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ClAYTON BASEBALL PREVIEW

Photo by Derrick Mahone
Mundy’s Mill coach Patrick Smith will lead his team into a new region as they hope to make another run in the playoffs.

Photo by Derrick Mahone Mundy’s Mill coach Patrick Smith will lead his team into a new region as they hope to make another run in the playoffs.

Drew Titans

Coach: Brian Paige

Last season: 1-19

Returning starters: Brandon Pearson, P/C, Jr.; Sergio Billings, OF, Sr.; Marco Smith, OF/P?C, Jr.; Dylan Stevens, OF/P, Jr.; Albert Herring, P/3B, So.; Tracy Gaston, P/OF, So.; Matthew Colbert, 2B, Jr.

Key newcomers: Antonio Gamble, P/1B, Fr.; Mason Williams, P/SS, Fr.; DeMarcus Reid, OF, Fr.

Team strengths: Speed on the base pads will be a big asset for the Titans as they look to become more competitive. Paige also says his team defense has improved, which should be a big key in the improvement.

Areas to improve: Paige will be looking for the team to maintain its focus throughout the game and cut down on mental letdowns.

Team outlook: Drew has gotten off to a rocky start in trying to build a consistent program. Although the team is still young at certain positions, Paige said the expectations are high. He will be looking for some players from last season’s JV championship team to play some key roles on the varsity this season.

Jonesboro Cardinals

Coach: Dan Maehlman

Last year: 21-7

Returning starters: Darian Alston, 2B, Sr.; Dereon London, LF/3B, Sr.; Cameron Sutton, CF, Sr.; Dustin Bogges, SS/P, Sr.; Brandon Jackson, 1B/P, Sr.

Key newcomers: Christian Hawkins, OF, Jr.; Antonio Gaffney, OF, Jr.; Juan Tucker C, Fr.; AJ Nettles, P/2B. Fr.; Kenneth Willis, 1B, Fr.; Jaquan Ware, UTY, Soph.

Team Strengths: The Cardinals are a fast team with good pitching. And it is the pitching that coach Dan Maehlman expects to be Jonesboro’s anchor. Bogges, Jackson, Alston and London are Maehlman’s top four hurlers. And he says that there is no drop off in ability from one to the other.

Areas to improve: In a word: Youth. Of Maehlman’s 18 players, six are seniors. But he will be counting on three freshmen to provide immediate production. Perhaps headlining the group is Tucker who is penciled as the starting catcher.

Team outlook: Jonesboro has advanced to the state tournament the last two seasons, losing both times in the first round. But this season, with the Georgia High School Association’s reclassification, shuffling regions around, Maehlman says that the Cardinals can expect tougher competition than in years past. Jonesboro begins the season next Wednesday, playing host to one of the new Region 4-AAAA teams in Locust Grove. If the Cardinals’ pitching is as strong as advertised, finishing in the top four to qualify for state shouldn’t be an issue.

Lovejoy Wildcats

Coach: Craig Chatman

Last season: 21-7 (loss in first round to Northgate).

Returning starters: Mark Flournoy, C, Sr.; Greg Tyson, 2B, Sr.; Andrew Nicholson, P/CF, Sr.; Tyler Ramos, P/INF, Sr.; Morgan Robinson, INF/DH, Jr.; Danyale Brimer, P/OF, junior; Luis DeJesus, P/INF, Jr.; Quincy Roberts, P/INF, Jr.; Christen Dixon, 1B, DH, Jr.; Arias Smith, OF, Sr.; Reggie Lane, OF, Jr.

Key newcomers: Demetruis Banks, P/1B, Sr.; Jamel Campbell, OF.C, Jr.; Brandon Wade, P/DH, Jr.

Team strengths: The Wildcats will be an athletic team that should stress opposing defenses with its aggresive base running and strong bats. Pitching will be a strength as well. Flournoy is perhaps Lovejoy’s best player.

Areas to improve: Much of the core of last year’s 21-7, state playoff qualifying team were seniors and have since graduated. Coach Craig Chatman will have to rely on the considerable talent of this year’s squad to fill in some of the leadership gaps this season.

Season outlook: Lovejoy has the talent to make a return trip to the state tournament. But the seasoning may be another story. However, Flournoy should be a leader, and all 11 returnees have experience from last season’s state playoff series.

Mount Zion Bulldogs

Coach: Kelcy White

Last season: 13-13 (lost in first round to Harris County)

Returning starters: Kenneth Wiggins, P/SS, Sr.; Emmanuel Parks, OF/1B/P, Sr.; Chris Patterson, OF, Jr.; David Smith, OF, 1B; Quarterrio Simpson, P/2B, Jr.; Ajah Smith, C/1B, Jr.; Troy Cushman, C/2B, Soph.; Sam Glickman, P/3B/OF, Soph.; Aaron Harris, P/3B/OF; Rafael Cabral, P/1B/3B; Wesley White, DH, Sr.; Allen Augustin, OF, Sr.

Top Newcomers: Damion Graper, C/SS/3B/OF, Jr.; Devante Dudley, 2B/SS, Jr.; Mike Scott, P/OF, Sr.; Montel Buchanan OF/P, Sr.; Jeremy Brown, LHP/1B, Fr.

Team strengths: White’s team will go two-deep at every position. The overall team speed is an upgrade from last season, and the bats have gotten stronger. Pitcher Kenneth Wiggins is a college prospect with 17 career wins.

Areas to improve: The youth that gives the Bulldogs depth could also plague them with inexperience. With youth could come defensive mistakes and lack of execution.

Season outlook: The Bulldogs have posted winning seasons the last two years, and White is hoping that such success is a sign of things to come. If Mount Zion can pay attention to executing the details of a game, White believes that a state tournament berth could be the Bulldogs’ natural next step.

Mundy’s Mill Tigers

Coach: Patrick Smith

Last season: 22-9 (loss to Marist in second round)

Returning starters: Raheem Jackson, CF, Jr.; Tray Mathews, RF/P, Jr.; Mark Hawkins, LF, Jr.

Key newcomers: Jordan Robinson, SS/P, So.; Damarcus Mays, 3B, Jr.; Darius Wheeler, 2B/P, Jr.; Emmanuel Martinez, P/3B, So.

Strengths: Smith says that pitching and defense should be a big advantage for his squad. The veteran coach will have several arms he can throw at the opposition. However, ace pitcher Corey Harmon has graduated.

Areas to improve: The team graduated four starters that hit over .400 the last two seasons. Smith said the team will have to manufacture runs differently this season. In addition, standout second baseman Rodney Smith was lost for the season after sustaining a knee injury during football season.

Team outlook: While the team is still young at several positions, it has been battle-tested the last two years. Playing six games in the postseason last year should add to the team’s experience. With the move up in classification, the Tigers will play in a very competitive region.

North Clayton Eagles

Coach: Richard Flowers

Last season: 2-18

Returning starters: Harold Smith, 1B, Sr.; Travis Clark, SS, Jr.; Darryl Murphy, 2B, Jr.

Key newcomers: Marcus Benton, 3B/P, Sr.; Tevin Taylor, C/P, Jr.

Strengths: The Eagles should have a lot of speed on the bases to help manufacture runs. Flowers said he has a solid infield, which should cut down on some errors.

Areas to improve: Trying to build a winning mentality will be a big challenge for Flowers, who is in his first season. The team will be looking to improve on its pitching to keep them in games.

Outlook: Flowers is excited about his first season at North Clayton as he tries to build a program. Benton will be asked to help immediately after transferring from South Atlanta. Smith will be looked on for instant offense.

Riverdale Raiders

Coach: William Silveri

Last season: 4-14-1

Returning starters: Tikeem Cooper, SS/P, Sr.; Brandon Leverette, 2B/P, Sr.; Louis Clark, 1B/C, Sr.; Jerome Holmes, 3B/P, So.; Deonte Carter, OF/P, Sr.; Gerrod Gober, OF, Jr.; Christian Lopez-Santos, P/3B, Sr.

Key newcomers: Javier Romero, P/OF, Sr.; Darnell Belgrave, OF, So.; Jalen Isom, C, Fr.

Team strengths: For the first time in Silveri’s four-year tenure as head coach, the Raiders return a lot of experience. The Raiders have three four-year starters and three with three years of playing experience. He is counting on the experience and hitting of Cooper and Carter to help lead the team.

Areas to improve: Finding some pitching depth will be a big key. Romero and Holmes will get most of the work, but quality backups must be found. Silveri will use Lopez-Santos and Cooper on the mound some.

Team outlook: With a lot of returning talent, Riverdale could finally challenge for a state playoff spot. Isom must play beyond his freshman experience to help the pitching staff. Cooper, also a standout on the state-playoff football team, will look to equal his .493 batting average and 19 stolen bases from a year ago.