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Baseball: Wildcats filling holes in first year in Region 1-7A

Anytime you lose two players to Division I programs – especially one who led state pitchers in wins—and another to a high level Division II program it’s going to leave some big holes to fill.

Throw in a fiery undersized overachiever who was also an excellent leader and the holes get bigger and deeper.

First year Richmond Hill baseball coach Hill Thomas, an assistant at Coffee County before being hired to lead the Wildcats. is finding Leighton Finley (Georgia), Luke Boone (Georgia State), Evan Cowan (Georgia College and State University) and Ethan Fuller hard to replace.

Going into Wednesday night’s game at South Effingham the Wildcats were off to a 5-7 start as they are looking to develop a level of consistency and for that player, or players, to step up and take charge.

Richmond Hill dropped the opener of its series with the Mustangs, 9-2, Monday night that saw it struggle to score against an arch-rival which banged out 13 hits against starter Blayne Newman and relievers Joseph Baker and Ben Zwicker. Jacob Montelbano retired the only two batters he faced.

Newman has signed with South Carolina-Aiken and fellow senior Hunter Legas has signed to pitch at Andrew College and they, along with senior Garrett Wright and junior Bryce Hendrix, are battling to claim the three starting pitching spots.

“We’ve kind of used the non-region schedule to see who wants to be among those three,” Hill said. “It’s kind of been a tryout for region play.”

The Wildcats open Region 1-7A play at 6 p.m. next Tuesday when defending region champion Lowndes County comes to Wildcats Field. They will be at Lowndes for a doubleheader on Friday.

Richmond Hill hosts Wayne on Thursday and South Effingham on Friday before facing the Vikings who are coming off a 27-9 season that saw them reach the third round of the state playoffs.

“Right now, it’s finding our consistency,” said Hill of his team’s start. “We have a new team. A lot of these kids didn’t play last year. A lot of this season has been about finding our identity, finding roles for certain guys.

“But I think we have reached a point in the year having inexperience is no longer an excuse. We have to show up to work and compete or we’re going to keep beating our heads up against the wall after every game.”

Also contributing to the slow start is the fact six of those first seven losses came against teams who were a combined 42-12. The lone defeat against a losing team came at the hands of Savannah Country Day.

After beating Toombs County, 2-0, in their opener the Wildcats endured a three-game losing streak then went win, loss, win, loss, win, win, loss, loss.

It’s that inconsistency that’s got Hill scratching his head. Yet he is full of optimism as he gets his team ready for region play.

“We have to show up to work and compete or we’re going to keep beating our heads up against the wall after every game,” Hill said. “The frustrating part is we have great talent, a great group of kids but it’s finding that consistency to be able to put two games together back-to-back.”

Junior catcher Gavin Martin is one of the team’s more experienced players and he is joined in the infield by first baseman Ty Goldrick, Legas, who plays second when not pitching, shortstop Brandon Kessler and third baseman Tyler Fountain.

Mason Wilcox anchors the outfield in center with Alexander Harwood in right and Scott Kirker in left. The designated hitter is freshman Grant Wagner who has been the team’s most consistent hitter.

The remainder of the schedule: March 9: Wayne County; 10: South Effingham; 14: Lowndes County*; 17: at Lowndes County (DH); 20: at Brunswick; 22: Brunswick; 24: at Brunswick; 28: at Camden County; 31: Camden County* (DH), 5 p.m.. April 4: at Valdosta*; 7: Valdosta (DH), 5 p.m.; 11: Colquitt County*; 14: at Colquitt County (DH). *--Region games. All home games at 6 p.m. unless otherwise designated.

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