ALBANY – In looking at the Albany baseball roster, there’s no doubt the team’s strength lies in its nine-member senior class. It’s just a matter of putting that experience into play on the diamond this season.
“We should be pretty good because of that,” said David Pittman, who enters his second stint as head coach of the Hornets after Gabe Woods stepped down. “We’ve got nine seniors. They all play. The fear factor should be null and void. They’ve been there. They’ve all had probably 250 at-bats a piece, most of them. Six or seven of them have had 250 at-bats at the high school level, so it’s like riding a bike. Now, let’s go out there and make some things happen.”
Albany will look to rely on seniors Reid Rayborn, Brock Bennett, Micah Cleveland and junior D.J. Brumfield, sophomores Justin Coats and Austin Watts as its primary pitchers.
“We don’t have anybody that throws hard, but we’ve got guys who can throw strikes, and sometimes that will get you some wins,” Pittman said. “That’s going to be the issue there – the pitching staff. Can they get it done for us? Don’t walk anybody.”
Senior Ethan Nelson at first base, Rayborn at second, Brock Bennett at shortstop, Brock Bankston, a Nunez Community College signee, at third and Brumfield and Bankston at catcher make up the Hornets’ defense.
In the outfield, Stephen Kuhn, Slade Bankston, Coats and Shane Everhardt will make up the main rotation.
“I think up the middle, we’re going to be good. I really do,” Pittman said. “You’re going to have a junior in the bucket (catcher). D.J. Brumfield will be in the bucket – really throws the ball well. He’s quick, blocks the ball up well. On the mound, all our pitchers are athletic, so they’ll be able to be that fifth infielder and field their position. They’re already sick of pitcher fielding practice. At shortstop, Bennett, we’re going to try to just leave him there, not move him around.”
Offensively, the approach will change a bit for the Hornets after catcher Joey Smith, last season’s main power source, (.337, eight doubles, five home runs, 30 RBIs, 24 runs and 11 walks) and Acey Martin signed with Nunez Community College.
“What we’ve got to do is we’ve got to believe in line drives and hitting the ball on the ground,” Pittman said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. Because we play in a cracker box, we can’t have them think that they’re going to go out and hit 10 home runs, because it’s not going to happen. They’ve got to convince themselves that for them to be successful … when you put all the individual stuff together, everybody has decent years and will have a good year if you do it the right way, and that’s hit ground balls and line drives. Don’t try to lift the baseball.”
“We’ve got to do the line drive thing,” Pittman continued. “We’ve got to hit the ball on the ground, and we’ve got some guys that can do that. We’ve got seven or eight guys that are pretty good at that. But it would be nice to have guy bop one every once in a while, and we’ve got a couple of those.”
But Pittman continued to stress the Hornets won’t living and dying by the home run this season.
“We have before, and it’s worked out, but not now,” he said. “For us to have success, we’ve got to take our walks – not go up there looking for a walk. I like to be aggressive. We’ve got to take our walks when there’s no other way to get on, but we’ve got to take advantage of it. We’re missing that bopper. Losing Joey Smith and Martin, we lost some boppers last year, so that hurts.”
The Hornets’ pre-district schedule starts with Franklinton, then games against St. Charles Catholic, Menard and John Curtis in the St. Charles Tournament. They’ll also compete in tournaments at Ponchatoula and face Patterson at Nicholls State and compete in tournaments at St. Thomas Aquinas and Doyle with individual games against West Feliciana, Live Oak and Carencro before opening District 8-3A play.
“When you start seeing the first weekend John Curtis and St. Charles, who were state champions last year, and we’ve got them, right off the bat – boom, boom,” Pittman said. “And you throw a Minden team in there that’s usually pretty good. You open up with Franklinton, so you’re going to find out right now what you’re made of. Are you going to lay down? What are you going to do? It will ease up a little bit, not much, but that will prepare you for your district.”
The Hornets will compete for the league title with Bogalusa, Sumner, Hannan and Loranger.
“You’ve got to play the game,” Pittman said. “Last year, we were right there and didn’t win it. The year before that, we were right there and didn’t win it, so it’s time. It’s time for these guys. They’re seniors. It’s over, so let’s win this thing and go out on top and go to the playoffs and see what happens.”
Pittman is hopeful the Hornets can have success this season with a fairly basic approach.
“I think if they come out here and we throw a lot of strikes and we don’t walk people and we play the defense that I think we’re capable of doing and we score four or five runs a ball game – if we can do that, I think we can win our district and I think we could fool a lot of the people that we’re playing … Who knows? This game is so funny. I’m looking to have some fun.”
“Our goal is to win a district championship. That’s our goal, and I think that it’s not far-fetched.”
“Everything we’re giving them now as far as picks and bunt coverages, they’re picking it up,” Pittman said. “It’s easy.”
“I’ve been there before,” Pittman said. “It’s not anything new. I’ve ridden that horse before, so we’ll see.”