2022 Henry County Baseball Preview | Sport

STOCKBRIDGE — As cold as the weather has been for most of the month, spring thoughts have already been prominent in Henry County with the recent start of high school baseball prep.

Hopes are high for many of Henry’s 10 teams, who were all at the Fairview Performing Arts Center earlier this month to discuss the upcoming 2022 season.

After a few lesser seasons, including the COVID-19 abridged 2020 campaign, Dutchtown bounced back slightly last season with an overall mark of 12-12, finishing just one spot out of a playoff berth in the 4-AAAAA region.

The Bulldogs look set to take the next step into the postseason this spring and have some key pieces of what was a very young puzzle returning a year older and a year wiser.

Among those pieces are last year’s home run (2) and RBI (20) leader in sophomore catcher/utility man Trey Callaway, who also batted .352, and one of the team’s pitching workhorses in senior righthander Christian Jackson.

“We’ve been kind of in the middle of the region in recent years,” said Dutchtown coach Brandon Carter. “So this year I really want to push through and break through to get to the play-offs. … We want to be much more consistent in all facets of the game. … Pitching and defending will definitely be essential.”

Eagle landing is coming off a disappointing 2-21 campaign from 2021, but Chris Chow, in his first season as head coach after being an assistant for the past four years, is optimistic the Eagles can make some progress this spring.

They will be relying on a few returning veteran players such as junior Jesse Bennett, who will do double duty in the infield and on the mound, as well as sophomore outfielder Cliff Wysinger.

However, one thing Chow says the Eagles will have this year that they haven’t had in years past is a little more depth in the roster.

“The past few years have been tough,” Chow said candidly. “The numbers are lower, the turnout lower. But we really turn that around. Last year we had a total of 18 people in our JV and varsity program. Five of those were eighth-graders, who could have contributed to varsity, but eighth-graders can’t play varsity.

“This year we expect 35-40 tryouts, which is great for us. We have a very young team with a lot of talent and skills that we hope to build into a cohesive team.”

Bee Hampton, the challenge for 2022 is very different after a historic season in which the Hornets not only recorded the first winning season in program history at 23-8, but also claimed their first Region 5 AAAA Championship en route to the state Sweet 16 playoffs.

And with some key returning players back, such as seniors Reuben Johnson in the outfield and righthander Garrett Chandler on the mound and at second base, the Hornets look set for even more heights this spring under freshman coach Garrett Cox.

“We are definitely looking for repeat (as regional champions) and even more,” said Cox. “However, that will not be our only goal. We will also focus on the mantra ‘Do the job’. This will guide everything we do as a team. If we want to achieve our goals, we must be willing to understand what the work is and then do it.”

For Locust Grove, the goal for 2022 is not to maintain and build, but a return to the success of the past.

The Wildcats (19-14) had a solid season, including a place in the AAAAA Class Playoffs, but it was their first full season with fewer than 20 wins since 2013.

Coach Chad Crawford will look to veterans such as senior lefthander Tyrus Cobb, an All-State and Region 4-AAAAA Pitcher of the Year and All-Star named outfielder, and first baseman/designated hitter Dallas Durden to help pave the way back to the top of the regional standings and later rounds of the postseason.

“We believe in hard work,” Crawford said. “Hard work is going to help us achieve our goals. Our guys understand that being in the gym all the time and hitting all the time will really make life easier.”

Luella (10-14) qualified for the Class AAAA state playoffs for the third time in the last four full seasons a year ago.

Head coach Ashley Sims has some new faces on the program this year.

And he’ll be looking out for returning stalwarts like senior second-team All-Region 5-AAAA right-handed pitcher/first baseman Cameron James and junior infielder Z’liyah Harris, who is and will become the first girl to play in a state playoff game. doing double-duty with the Luella lacrosse program for the second year in a row to provide leadership.

“I preach resilience and preparation,” Sims said. “We are always prepared to do things, and we have resilience. … Our (goal) this year is to continue building the program.”

After just finishing out of a state playoff game in 2021, McDonough (6-14) hopes to be able to take the next step a year later.

However, this spring will be a learning experience for new head coach Sean Stallings and the Warhawks.

“I inherited the team around (last) summer, and not knowing what I was up against or what the situation was like, I was introduced to certain people… and got used to some of the players and what the environment actually looked like” , said Stallings. “We got in with an approach to make sure we’re prepared for all the situations we might encounter during the season. So we worked together a little bit in the off-season and made the right preparations for the best (possible) performance. We We’ve applied that process to everything we do, just getting better at baseball with every approach.”

Among the players who made the biggest early impressions with Stallings is returning senior infielder and catcher Brian Carter.

After sharing the Region 4-AAAA title with Locust Grove last year, ola (24-11) had some turnover with his coaching staff, with longtime assistant Kyle McCreary taking over as head coach and welcoming some new assistants.

However, the Mustangs will have some key players back from last year, including versatile senior captain Austin Merritt and sophomore catcher/third baseman James McGee.

“You’re only as good as the guys you surround yourself with,” McCreary said. “I’m excited about the staff we’ve put together and the players. These guys have done a lot of work. … They really tried to transform … not just physically, but mentally as well. We have leaders in whatever direction you turn. We are a very experienced group, guys that I have a lot of respect for, who give their very best and grind.

“We want to continue the name that Ola baseball has made for itself over the past 10 years. We are excited to compete in this region. This is definitely one of the top regions, if not the top region, in the state. I’m excited about the guys I get to coach against. I have enormous respect for them. This region has not only produced great teams, but has produced some of the best players in the state year after year.”

After struggling with a 5-22 record a year ago, Stockbridge wants to return to a more competitive level to which it has become accustomed in most years.

Daniel Greene was also proud to have brought a level of stability and consistency to the Tigers program in his previous six seasons as a coach, and he can count on some key seniors who have been in the program for several years.

One is last year’s batter Devin Chandler, who batted .282 with 15 RBI’s, leading the Tigers in extra-base hits (13), runs scored (22) and stolen bases (14), while the other is righthanded pitcher John Stephens, whose eight appearances were third on the team.

Consistency is also the theme at Union Grove (19-9), who last year continued a long streak of post-season appearances after finishing only one game behind Ola for the Region 4-AAAAAA-title.

Coach Allen Franklin likes the mix he has with this year’s edition of the Wolverines, which includes leaders such as senior righthanded pitcher Ryan Hutchinson, junior shortstop/righthanded pitcher KJ Clarington and sophomore catcher/third baseman Kai Huber.

“The most important thing we want to do is try to have fun and get better every day,” Franklin said. “That is our goal every year. It never changes. We have a good group of guys this year, a good mix of guys.”

With an overall record of 7-10 last year, bunch had had its share of setbacks a year ago.

The biggest goal for the Wolfpack this year, as head coach Quinton King sees it, is to find a way to handle such adversity just that little bit better.

“Baseball is a game of failures,” said King. “It teaches you how to fail, but what do you do after you fail? How do you get back on top?”

King and the Wolfpack will love veterans like seniors Zachary Lamping behind the plate and Jeremiah Polk at first base and in the outfield.

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