By Jason Avery
After a two-year hiatus, Parkers Chapel made its return to the state tournament in 2017.
Armed with a deep pitching staff, a big freshman class and a plethora of returnees, the Trojans have their sights set on a big 2018 season.
“We have some guys returning that were starters last year,” said Parkers Chapel coach Mark Looney.
“We've got some guys that are going to have some opportunities that's been with us for a year or two. We do have a good freshman class.
“We have 10 total on the roster, and I expect good things out of that class not only this year, but for the next three years.
“We've still got a lot of pieces to put together. I haven't got to work with some of those freshmen because they play basketball.
“We have two coming from senior boys basketball. There's still a handful of guys that I've not really got to work out that much, so it's going to be a while before our final starting lineup is in place.
“Whether it's in place all year long, who knows, because you've got to work around your pitching rotation and move your defense around depending on who is pitching and so forth, but all of that works out usually in the first month of the season."
One player that the Trojans will be missing is senior first baseman Reece Griffin, who is likely out for the year due to a knee injury.
"Reece Griffin split his kneecap in two and has four screws in it, so he is out for the next 12 to 15 weeks,” Looney said.
“We hate to lose him. He’s been such a good defensive player for the last three years. He’s been my starting first baseman since the ninth grade.
“Him and Carson (Worthey) were the only two seniors I had on the roster, and honestly, they're the only two that's been playing baseball in that class ever since they were freshmen.”
With Griffin on the shelf, that leaves Worthey as the lone senior on the team, but Looney said he isn’t concerned.
"Everybody wants and would like to have some type of senior leadership," Looney said.
"We don't have that this year. Our best all-around ballplayer is Carson Worthey, and he's the only senior that we have.
“You can still step up and provide leadership and not be a senior. You've got to have leadership.
“You've got to have coaches on the field. Carson has a done great job of working with these young guys that we have and getting them acclimated to our system.
“He's helped them come along very quickly. We've got a couple of other guys that have been with us for awhile that are stepping up and taking that leadership role on the team.”
With the graduation of Tyler Sanders, the Trojans will be breaking in a new catcher with sophomores Jordan Arrington (.230 BA, 10 RBIs, 6 SB) and Tyler Martin in the mix along with freshman Jackson Ellerbe.
“We’ve been working three catchers consistently, and I’ve had all three since football season ended,” Looney said.
“I’ve got great competition this year for the starting catching role.”
With Griffin sidelined, the Trojans have junior Michael Brotherton along with freshmen Colton Laster and Austin Looney working at first base.
“I’ve been working him a lot at first, and he looks really good,” Looney said of Brotherton.
“He’s athletic and he can pick a ball and he knows how to move his feet. He’s just done a real good job.”
At second base, the Trojans will be relying heavily on freshman Reid Cates with Worthey (.387 BA, 1 HR, 39 RBIs) and junior Thomas Hardy also getting reps there.
“He is just a real good, fundamental ballplayer,” Looney said of Cates. “He comes from a real good baseball family.”
Junior T.J. Bale takes over at shortstop with Trace Blaylock’s graduation with junior Grayson Hurst, freshman Trace Shoup and Cates also serving as candidates to play there.
“All four look pretty strong there,” Looney said.
Hurst and Shoup are the top candidates at third base with Worthey, junior Josh Arrington and freshman Trace Lout also getting work there.
“We’re pretty deep on the infield all the way around,” Looney said.
“We’ve been working multiple guys at first, second, short and third.”
In the outfield, the Trojans have a slew of candidates vying for playing time.
Sophomore Blake Wells has worked out in left and center field with Martin also getting work in left field.
If he isn’t playing on the infield, Worthey has plenty of experience in center field, and sophomore Korbin McAuliffe has also worked out there.
Jordan Arrington played right field as a freshman, and Hardy has also gotten reps there.
Like Worthey, Hurst could move to the outfield if he isn’t playing on the infield, and sophomores Caleb Jacobs and Tyler Killingsworth give the Trojans two more candidates once their basketball commitments are finished.
“I’ve seen a lot of good competition,” Looney said. “I’ve seen a lot of good, raw talent that needs to be developed further, but we’ve been having a good time.
“We’ve been doing a lot of live scrimmaging, a lot of live bullpens more this year than I have in the past, and I think that’s going to help us defensively and offensively down the road.”
With the graduation of Logan Selman and Griffin’s injury, the Trojans have some vacancies at the back of their rotation behind Bale (6-3, 1.48 ERA) and Wells (3-6, 1.75 ERA), who are back to lead the pitching staff.
Brotherton (1-1, 4.63 ERA), a left-hander, ranks as the No. 3 starter, but Martin, Hurst and Worthey are all candidates to get innings this spring.
“We’ve got our top three guys back,” Looney said. “We’ve had a couple of guys get tremendously better.
“Right now, Tyler Martin is right there. He could be put in the rotation very easily. He’s developed into a upper-70s, low-80s guy.
“Grayson Hurst has gotten bigger, taller and a little stronger. He throws the ball with a little more command. The guy that I’m really anxious to see finally eat up some innings is Carson Worthey.
“He’s got the strongest arm on the team. He’s just been a thrower, but we’ve changed his mechanics up, and he’s becoming more of a pitcher.
“His ball is running really well, and the movement on his breaking ball is tremendous. He’s probably going to have the same role Reagan Cates had a few years ago. I think Reagan played almost every position on the field but catcher.
“I’ve talked to Carson about it, and he knows what his role is. He’s a guy that’s going to be moved around a lot.”
Jacobs also could be a wild card for the Trojans on the mound.
“The young kids have thrown good bullpens, and I’m anxious to see how Caleb Jacobs throws,” Looney said.
As far as the conference is concerned, Looney expects his team to contend for the league crown, but defending state champion Spring Hill and Harmony Grove will certainly have a say on matters.
“As always, I expect us to make a run at it, if not win it,” Looney said. “There’s no reason to start a season if you don’t feel that way or honestly believe that.
“Does it concern me that we have only senior on the roster? No, not really, because he is surrounded by a bunch of good players that have played a lot of baseball.
“We’re going to have our ups and downs just like some young teams do, but we’re going to have some awfully good days, too. That I can guarantee you.
“Spring Hill lost only three starters and they are definitely going to be one of the top five teams in 2A.
“Spring Hill is going to be very tough. Harmony Grove took a huge hit. They’ve got only two starters coming back, but anytime Gannon Bearden is on the mound, they’re going to have a shot to beat you.”
If the Trojans are to enjoy a successful season in 2018, Looney said his team must avoid the injury bug.
“We have to stay healthy,” Looney said. “We have to keep our rotation healthy. We need every one of those guys.
“Pitching and defense is going to win you a lot of games, but eventually, you’ve got to hit the ball and score some runs.
“That’s what we have to do better. Our Achilles heel for the last couple of years is hitting as a team. We have to improve that this year.
“If we can improve our overall team average, then I like our chances.”