams because you have to play three games in one week. The positive side is that it’s going to show you who has a No. 2 and a No. 3 and a No. 4 [pitcher].”

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