By Nathaniel Frazier -Media General News Service
The goal for the Wallace College Govs remains the same?win the conference, or at the very least, make it to the state tournament. But getting to the state tournament this year is easier said than done. It?s not because of whom the Govs have, but who they don?t have.
Gone are the top three pitchers from last season. Gone is an All-State first baseman. Gone is an outfielder now playing Division I baseball. Gone is a shortstop/pitcher now playing professional baseball. Oh what holes must be filled.
?And it didn?t get any easier between the fall and the spring,? Wallace coach Mackey Sasser said. ?Right out of the gate, we lost three pitchers we were counting on, either to injury or academic trouble.?
But the news isn?t all bad. The Govs do have four returning sophomores who have already signed scholarships to four year schools. They are Brett Chamberlain, Ryan Reece, Harman Watkins, and Andrew Hockenbury.
?The cupboard isn?t completely bare,? Sasser said. ?But we?ve still got a lot of holes to fill and a whole lot of question marks. We?ve got some guys that we think can play, but they?re not battle tested. When a freshman makes that transition into college ball, it sometimes takes a while.?
That transition starts quickly. This Saturday, the Govs will begin the 2008 campaign with a home opening double-header against Abraham-Baldwin.
?We?re going to find out what we?re made of in a hurry,? Sasser said. ?We?ll play eight times in the first weeks?and most of them are on the road.?
And it?s a pretty tough schedule. Among those early games are three against Chipola. All Chipola did last year was win the National Junior College Baseball Championship. The Govs also have home-and-home games against a typically tough Gulf Coast team.
Here?s how the Govs starting line-up will look in 2008. Chamberlain will start at catcher. On the infield, Reece will move from third to first base, Chris Sasser and Watkins will split time at second, Rafael Carlot will play third, and T.J. Rivera will be the new short stop.
In the outfield, Jonathan Eaves returns to play left field, Watkins gets the nod in center, and Esterlin Perozo will be in right. Sasser will also see time in the outfield when Watkins plays infield.
The pitching staff will be anchored by a couple of returning sophomores--Hockenbury and Joseph Braswell--and a couple of freshmen, Justin Hay and Daniel Carela. There are 11 pitchers listed on the spring roster. They include locals Sloan Simmons of Skipperville, and Hunter Green of Dothan.
?Pitching is going to be a big question mark for us,? said Tyler Starling who has joined the staff this year as an assistant coach. ?Our sophomores are going to have to set the tone. The guys are going to have to be able to get people out. The key is going to be to throw strikes. But I think after the first couple of weeks we will be okay.?
One thing Starling said is going to help the pitching staff is an experienced catcher.
?We?re strong behind the plate,? Starling said of Chamberlain. ?He sets a good target for our guys to throw to and he frames the ball well. He?s also very capable of stopping the other team?s running game.?
Hitting has traditionally been a strength for a Mackey Sasser team. And that should again be the case. The Govs should also have pretty good speed, with Watkins, Eaves, Perozo, and Sasser at the top of the line-up.
As for winning the conference, Sasser said, ?We?ve got a good chance of winning the Southern Division. We finished just a game out of first place last year and were in the running until the very last day. I think we will be able to hit anybody. We?ll just have to do what any team needs to do?play good fundamental baseball.?
It all gets started for the Govs this Saturday at noon when they host Abraham-Baldwin in a double-header.