RED SPRINGS — Red Springs baseball coach Chris Howell sees his team’s changed for the better as it reaped the benefits of a tough season last year with most roster coming back this season.
After the Red Devils struggled through last season with inexperience across the board to finish a 5-15 season, the first-year players from 2017 are ready to compete at the varsity level. Howell said with nearly a whole roster returning, the batting order stays about the same as it did last year.
“The lineup is pretty easy. I just copied the one I had last year,” he said. “We took our bumps last year, but I got pretty much everybody back this year.”
Caleb Locklear graduated and was the only departing starter for a team that has seven players from a year ago back, and two transfers that will immediately make an impact for the team.
All-county catcher Jaylen Mack is the top returning bat for the Red Devils after hitting .351 last year, and their RBI leader from last season in Coty Locklear comes back as well.
Those two will be key in the lineup as two juniors among many. Other starting juniors include shortstop Jayshawn Carthen and third baseman Colton Locklear.
“Last year we were a majority of 10th graders, and this year we are a majority 11th graders and you can tell last year they were still catching up to varsity,” Howell said. “This year, you can see the benefits of what we went through last year.”
Mack, a three-year varsity starter, said that now the learning stage is over for his teammates, this season should be a lot easier for the team. He has high goals for himself and the team.
“I see nothing shy of a deep run in the playoffs for us. Last year, we took a lot of beating and we came in this year and talked in the locker room that we aren’t going to let that happen again,” Mack said. ”I set pretty high goals for myself this season. I wanted to bat .400, something high that I can reach for. I just want to get wins and go deep in the playoffs.”
“He’s going to be fine. The only problem is sometimes he puts too much pressure on himself,” Howell said of Mack. “But with that being said, he handles the pressure pretty well.”
St. Pauls transfer Darren Bowen and South Robeson transfer Tyee Sampson will be the top arms for the Red Springs pitching staff, along with senior Jeritt Taylor.
“Darren has really came in and fit in well,” Howell said. “We had pitching here and they gelled well with our guys.”
Lady Red Devils working through transition
After serving as the jayvee softball coach for five seasons, April Cooper sees a transition that her team has to make with her as the new coach as well as the level of play that many are moving up to.
“It’s basically the same girls, but they are making the transition because they don’t understand the difference between jayvee and varsity. It’s just more competitive,” Cooper said. “We only have three seniors so everyone should be returning next year. We might be struggling now, but we won’t be next year.”
Red Springs finished 12-12 last season under Robert Dove, but four of the top six hitters have departed and so has many defensive players from last season, leading to new faces across the diamond for the Lady Red Devils.
One of the top returners, sophomore pitcher Katelyn Culbreth will be nursing an elbow injury through the first part of the season, with an expected return coming around the time for the Robeson County Slugfest. Until then Jalexis Bratcher steps in and will get her shot in the circle.
“She was played both jayvee and varsity last year. (Dove) brought her up to be the backup pitcher last year and didn’t really play much,” Cooper said. “Now that Katelyn is hurt, she gets her chance to shine this season.”
In the field, players like senior Kamryn Bell and juniors Raven Cox and Kiera Bryant are expected to be big pieces for Cooper’s club.
“She’s our center fielder and an all-around awesome player,” Cooper said of Bryant. “She can hit and field and steal. She’s probably one of the fastest in the conference.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977 or by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.