Starkville Academy coach Neal Henry, right, shares a light moment with his players on Monday. (Photo by Kim Murrell, SDN)
Starkville Academy head baseball coach Neal Henry knew exactly what he had to focus on when he went into the summer league.
The Volunteers have been playing since the first part of June and end the summer slate this week.
"This summer we are playing a lot of guys who didn't get much playing time, played a lot of (junior varsity) games this past year," Henry said. "They are playing doubleheaders two days out of the week. They are getting better, getting more at-bats and seeing more live pitching."
The Volunteers made it all the way to the Mississippi Association of Independent Schools Class AAA, Division II state championship series this past season. They lost in two games to Magnolia Heights.
Seniors Ryan McKell, Ryan Mann and Alex Holtcamp were a big part in the success of last season's team.
"You can't really replace those guys and what all they meant to the team," Henry said. "We are just trying to find guys to fill those positions that the seniors left."
Henry has plenty of experience and veteran leadership in Hunter Bolin and Drew Pellum returning.
"I hope it carries over," Henry said of the playoff run. "Once you start something, you have to get there. The people who were there remembered what it felt like to get there so they know that feeling."
The Vols have played some stiff competition over the summer including public schools as Columbus, West Point, Caledonia and New Hope. SA also played the team they beat in the first round of the playoffs in Heritage Academy.
The Volunteers played Starkville High School for the second time this summer on Monday.
"It is definitely good competition to see where we are," Henry said. "Coach (Brian) Jones has already done a good job over there (at Starkville High School). We already played them once and they beat us pretty handily."
The reason for the great competition is distance. All of the teams they have played this summer have been within a 45-mile radius giving SA an opportunity to play doubleheaders a couple times a week.
"These guys have seen some good arms and they are definitely going to be better for next year," Henry said.
Henry has been especially pleased with guys like Hunter Peeples, Josh Holtcamp and Austin Miles. Henry described Miles as "consistent all summer."
On the mound, Stephen Robertson has shown a lot of promise and figures to be a big factor for the third spot in the rotation. Pellum and Bolin are the one-two punch for the Vols.
"He has thrown three times this summer and had two great outings," Henry said. "He is looking to fill that number three spot as our third conference starter. His odds are looking pretty good right now (with) the way he has thrown this summer and the way he has developed since I got here."
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