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BASEBALL NOTEBOOK: Locust Grove ‘learning a lot’ in rebuilding year

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Doug Campbell is hopeful that his pitching staff will hold up as the eighth-ranked Chargers look to compete for the Region 9-A title.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Doug Campbell is hopeful that his pitching staff will hold up as the eighth-ranked Chargers look to compete for the Region 9-A title.

Either Locust Grove is as bad as its 13-2 loss to Union Grove, or is as good as its 21-5 victory over Henry County.

Most likely, the truth is somewhere in the middle.

The Wildcats are a team under construction this season after graduating seven seniors, including three college signees. Those seniors led Locust Grove to the state tournament in the school’s second year of existence, finishing 16-8 overall and 13-3 in Region 4-AAA.

Locust Grove coach Stephen Phillips has had to remake his entire pitching staff. The Wildcats leaned heavily last season on pitchers Seth Lucio and Dawson Brown, who signed with Division I schools Tennessee Tech and Mercer, respectively, and Jordan Dukes.

Locust Grove returned some experience in catcher Derrick Davis and outfielder Slater Eckert.

“We knew that this year was going to be a building year,” Phillips said, “not just losing seven seniors, but losing the talent we had.”

Phillips maintains this year’s version is a good team. It’s shown flashes of potential in a win against Ola (4-2) and close 3-1 loss to No. 9-ranked Spalding.

With plenty of schedule ahead, Locust Grove has exactly what it needs to make a run at a second state tournament appearance — time.

“We’re a good baseball team, and the great thing is we’re learning a lot,” Phillips said. “My hope is that by the middle and end of the season we’re clicking, get on a roll going into the playoffs and make a little run.”

Schedule upgrade

At first glance, it appears that defending Region 4-AAAA champion Mundy’s Mill is struggling this season as it replaces four starters.

The Tigers are 3-4 overall and 2-2 in the region. Last season, Mundy’s Mill cruised to a 22-5 overall mark and 19-1 region record.

This season, coach Patrick Smith has upgraded the team’s schedule to include some tougher non-region games against Sprayberry, Walker and Roswell.

“We wanted to get a measuring stick to see how we are stacking up,” Smith said. “We just wanted to see what we needed to do to get ready for the rest of the season.”

The team’s two region losses have come against Lovejoy and Jonesboro, two playoff teams from last season. Jonesboro was the only team in the region to defeat Mundy’s Mill last season.

“I think we are getting better every week,” Smith said. “It has been an adjustment for us this season in replacing some players that have graduated.”

Pitching depth

Eagle’s Landing Christian coach Doug Campbell says if his team pitching depth can hold up, the eighth-ranked Chargers have a chance to be a good team.

The Chargers lost two pitchers before the season to injury, and has had to remake its staff.

Campbell said that junior Patrick Busscher and sophomores Dalton Ethridge and Matthew Hammers have joined senior Kevin Martin to form the staff.

“Our defense has been the strongest part of the team,” Campbell said. “We have made very few errors. Pitching is one of those areas that we will need our depth to hold up.”

Young catcher

Last season, Dquan Matthews was playing catcher for his middle school team in St. Thomas.

This season, he has been thrust into the Mundy’s Mill lineup as the starting catcher. Matthews is the only freshman on this season’s team.

The Tigers graduated all-region catcher Robert Bell from last season’s playoff team.

“He is getting better,” Smith said of Matthews. “It is always tough when you play freshman, especially at the catcher position.”

Numbers game

It seems as if six is the magic number of runs for teams in the Southern Crescent, with seven of the 20 area teams averaging six runs per game.

Of those seven teams, five are playing at least .500 ball so far this season. The teams that are averaging six runs are Luella (8-1), Union Grove (7-2), Ola (6-3), Jonesboro (4-1), Forest Park (4-4), Locust Grove (3-4) and Stockbridge (3-7).

Only Eagle’s Landing Christian (10 runs, 8-1 record), Lovejoy (7 runs, 6-2 record), Mundy’s Mill (8 runs, 3-4 record) and Riverdale (7 runs, 4-6 record) average more runs per game.