Adairsville returns six starters and four experienced players to help in its bid to return to the state playoffs this season.
Head coach Billy Roper said for the Tigers to reach that goal, they must hold down scoring by their opponents, and he believes there are several ways to make that happen.
“We have to get solid pitching from our staff, good enough that it gives our offense a chance to manufacture some runs,” the coach said. “I feel like we can compete with our defensive play. But we need good pitching and timely hitting to have success.”
He noted the Tigers earned a No. 4 seed last year and ended up pushing a No. 1 seed to three games in the first round of the state playoffs.
The Tigers are pointed at returning to those playoffs but doing more this time around.
“It’s not enough just to make the playoffs,” Roper said. “We would like this season to make the state playoffs, host a game, go deep in the playoffs and win the state championship.
“Winning a state championship is always our goal. No way are we sure shots, but if we play up to our potential, we’ll be able to position ourselves where we’re in the middle of the race.”
The Adairsville skipper said the team has a returning starter among the six players vying for hurling duties.
“Noah O’Kelley, our only lefthander, will be on the mound again,” he said. “He started for us last year and compiled a 4-2 record.”
Also experienced are Sam Seaman, who made a couple of starts last year, and Orry Carter, seen as a spot starter.
Roper feels Carter can play anywhere else he is needed.
The Tigers hope several newcomers gain experience and contribute on the mound during the season. They are Taylor Whitley, expected to see duty as a spot starter and middle reliever; Kyler Pelfrey, starter; Garrett Mishoe, starter and closer; and Lane Griffith.
“We’ll use Lane where and when we need him,” Roper said. “He’s a catcher and should see some work on the mound.”
He likes the hurling staff’s potential.
“We have three guys with experience, with O’Kelley, a senior, the returning starter,” Roper said. “We look for a lot of innings out of him. He’s worked his way up to the ace of our staff. We expect him to help us in a lot of situations.”
The coach believes defense could be one of the hallmarks of this year’s Tigers.
“We should have a fairly strong infield,” Roper said. “We have six players who will be playing first, second, shortstop and third base.”
Those players include Hayden Morrow, at shortstop and third base; Seaman, second, third and shortstop; Landon Howren, second; Carter, first; Pelfrey, a utility player expected to draw assignments to second and third and as a shortstop; Cole Hewett, a utility infielder.
The infielders are upper classmen except for Pelfrey.
“We have a lot of experience in the infield, and a lot of our guys are interchangeable,” the Tiger mentor said.
Adairsville has a returning starter in the outfield, and Roper is optimistic the team will turn in a good defensive effort by whoever plays those positions.
The returning starter is Drake Arp, who played centerfield and rightfield last year. Arp and four more players will compete for the three positions.
“We have three guys with experience, Roger Redd, Taylor Whitley and Dylan Hightower, as well as Garrett Mischoe,” Roper said. “I feel good about our outfield, and I feel like I can put these players anywhere in the outfield.”
He said even though Arp won the position last year, he — like all of Adairsville’s players — must win out at their positions again this year.
Roper said he is looking at two juniors — Justin Green and John Atkinson — to fill in for Griffith when he is resting or pitching.
“Green has made a lot of improvement the last two years,” he added. “We believe he is capable of doing some good things for us.”
The coach said on the corners he hopes to see Maddox Teems and Caden Gibbs contribute as the season progresses.
“They are two sophomores and we hope to see them grow in key situations.”
Another area of optimism for Roper is the team’s offensive capability. Seaman and Griffith led the team in hitting average last year and the coaching staff expects them to provide offensive leadership.
“We need guys to join them in producing runs,” Roper said. “We have several players who have been working in the offseason on their hitting and we’re hoping to see results once the season starts.”
Griffith led the team with a .427 batting average and Seaman hit at a .397 batting clip.
“We didn’t hit a lot of home runs, but they drove in a lot of runs for us last year,” the coach said.
To have a good season, he said, the team needs to get the most out of its offensive capability.
“We need Drake Arp, Orry Carter and Landon Howren — they are guys with three and four years with our program — to step up. We also need our outfielders — Roger Redd, Dylan Hightower and Taylor Whitley — to get on base.
They have a lot of speed and they can make a difference there. We are looking for good things offensively from them.”
Roper said if the team plays up to its potential, it will likely be competing with some familiar teams after the regular season ends.
“Ringgold and Calhoun are always at the top,” he said. “We also should see Sonoraville and North Murray there, too.” Adairsville kicks off its season Feb. 22 against Cass at Adairsville.
The teams are scheduled to start play at 5:30 p.m. It begins region play on March 11, when it visits Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe.