’Cats return 6 starters, aim for playoffs

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Woodland has six starters returning and a team with the potential to do well this season, coaches believe.

“I think we will do well as long as all our players come in, work hard and do their job,” head baseball coach Corey Gochee said. “The key will be to execute.”

The Wildcats should field either five or six returning starters each game, depending on whether one of those returning starters is working the mound, too.

“We will be missing two outfielders and a shortstop to graduation,” Gochee said. “Our returning players will be solid. They are a little banged up right now, but we should have most of them back after a few weeks.”

Woodland is focused on finding capable players to take the places of its graduates.

“The big question for us right now is our middle infield,” Gochee said.

He said Garrett Cornett and Jordan Lee have been competing thus far, and Jacob Frye joined the team Monday after wrestling wrapped up.

“Frye should add a little depth for us as well as we’ll have three players competing for shortstop and second,” the coach said, saying he welcomes that competition. “We believe having strong competition in practice makes the guys work harder.”

Returning at third is Hayden Siniard, who he expects to eventually claim the position.

“Hayden had arm surgery in the summer, and once that completely heals, he’ll be available to play,” Gochee said. “He won’t pitch this year because of surgery, but he has signed with Chattanooga Valley [Community College] and will pitch for them. He has not been cleared to throw and won’t play his usual position at third until he’s ready. We will probably DH him until then.”

He expects him to take the starting position eventually.

“Last year he played every game at third when he was not pitching,” Gochee said. “He’s about as solid defensively as they come.”

Several Wildcats expect playing time on the other corner.

“At first, we have a bunch of guys battling it out,” Gochee said. “It will come down to who has quality play.”

Gochee expects competitive performances from Trent Harrison, Tyler Dilcher and Cauy Williams. He said Trent and Cauy potentially could find their way to third some.

“It’s going to come down to who’s on the mound and who’s swinging the bat well,” he said.

Woodland also has several players getting work as catchers.

“Hunter Reaid and Cauy Williams will likely both see action behind the plate,” he said, adding both juniors saw playing time as sophomores and are expected to continue improving their game.

“We also have a couple of youngsters who should get some time there, too,” he said.

The coach said Chris Mills, a sophomore, has played well for the team and said performance will determine who’s being used.

“It will come down to who’s hustling, getting after it and who’s swinging the bat,” Gochee said.

Woodland has more pitching experience to start its season.

“We’ve brought everybody else back from last year,” Gochee said. “We’re going to have depth, but not having Hayden, we’ll have to get guys to step up and pitch more innings to make up the difference.”

That staff includes seniors Grayson Bagwell, Rodolfo Romo and Mitchell Taylor, all righties. Also, juniors Brandon Allen, Trent Harrison, Williams and Jacob Frye, a leftie.

He said Allen threw some last year and is expected to contribute more innings this season.

“Grant Robinson threw for us last year but he has some throwing issues. Hopefully we will get him back before too long. He led us in ERA and wins last year.”

Robinson went 3-1 and had a 2.00 ERA. Taylor had a 3.73 ERA.

“We have about nine or 10 pitchers and all our guys will see innings if healthy,” Gochee said. “They will play based on pitching to contact and who gets players out, who has the hot hand.

“I feel like pitching and defense will be our strength this season with some productive hitting. It all goes back to pitching and hitting.”

The coach said he was optimistic about play in the field.

“Brandon Allen, center field, is a great athlete who runs well and gets a great jump on the ball,” Gochee said. “He’s hitting the ball really well for us right now.

“Spencer Cooper, a leftie, is battling it out in the outfield. The rest are righties. Adam Martin is a senior. We expect him to do a lot of positive things. He’s a big RBI guy for us. Emmanuel Jones is a big strong kid. He runs well. He needs to keep working hard to get in the mix in right field.

“When everyone is healthy, we’ll have some depth at right and left field. Just like at a lot of our other positions, who plays will depend on who’s making productive outs or swinging the bats well.”

The Wildcats should make some noise when they’re swinging the lumber.

“We have some big guys and we’re trying to figure out where they bat in the order,” Gochee said. “Behind the plate we have Hunter Reaid, who we expect to use near the top of the order. He handles the bat really well, putting the ball in play and bunting when that’s what we need.

“Allen will probably bat in the middle of our lineup. He had a great fall and is recognized by Perfect Game. We have Cauy Williams, Hayden Siniard and Grant Robinson, and they will be our RBI guys in the middle.”

He said the team has experienced hitters. “We’ve got a pretty solid junior class who played well as sophomores. This year’s seniors played well as juniors,” he said. “The game experience should be there. Sprinkle in Koby Stansel, who has come on for us early and impressed and potentially is a third baseman. He possibly would bat from midway to the top of our lineup as a freshman.”

Reaid was a .348 hitter a year ago while Siniard, an all-county player last year, hit .301 and drove in 20 runs; Martin, hit .316 and drove in 19 runs; Robinson drove in 13 runs.

Gochee believes one of the keys to success is having players who are focused on the game.

“Our goal is to play one game at a time. Our focus is on our next game again,” he said. “Now we are focused on playing Pepperell, and after that we’ll move our focus one game at a time. “We are aimed at the top of our region and then to make the state playoffs.”

Woodland should be battling some familiar teams to advance to those playoffs. Gochee expects to see River Ridge at or near the top of the subregion.

“Our region is the largest in the state with 14 teams,” he said. “It is subdivided and on our side we have River Ridge and Dalton. Dalton was young last year, but this year it should be strong. River Ridge has two players who have signed to play after having some good years. Our subregion is strong as far as depth is concerned. Almost every team has one or two top pitchers. You have to have depth if you are going to compete.”

He said focusing on things that matter would help Woodland find success.

“I feel if we pitch to contact, stay ahead of hitters, play solid defense and situational hit when we need to generate some offense, we will be successful.”