Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.|
The Hartselle High Tigers baseball team is relying on productive innings from pitchers, from left, J.C. Bates, Ryder Brasher, Chad Girodo, Luke Bole and Will Rankin to help carry the team during the 2007 campaign.
Hartselle counting on
young guns on the mound
By Brooke Milam
email@example.com · 340-2460
HARTSELLE — Fighting for a win late in a baseball game, it doesn’t seem likely that a top team like Hartselle High would use the command, “Bring in the sophomore.”
Sounds like shaky ground for a perennial Class 5A contender, and for most teams, bringing a youngster to the mound is a last resort. But for the Hartselle Tigers this season, it’s been almost a sure bet.
Veteran Hartselle coach William Booth said that with the Tigers struggling at the plate, pitching has carried the team to a 6-4 record, and several young arms have contributed.
Hartselle returns everyone from last year’s pitching staff except one. The returnees racked up 29 wins on the mound last year.
“We’ve got high expectations,” Booth said. “We wouldn’t put them out there if we didn’t think they could win and compete. We’re excited about our pitching.”
J.C. Bates, a junior, leads the Tigers’ pitching staff with three wins, while two of the team’s three saves have come from underclassmen. Seniors Will Rankin, who has signed a scholarship with Wallace State-Hanceville, and Ryder Brasher are complemented by Bates and sophomore lefties Luke Bole and Chad Girodo, rounding out what Booth said is a solid staff.
But although they’re young, they’re experienced beyond their years.
Bole had six varsity wins last year as a freshman, while Bates pitched nine wins as a sophomore.
“Definitely Luke, J.C. and Chad Girodo — they’re a top rotation, and they’ve come up big for us,” senior shortstop Justin Hargett said.
What has made sophomores Girodo and Bole ready for the responsibility of a varsity work load when many 10th-graders are putting in time at the junior varsity level?
“First of all, they’re left-handed,” Booth said, smiling.
But Booth added that hard work has played a big role in making them varsity-worthy.
“They’ve pitched a lot this summer and this fall,” Booth said. “It’s not necessarily the innings they’ve pitched, but the work they put in.”
Rankin led Hartselle in wins last year with 13, and said he feels just as confident on the mound with the younger pitchers as he would a staff full of seniors. “I look at them all the same,” Rankin said. “As long as they get out there and do their job, they’re all seniors to me.”
And the young guns feel the support.“It gives you confidence knowing everybody believes in you,” said Girodo, who has struck out 14 batters in 14 innings of work this season.
Booth said his Tigers need their hitting to catch up to their pitching.
Hartselle is batting .247 as a team and hasn’t produced the runs it has needed, losing three one-run games among its four losses.
Hartselle dropped contests with Albertville and Class 6A Fairhope 2-1 and fell to 6A Gadsden City 11-10. The other defeat was a 4-1 loss to 6A Daphne.
“We’ve got to get a little more hitting right now,” Booth said.
But he added that he typically expects hitting to take a few weeks to come along.
“Pitchers are usually a little ahead of the hitting because they can pitch all year long and position players can’t,” Booth said.
Hartselle has been without its top hitter returning from last season, Auburn signee Hargett, who hasn’t had an at-bat this season because of a broken right wrist. But he is expected back at the plate soon.
Hargett said strong pitching lessens the pressure on the Tigers at the plate and will be the force that drives Hartselle this season.
“We’ve got a couple of small things we’ve got to fix,” Hargett said. “But if we score runs, we know the pitchers will do their job.”
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