Almost nine months have eclipsed since the Starkville Academy Volunteers were last on the diamond where they captured the Class AAA South Division II championship and were runner-ups for the State championship.
Today, coach Neal Henry’s Vols make their return as they raise the curtain on the 2013 campaign.
Traveling to Holly Springs, Starkville Academy faces Marshall Academy in an exhibition beginning at 5 p.m., to be followed by a second matchup at 7 p.m.
“We are definitely looking forward to playing again,” Henry said. “We have six starters returning from last year’s State runner-up team. They’re hungry and ready to get this going so they can get back there.”
Henry knows that games like today, although they do not count on the Vols record, they are certainly helpful in determining “what people in what spots can make plays.”
Trying to place people in positions will be a little easier for Henry who returns six starters from last year’s team, but replacing departing seniors Ryan McKell, Ryan Mann and Alex Holtcamp will be no easy task.
“We are definitely going to miss all three seniors, but we are going to try and find other guys to fit in those spots,” Henry said. “I have a few guys in mind right now, but it’s not really about replacing people. It’s about the spot the fits this team.”
Candidates for those starting spots include seven seniors, two juniors and a handful of sophomores, all of which Henry is counting on to help Starkville Academy achieve its goal of winning a State championship.
“Our goal every year is to win the State championship,” Henry said. “There is nothing different with this year.
“There are a few sophomores that could help us. Harper Arnold and Billy McGee on the mound can definitely help us then John McReynolds (was the designated hitter) for us. He played in about 89 percent of the games last year so he is going to be batting in the middle of the lineup.”
While the Vols are choosing to focus on team effort rather than selecting captains, Henry says there have already been a few standouts on the team as far as leadership.
“Hunter Bolin, Stephen Robertson and Doug Pettit are the three seniors that have been with us throughout and have really stepped up," Henry said. "I’m expecting big things out of them.”
On top of placing the right people in the right spots, Starkville Academy is stressing pitching and defense as its winning formula. According to Henry, if the “other team can’t score, then they can’t win.”
To aid in that game plan, the Vols are looking to their six or seven man rotation to guide them as they journey towards a State championship season.
“Our pitchers understand what needs to be done,” Henry said. “They pound the strike zone, because they know if they sit up there and throw strikes then that is going to give us the best chance to win. Like I’ve told them, it’s not the walks that hurt you, it’s the hits behind the walks that hurt you.”
If SA can “get the right person to fit in the right place” and can focus on playing Vols baseball, then the team will be on the right track to be in serious baseball contention and hopefully hoist the State championship trophy at the end of the season.
Before that can happen, the team has got to get back on the diamond for actual competition. After today's exhibition, Starkville Academy begins regular season action Tuesday when they face Heritage Academy on the East Central Community College field in Decatur at 6 p.m.