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Replacing seniors will determine Wildcats' success

 

Following a 2017 season that went almost as well as could be expected in Colby Coursey's first year at the helm, the Woodland baseball team will have to replace plenty of production after losing several key seniors.

The Wildcats finished last season with an 18-10 record and a 9-7 mark in Region 7-AAAAA action. However, an 0-4 start to region play meant the team had to fight uphill the entire campaign, and they just missed out on the fourth and final playoff spot.

Despite finishing 4-4 against the region's top four teams, Woodland found itself on the outside looking in. Coursey, though, felt like his team had a good season.

"Really thought at the end of the year, we were one of the best teams in the region," Coursey said. "... Then again, I'm willing to say our region is one of the toughest regions in any classification in the state of Georgia. Overall, I thought it was a pretty good year.

"I did lose some key seniors from last year's team, some kids who are hard to replace, if you can even replace them."

Four of those seniors — second baseman Jacob Frye, pitcher Grayson Bagwell, catcher Hunter Reaid and first baseman/pitcher Cauy Williams — earned all-county honors last season.

In 2017, Frye hit .395 with a county-high 35 runs scored; Bagwell, who now pitches for LaGrange College, posted a 2.24 ERA; Reaid hit .386 with 22 RBIs; and Williams, a USC Upstate signee, piled up 52 strikeouts in 42 innings.

Even still, Frye, Reaid and Williams represent the team's only defensive starters who don't return. It's part of why Coursey believes this year's squad brings back enough experience to combat the loss of production.

In an email to the Daily Tribune News, Coursey lists seven returning starters and five other key players, giving his team a solid foundation.

Kenny Jinks will be one of the top pitchers returning this year, while Garrett Cornett, Dylan Webb and Koby Stansel were productive hitters in the lineup a season ago.

"We've had a lot of kids step up to try and fill some holes from last year's team," he said.

The biggest difference between the two versions of the Wildcats seems to be the pitching staff. It will likely be the determining factor as to whether Woodland reaches the postseason.

After relying on power arms to try to strike out everybody in 2017, this year's edition will feature a more pitch-to-contact approach. It makes life easier on the pitchers and plays up the defense, which should be one of the team's strengths.

"We'll be able to pitch to our defense," Coursey said. "We won't have to rely on strikeouts every time we go up there. ... That takes a lot of pressure off the pitcher when you know you have a good defense behind you."

It's also one of the reasons Coursey thinks this group could be a more "complete team."

"I'm really looking forward to the season," he said. "I felt like we lost a lot from last year's team, but, as a whole, I felt we had a lot of kids returning who either started or got a significant amount of playing time from last year's team. … 

"I feel like we're more of a complete team than we were last year. I think last year we relied a lot of times on big innings or power pitchers to go out there and have shutout performances. This year, I think we can get into a role of playing situational baseball, playing great defense and being able to have quality pitchers on the mound every time we go out there."

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