However, if the Wildcats are going to surpass last season’s win total of 14 and reach the state playoffs in 2014, it will take more than eight players to fill the void, which is precisely what head coach Corey Gochee believes will happen.
“The difference with this year and last year is last year I had three very good arms that I could rely on,” Gochee said of his pitching staff from 2013. “This year, I got about eight guys or so that we’re going to count on and there’s going to be a lot of mixing and matching as opposed to, ‘Let’s ride these three or four guys out,’ like last year.”
Woodland returns just 25 innings from the 2013 season, including 25 from sophomore Hayden Siniard. Siniard will be one of the pitchers who replaces the trio of Blake Hall, Luke Patterson and John Hood.
In Woodland’s first game against Pepperell on Tuesday, the Wildcats won by a score of 7-6 and used five pitchers in the game.
Cauy Williams pitched the final three innings to pick up the win and will be one of several pitchers who will toe the mound this season.
Seth Gunter, a 6-foot-8 right-handed pitcher, also will be counted on to give Woodland innings along with a host of others.
“So far guys like Grant Robinson, he’s a sophomore and has looked really well a few times on the bump so far with location and velocity,” Gochee said of who he will use on the mound. “Hayden Siniard, of course, and then Mason Robinson will see more time on the mound this year.
“I like having eight guys that I feel like are pretty close on the mound.”
Mason Robinson’s primary role will be as an outfielder and he will man an important spot in the batting order. Robinson hit .419 in 2013 with 36 hits and 12 extra-base hits.
“[Robinson is] predominantly an outfielder. He’s getting some looks from a couple of Division I schools and he’s going to have to pitch for us some this year because we’re going to be young on the mound,” Gochee said. “Honestly, I don’t know where exactly he’ll hit [in the batting order]. He’ll either hit 1, or 3, or 4. I may put him at 1 just to make sure he gets as many at-bats as possible. They’re going to pitch around him, so if they want to start with a man on first, he’s going to probably run when he gets on there.”
Fellow all-county team member Hunter Siniard also returns after posting a .371 batting average and driving in 20 runs a season ago .
“He started behind the plate a good bit last year,” Gochee said of Siniard. “He’s coming back as a left-handed hitter and he’ll find his way at the top of that lineup as well. His brother, Hayden, we’re going to have to rely on to swing the bat a little as well.”
Filling in for the departed Camden McGill, last season’s starting shortstop currently playing for Georgia Highlands, will be junior Braden Harris.
Justin Allen and Jarrett Kilgo will be counted on to man the corner outfield positions. Those players will have to replace the production of graduated players such as outfielder Gavin Livsey, first baseman Lance Glockner, second baseman Chris Cuzzort and third baseman Tyler Stringer.
“We lost a lot of infielders and a lot of arms,” Gochee said. “Depending on who we put out there, they’ve seen some time. They just weren’t out there as much as the seniors that had left.”
Despite a relative lack of experience compared to last season’s team, Gochee still has high hopes for the season.
Woodland did not finish the 2013 season the way the team would have liked, losing five of its last seven games and missing out on the state playoffs, but Gochee expects this group to contend for a state playoff berth.
“We talk about we’re going to take it one step at a time, and when the dust clears, hopefully we’re playing in the next season, which will be postseason,” he said. “Obviously, we want to win the region and if we come up short, then we definitely want to be one of the top four teams in the region.”