Patriots set to play Gators in championship rematch

Published 9:41 pm Friday, February 11, 2011

Each new season gives a team a fresh start, a new beginning.

But for the Pike Liberal Arts Patriots, the 2011 baseball season will begin with the team it saw last in the 2010 season.

It was in last season’s state championship game where the Patriots met their end, thanks to the Glenwood Gators, who took away Pike Liberal Art’s bid for its first baseball title in the program history with a two game sweep.

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Now, while the stage may not be as high as it was nine months ago, the Patriots will have their shot to exact some revenge, as the two ball clubs will meet again – this time to start the season off.

And even though the season is just beginning, Patriots’ head coach Butch Austin knows the level of competition his team will be up against.

“Glenwood is good,” the coach said, “they are the best.

“They are the state champions, they have the best program – they have the type of program that everyone else, wants to be.

“When you play the best, you are going to get better. They have a great coach there, they got good players and they are just where I want to be (as far as a winning program). They only lost three or four players (from last year’s team). There main thing this season is going to be pitching. They are going to be good, no question about it. But we expect them to be good.”

The last Gator victory sealed their 18th baseball championship in school history, the most in the state of Alabama.

As far as where Austin said he believes his team is right now going into the season, there is still room for improvement.

“I don’t think we are where we are going to be,” the coach said.

“I think we are going to be a pretty good team, sometime this year, but as of right now, I really don’t know how we are going to be on Monday.”

Even though a number of months have passed by, for some of the players who were on last year’s team, the loss is still fresh in their minds.

“It would be a good feeling,” McLaughlin said of beating Glenwood. “It wouldn’t be as important as region games are but I still feel like it would be pretty big.

“They beat us in the state championship game, we want some revenge. But I think we are all taking it as just another game.”

In 107 at-bats during his sophomore season last year, McLaughlin finished with 72 RBI, a batting average close to .400 and four home runs.

“It’s going to be a tough game, they have a lot of good players coming back,” McLaughlin added about the Gators. “This game is going to help show us where we are at the beginning of the season. I think it’s more important to start off the season with a victory.”

Starting on the mound for the Patriots will be senior Sam Carroll.

Carroll had a successful season on the mound in 2010, winning six games, while striking out 34 and only allowing 19 hits in 25 innings.

When it comes to what he expects to see out of the Gators’ lineup, he said he knows he will be facing some of the best in the AISA.

“They are pretty balance,” Carroll said. “Most of them can hit pretty well.

“Their hitters do a good job of spreading the ball all around the field.”

Even though this will be the first game of the season, with the spotlight shinning on him, the pitcher said he believes his nerves won’t be too much of a factor.

“I think after the first pitch, I will be fine. I think I will set into a groove in the first or second inning.”

Besides the matchup, there is another intriguing factor to Monday’s game – where it’s being played.

Troy University’s Riddle Pace Field will be the site of the opener, and with it, a terrain most of the players are not used to.

The field is made up of turf, which will make for a livelier ball once it hits the ground. While several of the Patriot players have played at Riddle Pace Field, it still may not help the transition from dirt, which the team has been practicing on, to turf.

“The ball is going to pick up good speed once it hits the turf,” catcher Blake Floyd said. “It’s not going to be like playing on dirt.

“It’s going to be a little bit more difficult, especially for me when I am catching.”

To help better his team for what’s to come, Austin said the team will be out on the field before the game begins Monday afternoon.

“Most of all our players have played (at Troy),” Austin said.

“For the ones that haven’t yet, we have talked about the different bounces the ball could take, fly balls and sliding. We are going to go over it again (Saturday) and Sunday and probably get out there early enough (on Monday) to let the guys figure the place out.”

The rematch will take place at 3 p.m. Monday afternoon at Riddle Pace Field.