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Photos by Ted Melton.
Jacob Rich was disappointed in his performance last season and is looking for a better season in 2017.
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Photos by Ted Melton.
Senior pitcher Will Battersby is embracing his role as the team’s ace pitcher to begin the Jags’ season. Battersby and Jacob Rich are part of a large senior class aiming to get Spain Park baseball back to the playoffs.
Will Battersby and Jacob Rich have no intentions of taking it easy during their final season at Spain Park High School.
They watched as the Jags won the Class 6A baseball state championship in 2014, as the two were chomping at the bit to be included on the varsity roster.
Both players garnered varsity experience the following season in 2015, but the team was unable to advance to the state playoffs. The same record replayed itself last spring.
“It stinks not playing in the playoffs, especially because none of us have ever played in a playoff game before,” said Rich, the starting shortstop and a senior for the Jags.
Class 7A, Area 6 has been a tough nut to crack for the Jags the last two seasons, boasting perennially tough teams Hewitt-Trussville, Mountain Brook and Vestavia Hills. But they don’t use that as an excuse.
“We had chances to win games; we just never did,” Rich said. “Looking back at last year and having played that competition and knowing how important those games are, I think we’re going to make a lot more use of it and take advantage of it.”
Battersby said, “It comes down to execution” if Spain Park is to advance out of Area 6 in 2017. Oak Mountain replaced Vestavia Hills, so although reigning state champion Hewitt-Trussville moved to a new area in favor of Huffman, things will not be much easier.
“Doing every little thing right,” said Rich of what it would take to break through. “Trying to focus on the little stuff that when it comes down to the game, that ends up being big stuff and things that can change the game.”
Battersby and Rich are part of a 13-player senior class for Spain Park, one that Spain Park head coach Will Smith is counting on to develop the habits that define a successful team.
“I feel like if you take care of enough of the little things, every single day, every single drill, every single week, then the big things eventually take care of themselves,” Smith said.
Battersby will be counted on to lead the Jag pitching staff through the season, now that he has a full campaign of varsity experience under his belt.
“Last year, I felt I struggled toward the end. I didn’t carry my team down the stretch like I needed to. So this season, I’m going to work on that, to be the guy this year, and carry us down the stretch and let us be successful,” he said.
His command escaped him at pivotal moments last season, and Battersby attempted to fine-tune his mechanics during the offseason to improve his control and add some velocity to his arsenal.
Battersby relies primarily on his fastball and changeup to get outs and is capable of racking up impressive strikeout totals, but he said he hopes to trust his defense as well this year.
“Hopefully that will all work out this year, and we’ll be ready to go,” he said.
The pitching staff behind him is not wealthy in varsity experience, but Battersby’s confidence rose throughout the offseason that the guys in the rotation behind him would be more than able to pick up the slack.
“The rest of the pitching staff, I was a little worried about coming into this year, just because we lost a lot of seniors last year, but they’re shaping up to be a good group this year; they’ve improved a lot. So we’ll be a force up there on the mound this year,” Battersby said.
UAB will welcome Battersby to the Green and Gold next year, as Battersby has signed to play for coach Brian Shoop and the Blazers. His signature on the scholarship papers has done nothing to release Battersby of motivation to perform at a high level in his senior season.
“Coaches are always looking at you,” Battersby said. “[Pitching coach Josh] Hopper still comes over here and watches me pitch. If you don’t do well, you’re going to get an earful afterwards. You always need to do well. It’s about this year at Spain Park. Sure, I’ve got UAB next year, but it’s about winning a state ring this year and being a dog out there for us.”
As for Rich, he is coming off what he considers a disappointing season in 2016. The senior prides himself in getting on base and being a top-flight base runner. While he struggled defensively last spring, he said he hopes those days are behind him.
“I thought I had a really down year last year,” Rich said. “I didn’t think I played up to my potential. I’m really looking to have a good year and help this team out.”
Rich boasts a few college offers entering the season, but he said he is hoping a bounce-back senior campaign will attract others, as he has every intention of playing baseball at the next level.
“They need to have good years,” Smith said of the senior duo. “They’re very capable. The way they work, the way they interact with their teammates is important.”
Even through the inevitable peaks and valleys of the season, Smith is counting on them to pull the team through joyful and tough times all the same.
“You’re going to have your ups and downs,” Smith said. “But the team that can do it consistently and stick with their routine and stays mentally tough, those are the ones that are successful in the area and in the playoffs, when those times come.”