Home sweet home

Published 9:43 pm Thursday, March 11, 2010

For the first time all season, the Patriots of Pike Liberal Arts will be doing more than just practicing on their home turf.

Today will mark the first home game for PLAS this season, as the team and the school both play host to its yearly tournament, the Jonah McWaters Memorial Tournament.

The Patriots enter the tournament with a 10-2 record, with its most recent victory coming over region foe, Autauga, on Monday night after going 2-2 in last weekend’s Border Wars Tournament.

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During the 15-4 win, PLAS had four different players hit home runs.

The team also found itself ranked No. 5 in the first AISA high school baseball poll of the season earlier this week.

As far as whether or not his team will be ready for its second tournament in as many weeks, head coach Butch Austin said he wasn’t too worried.

“I think we will be alright,” the coach said.

“We have had a good week of practice. The team learned a lot from the tournament (last weekend) and I think they are ready to play in this one.”

Another first will also be taking place today, as Justin McLaughlin will make his pitching debut on the mound for the Patriots.

The senior suffered a second-degree shoulder separation back in January while competing in a regional basketball game.

“I feeling pretty good,” he said on Thursday afternoon.

“It’s good to finally be able to get back (on the mound).”

Earlier in the week, McLaughlin threw off the mound in a bullpen session and said everything felt good.

Austin said he would be on a pitch-count and would probably only pitch about two innings.

The Patriots will be looking to defend the tournament title this season and believe they can do so, but are being careful to not overlook any of the other teams.

“(All the teams coming in) are all pretty good little teams,” the Austin said.

“I would imagine all the teams should be pretty equally matched.”

Ross Hixon echoed his coach’s comments.

“I think we are the best team on paper, but that doesn’t mean anything. We are going to have to play hard all throughout the weekend.

“We have to play balanced and continue to hit the ball – I think this is the best lineup one through nine, that we have ever had, the senior added.

One of the biggest things that has helped this team so far is not what one may believe.

While the wins have help, its the losses suffered that has truly effected the team.

“Last weekend was really good for us, even with the losses,” Will Starling said.

“We faced some really good competition, and got better because of it.

“We have been swinging the bats really well lately, hopefully we can keep it going and get our defense playing better this weekend,” the senior added.

With the amount of success already this season, it’s hard to imagine the Patriots having any real concerns.

But the team does.

“Defense has been the one thing that we need to get better at,” shortstop Trey Walters said.

“I am not one to make excuses, but with the weather we have had, its been tough for us to get some work in the field, so we have been spending a lot of time in the (batting) cage.

“(The defense) is definitely something that will come around though,” he added. “I don’t think we are too worried about it.”

The Patriots will open tournament play against the winner of the Prattville Christian and South Montgomery Academy game at 5 p.m. at PLAS.