Monday was the first day the GHSA permitted for regular season varsity baseball games to be played.
Cass is wasting little time as they jump right into the season with a game today at home against Chattahoochee, the beginning of what Cass hopes to be a promising season.
“We’ve had a good preseason. We’ve had kids really hit the ball in practice, which has caused good problems for the coaches,” Cass head coach Adam Williams said of his team entering the year. “We have a good group of guys who believe in each other, are going to compete until the last out and play with toughness and grit. That’s what we want. That’s what we’re asking for.”
Cass is coming off an 11-14 season, the first time in seven years the Colonels failed to register a winning season. However, much of the lineup was comprised of underclassmen a season ago, and the Colonels are returning a more experienced group heading into the 2016 season.
“We have Bailey Campbell and Boo Reed coming back. Brett Gaddy is back. Stephen Spell started about 10 or 12 games. Cody Johnson played in about 20 games last year. Nathan Smith caught about 10 games. We have a good bit of kids returning, so we’re excited,” Williams said. “We’ve been to the state playoffs two of the three years I’ve been the head coach, so the goal is definitely to get back to the state playoffs. Right now, our DNA and what we’re trying to build our team around is we’re going to believe in our teammates, compete to the last out and play with toughness and grit.”
Cass has a few big bats returning for the middle of the lineup. Reed came back from injury midway through last season as a junior and hit .327 with a .441 on-base percentage and 10 RBIs in 49 at bats. Another Colonel coming off a big year is Campbell, who hit .370 last year with nine doubles and a .516 on-base percentage. Campbell also had a productive summer in travel ball as he was named to a few Perfect Game all-tournament teams.
“Bailey is going to catch. He’s going to play first base. He can DH. Bailey’s job is to hit,” Williams said. “Wherever he plays on the field, we need Bailey to swing the bat, and we need offensive production from Bailey. Bailey’s a team leader. He’s going to go out there and do everything we ask of him.”
Campbell will play some first base along with two-year returning starter Casey Patterson, and when Campbell is not behind the plate, Nathan Smith will catch.
“Nathan Smith, he’s a kid who caught in 10 ballgames last year,” Williams said. “We made sure he got some varsity experience as a freshman. He’s got the tools and the talent to be good. We want to make sure he had as much experience as he could to catch more in the future.”
Shortstop also will be a position with an experienced starter returning as Brett Gaddy will man the position. Gaddy held a .352 on-base percentage last year.
“Cody Johnson, Brett Gaddy and Jake Collum, probably some combination of the three,” Williams said of who will play in the middle of the infield. “Two of those three are pitchers, so at some point, they’re all going to be playing. Brett Gaddy is a junior, who has started for two years. He’s a coach’s son, a leader on the field. He’s a Colonel to the core. He believes in this team, and he’s going to come out there and give us everything he’s got. He’s a guy that we need to be in charge. We need him to be the quarterback of the baseball team, so to speak.”
At third base, Spell is expected to be the starter. He scored five runs in just 22 at bats last season as a freshman.
“Stephen Spell ended up being our starter at third base last year for the last 10, 12 games,” Williams said. “He’s hitting the ball very well in preseason practice.”
Reed, meanwhile, brings speed and athleticism to the team and will be joined by some more athletic Colonels in the outfield.
“A combination of Evan Hinton, Boo Reed, Tyler Hinton and Evan Collins,” Williams said when asked who would play outfield this season. “The good thing is we have some competition at practice. We’re going to see kids get better because they’re having to compete every day in practice. It’s going to make them better in the end.”
Overall, Williams believes Cass will put out a strong lineup this season.
“We’re going to have several kids who can go out there and play,” Williams said. “We’re going to be in a good position with the bats.”
While there are several returning starters in the lineup, there is less experience returning on the mound. The four pitchers who logged the most innings for Cass last year (Bradley Hood, Chris Hill, Chris Morton and Cody Ledbetter) all graduated. Hood had an impressive season last year, recording a 3.09 ERA, a 1.16 WHIP and 48 strikeouts in 43 innings. Chris Hill had a strong year as well after being named an all-county selection in 2014, while Chris Morton has joined Hood as a member of Georgia Highlands’ pitching staff. Cody Ledbetter, meanwhile, is currently playing for Young Harris.
“All those kids went on and had a chance to play college baseball,” Williams said of the graduated pitchers. “They are kids that loved the game of baseball and they’re going to be missed, but it’s our job as high school coaches to get the next group ready and coach the kids we got. We’re going to go out there and compete with the kids who are Colonels right now, and hopefully, good things are going to happen.”
Cody Johnson will be Cass’ most experienced pitcher returning as he saw 17 innings a season ago and recorded 15 strikeouts. Evan Hinton also returns and he pitched 11 innings last year without allowing an earned run.
“We’ve got some good arms. At the end of the year, we made sure that guys like Cody Johnson and Evan Hinton got some game experience,” Williams said. “Both of those won games for us down the stretch, pitched well. They’ve had a good summer. Both of them pitched in the fall. So we might not have high school experience necessarily, but it’s not kids who haven’t pitched. These kids have thrown the ball before. They know how to compete.”
The remainder of the pitching rotation and bullpen will have some athletic players toeing the rubber.
“Boo Reed is going to throw some. Austin Pruett, Owen Means is going to pitch a little bit. Jake Collum has come in. Mike Lowe is going to throw. So we have arms,” Williams said. “We have athletic arms. I like that. We have some football players who are going to pitch, and those kids compete in another venue so they know how to come in there and grit it out on the mound.”
Williams also expects to have a strong defense behind his pitching staff.
“Our defense is going to be solid. I really like the way we’re throwing and catching right now,” Williams said. “We just have to play good team baseball to be successful, and that’s kind of been our goal — believe in each other, make the plays we’re supposed to make, pick each other up and play good, solid team baseball.”
To prepare for the competitive Region 7-AAAAA, Cass will face a tough non-region schedule.
“We want to be prepared for region, so we’re going to play Chattahoochee, Adairsville twice, and then we’re going to go to LakePoint to play Norfolk Prep out of Norfolk, Virginia. Then we’re going to play Ooltewah out of Tennessee, and they’re a perennial power in Tennessee. So we’re going to see some teams that are going to get us ready to play region baseball. If you want to be the best, you have to compete and play against the best competition you can.”
The Colonels will open region play with a three-game series, beginning Feb. 29, against Creekview.
“We’re going to compete to win our subside, but all we can do is come to play every game one at a time,” Williams said. “We cannot get ahead of ourselves. We have to focus on the present moment and win the games that we’re playing. We have to play every game pitch to pitch. It’s a long region season, 21 region games. You can’t look forward to the end.”