Southern Wayne baseball preview
By Ryan Hanchett
Published in Sports on March 9, 2012 1:48 PM
Southern Wayne head coach Trae McKee has a unique problem: more quality players in the dugout than he has spots on the lineup card heading into the 2012 regular season.
"It really is something that a lot of coaches would love to deal with the first week of the season," McKee said after a recent practice. "The big thing is that we have real competition at every single position and that has forced everyone to get better."
The Saints will be a senior-heavy group this season. Having six of eight position players returning from the 2011 campaign has provided the program with improved leadership during practice.
Ashton Cox, a two-year starter, returns behind the plate and will quarterback the Saints' infield defense. Taylor Brock and Jacob Sasser will platoon at first base with the other handling the designated hitting duties. Keith Jones has emerged the front runner to take over at shortstop and Tyler Gainey will man the hot corner.
The battle for the starting job at second base is wide open with three players making their pitch to catch McKee's eye.
"We have an 18-man roster and 14 of those guys are position players," McKee said. "I have a lot of confidence in the guys that we have and the depth that we have. I have been in positions as a coach where a guy isn't getting it done, and you look down the bench and there are not a lot of options.
"That will not be a problem this season."
In the outfield the Saints will be without all-state performer Kevin Wise, who passed away unexpectedly in mid-February. Senior speedster Jamie Dove will move from left field into Wise's spot in center.
Taylor Gainey, Thomas Kelly, Colton Chrisman and Clayton Cashwell will battle for the other two outfield spots.
On the mound, the Saints return number one starter Jeremy Taylor who emerged late last season as the go-to hurler during Eastern Carolina 3-A Conference play. Tyler Gainey will also get a large amount of innings. McKee and his staff will spend the first several games looking to solidify a rotation.
"Jeremy is going to be the guy we look to for consistent innings as a starter," McKee said. "We would love to make Tyler Gainey our closer because he is a hard thrower and he has a confidence that you just can't teach."
Southern Wayne opened the season with a 3-0 triumph over perennial 3-A powerhouse Rocky Mount. The Saints followed that with a 5-4 home loss to South Central. They played county rival Spring Creek, league foe Triton and Greene Central this week.
"Our conference is always very tough from top to bottom and this year there isn't a lot of time to figure things out," McKee said. "We only have four games before our first league game so we have to try to put it together quickly."