Photos by Frank Couch.
Wade Streeter warms up during the Spain Park High School baseball team’s preseason throwing and conditioning workouts.
Life is tough in Class 7A, Area 6.
The Spain Park baseball team knows this as well as anyone, as the area consistently boasts four of the best teams in the state each year.
Class 6A state champions in 2014, the Jaguars did not qualify for the postseason last year. Hewitt-Trussville, the top-ranked team in 7A for multiple weeks, also stayed home during the playoffs, while Vestavia Hills and Mountain Brook moved on.
Spain Park, which opens its season Monday, Feb. 15, against Chilton County High School in a tournament at Chelsea High School, will try to get back in the playoffs with a top-heavy roster, with 12 seniors and 16 juniors, many of whom got experience last year.
“We’ve got a big group of juniors and seniors that are coming back that have led the offseason,” said head coach Will Smith, who enters his 12th season manning the dugout for the Jags.
The Jags will have to replace their top pitcher and hitter, along with their starting catcher.
“Those three holes will be tough to replace, but we’ve got a lot of junior and seniors that have been around high-level baseball before, and we need them to step up and have good years for us this year,” Smith said.
On the mound, Spain Park will look to Jake Whitehead and Will Battersby to anchor the rotation, with Quinton Hoffman and Hayden Freeman expected to provide support innings.
“We’re not going to strike a lot of people out,” Smith said. “We’re going to have to learn to play defense behind them.”
Bryan Sanderson, Wade Streeter and Drew Hawker return as the starting outfield. A key battle will be behind the plate, where Reed Thomas and Will Evans will attempt to provide a solid option at catcher.
Overall, the Jags will look similar to last season’s squad. In order for the results to be different, players will have to learn from experience.
“We’re going to have to have more consistent years by guys that had a lot of at-bats and pitched some innings last year,” Smith said.