Cougars look to rebound after tough ‘17By ROBBIE ROBERTSON,
A year after missing the Class 4A playoffs, Newton County baseball coach Wyatt Tullos is ready to hit the field again.
The Cougars will field four seniors from last year's squad that went 16-11 but lost four in a row in division 5-4A play to miss the playoffs.
Tullos is anxious to hit the field and put last year behind him.
"Last year didn't go like we wanted it to go. But it's a new year and everybody is excited," Tullos said. "To me, the journey is what is fun, trying to figure out the best combinations."
Leading the way for the Cougars this season will be East Central signee Eli Harrison, who hit .419 with three home runs and 17 RBIs. On the mound, Harrison was 3-1 with a 1.97 ERA in 42.2 innings pitching with 45 strikeouts. When he isn't pitching, he will likely play in the infield and may catch some.
Senior Gavin Bailey hit .297 last year and led the team with 18 RBIs while playing third base. Seniors Kamon Shelwood and Garrett Milles saw limited playing time last year but will be asked to fill bigger roles.
"We only have four seniors, four juniors and a pile of young guys," Tullos said. "I'm looking forward to start seeing some of the different combination. Honestly, it may be spring break before we figure out where everybody is going to be."
Junior Rod Evans returns in centerfield while sophomore Hayden West is back after hitting .362 and leading the team with eight doubles.
Cole Shimfessell will share time with Bailey and Harrison at catcher.
On the infield, Bailey, Harris, Hayden West and Rod Evans will play while Tucker Fitch, Harber Reese, Miles, Hayes West and Tyler Cavenaugh are all battling for playing time.
In the outfield, Evans, Shelwood, Joshua Mott, Conner Boggan, Shimfessell, Mills and Cavenaugh could all see playing time.
"I think one of our strengths will be the ability to do different stuff," Tullos said. "We have a lot of adaptability. I feel like we have a few guys who can run and do different things. Hopefully we can figure out ways to score."
On the mound, Tullos said he has plenty of arms with Harrison and Bailey leading the way along with West.
After that, senior Garrett Mills is expected to see some time on the mound while sophomores Harber Reese and Justin Davis will pitch some along with freshman Jessie Phillips, Hayes West and Riley Kerr Cain.
"We know what we are going to get out of Eli and Hayden," Tullos said. "These young guys are really competitive. They are all around the zone and all do different stuff. I'm looking forward to watching them grow and develop."
The Cougars will compete in Division 5-4A against defending state champion West Lauderdale, Northeast Lauderdale, Northeast Jones, Mendenhall and Quitman with four teams making the playoffs.
"We have one of the best districts in the state the last three or four years," Tullos said. "It's always a dogfight. That's the fun part of it. Every division game is like a playoff game."