Even after graduating seven seniors from last year's state playoff qualifying team, including the entire starting pitching staff, head coach Mitchell Curry is still optimistic about the upcoming season, albeit cautiously optimistic.
Last year's 19-9 Wildcats lost six full-time starting seniors and had one starter move away during the off season. They are inexperienced in the bullpen and on the field with only the starting first baseman, Jeremy Goolsby and catcher John Johnson with significant defensive playing experience. The entire outfield is new as well and while some of this year's projected starters have some experience they do not have a lot of game experience. Still, according to Curry, this year's squad may be the most dedicated and hard working he has ever coached.
"The coachability and attitude of this year's team is great, they work hard and they believe in each other." said Curry, and even though his team does not have a super star or stud pitcher that throws 90 mph he hopes his teams chemistry can help them win in the always competitive region 3S-AAA.
South Effingham, Liberty County and Burke County all have quality starting pitching coming back this year. Benedictine lost their ace to graduation but always has good athletes and Hephzibah has a new coach and some renewed hope of making a run for the top three spots in the sub-region that qualify for the post season, so Richmond Hill has their work cut out for them. They will be leaning heavily on some returning offensive fire power to get them over the hump.
Richmond Hill’s top seven are in Curry’s words "good" hitters, but he is really hoping Goolsby, Johnson and Nathan Kilburn will have the same kind of season they enjoyed last year as well as Raul Rodriguez, a power hitting third baseman that played in the shadow of some of those seniors that limited his at bats last season. Curry feels that if his hitters can be patient at the plate and use all parts of the field his team will score runs. Pitching coach Zach Grage is counting on the same - the defense too.
"Our job is going to be to throw strikes and let our defense play behind us" said Grage on his pitching staff this season. The two full time pitchers, Heath Tucker and Matt Graney will be joined by a couple of position players, Tyler Mitchell and Raul Rodriguez for a bullpen by committee for Grage that will at least give the coach some options during the season. Assistant coach Sean Strickland will be running the junior varsity squad and may have some help for Grage in the future. According to Grage the J.V. pitching staff has about ten players that are throwing the ball well and it makes him excited about the next few years prospects.
Admittedly coach Curry said part of this teams problem with lack of experience was due to the winning streaks his team got on last year that coerced him to stick with his starting nine for much of the season and limited chances for players coming off the bench. He will likely have more opportunity to try different players this season and will most likely welcome the competition that comes from it.
Richmond Hill starts the season this Monday at home against Swainsboro, a 5:30 p.m. start and will travel to Nahunta on Thursday for a 5:30 p.m. start against Brantley County.