Charles Henderson gears up for title defense
Published 11:01 pm Monday, January 6, 2014
Charles Henderson took the state by surprise in 2013, but head coach Derek Irons knows his team won’t do it again.
The Trojans, fresh off a 40-3 season and 4A state title last year, have the target planted firmly on their backs this go around.
Irons said this team is different from the 2013 Trojans, but isn’t quite sure how just yet.
“Last year we had five guys who had been on the varsity for three years,” Irons said. “That is extraordinary. It is something that I have never had before, and probably never again. But I am really excited about the guys we have now. I don’t really know how different it will be. Hopefully the ending result won’t be different at all.”
Monday marked the opening day of baseball season for teams competing in the Alabama High School Athletic Association.
While the players and coaches can’t grab a bat for a couple of weeks, Irons was eager to get back on the field and get started on a new season.
“It is great to be back with the team,” Irons said. “Even though it’s just a throwing period, it’s baseball. It is something different than just lifting weights and running everyday. I know I am excited to get back out there, and I feel the guys are as well.”
With the season four-and-a-half weeks away, Irons and staff have quickly got to work.
He has just a handful of days to nail down a pitching rotation, batting order and defensive alignment.
Gone from last year’s title team are third baseman Luke Hastings, second baseman Morgan Shaver, first baseman Joey Denison and outfielders Tripp Blackmon and Brantley LeCroy.
Also missing will be the 2013 The Messenger Player of the Year, pitcher Houston Mabray.
But Irons is confident that the position battles he saw during fall evaluation will continue in to the season.
“We saw lots of guys competing for positions during December, which as a coach you love to see,” Irons said. “Those guys are pushing each other to be better. When you have to look over your shoulder and see a guy who is performing at a high level as well, that pushes you to do better. I was really pleased to see that then, and I think it will continue through this month.”
The Trojans do return, what Irons calls, “a strong core” of players from last year’s state championship team.
The team will feature five returning seniors, outfielder Blake Craft, infielder and relief pitcher Xavius Burden, shortstop Hunter Baggett, center fielder John Johnson and pitcher John Michael Stephens.
The Trojans also bring back a pair players that started as sophomores, outfielder/pitcher Austin Ingram and the 2013 AHSAA Finals MVP catcher Chase Smartt.
“Those guys (the returning players) are going to be big for us this season,” said Irons. “We missed having Xa and John with us in the fall because of football and are still without John because of basketball. These guys know what it takes to be successful, and are willing to work hard to get it. They see the blue print, and can show the younger guys what to do to get there. We are really excited for the season to get here.”
Charles Henderson opens the 2014 season against Dothan on February 17 at Frazier Field at Hogan’s Hole. First pitch is set for 1:30 p.m.