By Derrick Mahone
It was supposed be a rebuilding year for Luella after graduating five starters and its top two pitchers.
But someone forgot to tell the team.
The Lions haven't missed a beat this season as they prepare for their seventh straight playoff appearance. Luella, the Region 2-AAAAA runner-up, host Bradwell Institute today at 4:30 p.m. in a doubleheader in its best-of-three series.
"To be a young team, we are pleased to be in the playoffs," Luella coach Andy Cooper said. "We did a lot of growing up. The team has matured a lot since the beginning of the season. We are sort of peaking at the right time. Hopefully we can make a good (playoff) run."
The Lions started the season winning five of their first six games before hitting a four-game losing streak. However, Luella would recover to win nine straight games by producing 93 runs during the streak.
Cooper said the winning streak began when the bottom portion of the lineup begin hitting the ball.
"We came back after that losing streak with a few good games," Cooper said. "Our bats began to click, especially in the bottom half of the lineup. We beat some pretty good teams."
Outfielder Chase Scott agreed.
"We have improved defensively, and some of the younger guys have stepped up," he said. "We are starting to peak. We are going to do whatever it takes to keep rolling in the playoffs."
Luella has won five straight games since consecutive losses to powerhouses Lovett and Greenbrier.
Cooper points to a young pitching staff of sophomores Vincent Jackson and Kendal Hill providing some good innings on the mound. They both have a 5-2 record with Hill producing a 1.75 ERA. Jackson leads the team with 52 strikeouts.
The two had some big shoes to fill after the graduation of Kelly Holt, who is now pitching at Kennesaw State and Jose Pape, who plays at Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College in Tifton.
"At the start of the season, we had a lot of positions up for grabs," senior third baseman Ryan Marsh said. "We had some people that we weren't expecting to step up and play a big role. We are getting a lot of offense."
One of the biggest producers for the Lions is Scott, who has hit safely in 22 straight games. He is one of the area's top hitters with a .500 average and eight home runs. He also has 30 RBI to lead the team.
"He is killing the ball," Marsh said.
"I'm seeing the ball real good now," Scott said. "I'm trying to do all I can to help the seniors. We want to finish up strong for them."
While the Lions want to win now, Cooper realizes the future is in good hands with his two left-hand sophomore pitchers and Scott. Another sophomore, Matt Kelly has pitched some innings in relief this season.
"They have all grown up this season," Cooper said. "We knew they had some talent. Chase has been very consistent all year. Hopefully next year with this season under their belts, they will give us a few good years."