The Cass High baseball team underwent a period of change this offseason.
Head coach Adam Williams left and took the same job at Pickens High, while Cass’ top hitter, Bailey Campbell, and ace on the mound, Jake Collum, each graduated and moved on to college.
With the 2018 season opener scheduled for Monday at home against Rockmart, those who are left with the Colonels are hoping to be competitive in one of the best regions in Class 5A.
While several key losses means there will be a lot of holes to fill, first-year head coach Tim Ayers feels confident in the depth of his roster.
“I dont know if we have one really all-star, super good player,” he said of the 2018 Colonels. “I think we have 15-20 guys who are very competitive, and if they go out there and do what they’re supposed to do and do things the right way, we’ll be competitive.”
While Cass suffered some key losses to graduation, followed by a coaching change, Ayers will be a familiar voice in the dugout. He has been coaching at Cass off and on for 12 years, most recently serving as a hitting coach.
Ayers was on staff when Campbell had one of the best seasons of any Cass player in recent memory, and also helped coach up key contributors in the lineup last year, Tyler Hendon and Collum.
With those three gone, the top hitter returning will be Clay Means, who will play shortstop again in 2018 after hitting .343 as a sophomore in 2017.
Corner infielder Steven Spell will also provide a quality bat in the lineup, Nathan Smith returns at catcher, and Bryson Markley adds speed in center field and at the top of the lineup.
While there are some good players returning, the big boppers in the lineup are gone from last year and the Colonels are preparing to manufacture runs with old-fashioned fundamental baseball.
“It’s not going to be like last year, wait on Bailey to hit a three-run homer or things like that,” Ayers said.
Evan Hinton will play left field, Gavin Young will play right, and Blaine Ingram and Logan Nelson with play third and second base.
A promising freshman, Matt Shook, also could see time in the infield. He’s one of about a dozen ninth-graders who Ayers says is “a very competitive group.”
On the mound, Hinton has been a mainstay in the rotation since his sophomore year, and the tall lefty will once again be counted on.
The Colonels lost most of their other prominent contributors on the bump, though, with the departures of Collum, Cody Johnson and Zach Yancey.
Spell has seen action before and Ayers believes the senior will be Cass’ top right-hander. The rest of the innings will be taken by a committee of Parker Hardin, Means, Young and Markley.
“I don’t think we have anybody who can go out there and strike out 12 a night,” Ayers said, “but we have five or six who can go out there and get outs.”
Getting outs will be easier said then done in Region 7-AAAAA this year. Cass finished .500 in the region season last year, but that was only good enough for sixth-place.
It won’t get any easier this season. Carollton is the favorite and is ranked No. 3 in all of Class 5A, but there are several other perenially solid programs as well.
“Carrollton and Kell, East Paulding, they’ll be the teams to beat,” Ayers said. “I want to say we’re going to compete for one of the top spots. I think, if we go do what we can do, I think we can compete with anybody in the region.”