PLAS opens season with familiar foe

Published 9:56 pm Friday, February 10, 2012

There are few things tougher than falling just shy of the state championship for a high school athlete, especially when it happens two years in a row to the same team.

But despite missing out on a ring in past seasons, the Pike Liberal Arts School Patriots baseball team is primed for another run in 2012, and it all starts with a season opening match against the team that beat them in the final game two years running: Glenwood.

The Patriots bring a whole host of senior experience to a team that posted an 89-11 record over the past two years and head coach Butch Austin is committed to strengthening his team on all fronts.

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“We’re working on everything,” Austin said. “Offense, defense, pitching, catching, our practices cover every part of the game and we don’t leave anything out.”

The Patriots have been putting a strong emphasis on the defense this year, working hard on recovering grounders and fly balls and covering the entire field.

“I think we’ve always been good on defense and we put more time into it than anything else,” Austin said. “We’ve been getting 30-50 ground balls in a day and just as many fly balls. We’re working on coverage and blocking and we make sure to go all out every day. I think our defense is always going to be good and get better as the season goes on, we’ve still got a ways to go but we’re working hard.”

There are still a couple of uncertainties on the field for the Patriots though, most notably at first base and in left field.

Austin says there is a solid competition going on at first base, with around five players working the spot, but that the left field starter will not be clear until the season starts officially.

However if there’s one thing that the Patriots have in their pocket it is experience, and a high number of seniors with playoff experience and a hunger to bring in a championship before graduation will play heavily into the Patriot season.

The team also has several players with college potential including catcher Blake Floyd who has already signed to Central Alabama and outfielder Nick McLaughlin who is a potential draft prospect.

But before getting ready for the playoffs or college ball the Patriots have a mighty challenge ahead in Glenwood, where a win could set the tempo for the entire season.

“It’s going to be a tough game,” Floyd said. “We’ve just got to get out and work every day and play like we know how to play. If we can do that then we can come out on top”

For Coach Austin, the game will provide a chance to see what his team is capable of and provide an opportunity to get out and start the season against one of the best AISA teams in the state.

“They’re the best,” he said. “They’re as high as you can go and are well coached. We respect them very highly they’re just that good. We’re going to go out and see what we’ve got and how we play. We’ve got guys who’ve never been in this kind of position and this will be a good chance to see what they can do.”

One thing that will be part of that play is the Patriot offense, which has been getting its fair share of work leading into the season and will play a big part in how the Patriots control the tempo of their games.

“Our hitting is going to be the deal this year,” Austin said. “It’s going g to keep getting better we’ve been working on bunts and hitting the ball where it’s pitched and trying to get in 50-75 swings a day. I think we’ll score runs but I can’t say for sure how well, we’ve got guys who love to play baseball and a good program that’s going to work hard all season.”

Not a lot of high schoolers in Alabama can say they expect to win a state championship every year and mean it, but the Patriots are one of those rare teams that bring all the right elements together to get it done.

The seniors are hungry for a win that’s been denied them two years running, there’s a strong emphasis on defense and fundamentals and a chance to start 2012 off with a win over the reigning state champions.

“We want to win it this year,” McLaughlin said. “We played it two years and didn’t win it so hopefully this will be the year. It would mean a lot to win we’ve lost to the same team twice and beating them would be a big deal.”

The Patriots will face Glenwood on Monday, Feb. 13, at 3 p.m. at Riddle-Pace Field.