Ga. Highlands begins inaugural baseball season Sunday
by Jason Greenberg
Jan 31, 2014 | 1080 views | 0 0 comments | 22 22 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Georgia Highlands head coach Mike Marra can tell you off the top of his head how many days it has been since he began his duties as Georgia Highlands head coach. Today is his 488th day on the job.

His 490th will likely be one of the most memorable as it is opening day of Georgia Highland’s first inaugural baseball season as the Chargers begin play with a doubleheader Sunday at Richard Bell Field in Cartersville, a game that will feature four Bartow County high school players.

As a new program, several of the team’s players will be freshmen, meaning the team will have to overcome a lack of experience playing in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association, which is loaded with talent.

“Of our starting nine, eight of our starting nine hitters are freshmen. You have kids who have no clue how fast the game is at the college level,” Marra said. “It’s a very competitive level of baseball, so you have a lot of guys who were very good in high school but they haven’t experienced the talent level. That humbles you real fast. This year we have a big learning curve from high school seniors to college freshmen. The kids who can shorten that gap will be better off and if we could kind of get that out of the way in February, before our conference play, we will be ready to compete to make the playoffs.”

John Hood and Camden McGill from Woodland High, and Harris Battle and Ty Fowler from Cartersville are the four local products who will take the field wearing the blue and orange. Several of the team’s home games will be played at Woodland High School’s field and Richard Bell Field, the home of the Cartersville High baseball team.

Fowler and McGill likely will be regulars in the lineup.

“Ty is going to start in right field. He is just an outstanding athlete. We brought him in as a catcher, but then we brought in four catchers here in January, who can’t do anything but catch, while Ty is such an outstanding athlete. We felt he was our best option in right. He can run, he can catch and he can throw, so he’s going to be in right field,” Marra said. “Camden McGill will be the starting second baseman. Cam is just great defensively for us. He’s been a little inconsistent at the plate throughout the fall but is an outstanding defender with great speed and great baseball instincts.

Georgia Highlands also has some local products who will take the hill for the Chargers this season. Hood will be the team’s opening day starter Sunday.

“John Hood will be in there somewhere with the pitching. We’re not sure where. He’ll be the opening day starter Sunday, and that’s because he was the first commit we had and he is a local product. We’re going to give him the opportunity to be the first pitcher to ever throw a pitch in the new program. John will definitely be in the mix whether or not it be in the starting rotation; he’ll definitely pitch,” Marra said. “Battle is a Cartersville kid. He’s got some issues with his shoulder. He hasn’t played in two years. So he’s coming in here and there are some issues we have to deal with to get him healthy, but when he’s healthy, he can have an impact for us on the hill. He’s done a nice job, upper 80s guy, and he would help us out.”

Marra believes his pitching and defense will be strengths, while the offense lacks power and will need to manufacture runs to win games.

“Our pitching has been very good since day one. We really haven’t had a glitch and all the attention we’ve gotten from the pro guys has been our pitching. We have two sophomores who will lead the rotation, Dillon Swaggerty and Jamie Thaggard from Etowah. Those two guys have experience and have pitched at the college level. They are getting some attention for the program because they’re both 89 to 91 with the fastball,” Marra said. “It looks like, right now, Albert Harless from South Paulding will be another guy in there. The fourth spot will be John Hood or Brent Kyzar. Those five are going to compete for the four conference spots.”

Offensively, Fowler will likely hit seventh and McGill at the bottom or top of the order as both players have speed, something that the Chargers’ offense will have to rely on this season.

“We’re going to play every inning like we need one run, which is not typically what I like to do, but we’re going to try to manufacture a run every inning,” Marra said. “We do a lot of situational stuff. We just don’t have the deep threat, but the top of our lineup is very quick. We have great speed, so we can create some havoc on the bases. We handle the bats well as far as hitting and running and bunting, so whether or not we go through the whole season and put three consecutive hits together, that’ll be interesting to see. Right now, I’m not betting on it.”

Out of the 10 teams in the Georgia Collegiate Athletic Association, six teams will make the playoffs. Marra’s goal is to be one of those teams.

“That’s the goal, to get into the postseason. Our first conference game will be March 4. Basically, we have a month to get everything ready and get prepared for March 4,” Marra said. “We feel good that we can compete for one of those six spots, maybe its four, five, six, but we feel good based on the fall. It is all going to depend on whether we can hit the ball. I think our pitching and defense can stand up with anybody, but being able to score some runs is going to be interesting.

“We play the better teams late and the below average teams early, so we’ll be able to find out quickly where we’re going to be.”