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Senior-laden Tigers hope for return to postseason

 

The high school baseball season got off to a late start with the first week of tryouts and practice being snowed out, but things are about to heat up.

Adairsville begins the season Monday, hosting Model, in what the Tigers hope will be a bounce-back year after missing the playoffs in 2017.

“After making the playoffs for two years, and not making it last year, from a program standpoint, we took a step back, but we have to try to get back,” head coach Billy Roper said. “We got a lot of guys back, so that’s a good thing.”

Adairsville has a lot of guys returning, indeed, and will be able to fill all nine positions with players who received a good bit of playing time last year, including eight seniors.

“That could be a good thing or a bad thing,” Roper said of his team’s experience returning. “If we continue to do like last year, that’s not very good, but we have a group coming back that’s been through the wringer.”

Adairsville did lose some key contributors from last year, mainly 2016 Daily Tribune News Pitcher of the Year Sam Seaman, Taylor Whitley and pitcher Chase Powell.

Leading the charge among returners is Kyler Pelfrey, who signed to play for Georgia College & State University after a strong offseason of travel ball. Pelfrey was one of the best defensive shortstops in the county last year and one of the best pitchers for Adairsville. He hit .365 with a .416 on-base percentage, both second on the Tigers.

But Pelfrey is far from the only contributor returning. Caden Gibbs went 5-0 on the mound last year and will play first base, while Noah Dutton and Hunter Hice both were productive at times and will round out the infield. Halen Huskins had some big games and returns as a catcher.

Garrett Mishoe, Cody Henderson and Corey Nation all saw significant action last year in the outfield and had their moments as well.

“I would say our guys that have to knock in some runs are the guys that hit in those spots last year — Kyler Pelfrey, Hunter Hice, Halen Huskins and Garrett Mishoe,” Roper said. “Those guys all hit last year in some crucial spots.”

Between Pelfrey, Mishoe and Gibbs, Roper expects pitching to be his team’s strength this season.

“We have three starters back from last year,” he said. “I know Calhoun has two big ones, but I don’t know if anyone else can say that in the region.”

With the experience returning, Roper also likes his team’s depth. The seniors will be complemented by juniors Landon Ayers, B.J. Roper and Michael Cook.

“A lot of those juniors last year were coming from JV, didn’t have a lot of experience,” Roper said. “This year, we have a lot of guys with experience, and the guys coming up from JV, I feel like they’re ready to step in and get some playing time.”

While Adairsville is looking for a bounce-back year, the Region 6-AAA competition will not do the Tigers any favors. Ringgold and Calhoun are ranked No. 2 and No. 3, respectively, in the Class 3A Georgia Dugout Preview preseason poll. Coahulla Creek also received votes in the top 10. All three made the state quarterfinals last year, with Coahulla Creek and Calhoun reaching the semifinals.

“The region’s tough,” Roper said. “Ringgold’s always stacked, Calhoun has two of the top pitchers in the region. Calhoun will be up at the top. If we want to get there, we’re going to have to try and knock them off. Coahulla Creek, they do a great job. I think they lost some seniors, but they’ll definitely be competitive. But our region, top to bottom, anybody can beat anybody on any given day.”

If the Tigers want to compete in that ultra-competitive region, Roper says his team will need to develop some leaders. That has been an emphasis in the offseason after “we only had one or two” last year, according to Roper.

This season, he has seen Pelfrey and Gibbs take ownership of that role, and expects Hice and Henderson to as well since their basketball season just ended and they can rejoin the baseball team.

If everything falls into place, Roper hopes his team can make a third state-playoff appearance in four years.

“Obviously, our goal is to be at the top of the region so we can host a state playoff [series],” he said. “But going back to last year, I told them I wasn’t going to be talking about playoffs much because we have to get back to the basics and playing together as a team and worry about the day at hand. As we get going, we can set our goals a little higher and start talking about playoffs.”

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