the north face green jacket Central baseball enters 2018 with new faces
The Yellow Jackets, now under the leadership of first year head coach Ryan Strickland, will bring back a few returning starters from last season, but much of this year’s squad will be all new.
It almost seemed like Central was a team of destiny down the stretch in 2017. After a dramatic last inning comeback win against Veterans, the Yellow Jackets were in the drivers’ seat for a second consecutive region title. All they needed to do was win at least one of two games against Harris County on the regular season’s last day to claim the top spot, but Central fell short.
Continuity hasn’t been too much of an issue, with Strickland being on staff as an assistant for that stretch run. But after losing seven key seniors, he can’t really rely on experience from last year too much.
“It’s almost a completely different team in terms of that,” Strickland said. “As far as carryover, some of them were involved in it, some of them weren’t. We’ve got five seniors this year. While they were a part of it and understand it, they weren’t the ones out there making those plays.”
The Yellow Jackets still aren’t sure what their ideal lineup will be, with 12 juniors vying for playing time all over the field. But there will be some returners, most notably infielders Jackson NeSmith and Zach Fletcher, the latter of which moving from the outfield. NeSmith is a preseason all state selection.
Preseason all state honorable mentionNick Herndon, coming off a .290 year with seven doubles, two triples and three home runs, will return to man center field.
At catcher, junior Tyler Carter, the brother of 2017 starter Kaleb Carter, looks to be the frontrunner, competing for the spot with sophomore Slade Taylor.
Pace Mercer was set to be a big returner as an infielder and pitcher, but an injury will keep him from seeing time.
“It hurts a lot, not only as a pitcher but as an infielder,” Strickland said. “But we’ve got a lot of guys. Somebody’s gonna step up, somebody’s gonna take it and that’s what we’re trying to figure out right now.”
The pitching staff will be perhaps Central’s biggest question mark, with Keyton Smith and Doug Smith both gone. RJ Delaney is back after pitching some innings late last year, but other than him, there’s not much varsity experience on the mound.
“I think the most innings coming back was seven or eight by a pitcher,” Strickland said. “We don’t have hardly any innings coming back.”
While the lack of experience could be a challenge to overcome, Central has one thing going for it depth. There will likely be a lot of lineup tooling and retooling as the season gets underway.
“The challenge is you don’t know what you’ve got in terms of game experience,” Strickland said. “But fortunately we’ve got a lot of different options that we can roll out there. We’ve got some depth to work with and can build it. Early in the year, there’s gonna be a lot of moving parts a lot of different things going on to find out what that best mix is.”