Pats have eyes set on another title

Published 11:00 pm Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Pike Liberal Arts Patriots are fresh off two of the most successful seasons in school history. In 2012, the Patriots took home the AISA AAA state championship. Last year, the Patriots advanced to the state semifinals before falling to Tuscaloosa Academy.

Pike coach Butch Austin expects more of the same from his team this year.

“We always shoot to end the season at the top,” Austin said. “Last year, we came up a little short at the end, but the players have been ready this year from the word “‘go.’”

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Austin said his team’s strength this year comes from the depth of its pitching staff. “We’ve got Connor Vowell, Tullie Everett and Blake Cumbie pitching for us this year,” Austin said. “They’re all seniors. We’ve got a number of quality guys behind them. Just because you have the talent doesn’t mean you’ll end the season at the top. We’ve got to work every day to end the season where we want.”

While Austin cited rotational depth as a strength of the team, he did say he worried about the team’s overall depth.

“We don’t have much depth in some places,” Austin said. “But that’s something we’re working on. You just have to get the practice time in. Everyone here has been playing hard and practicing hard. We’re ready to go and ready to play.”

The Patriots will be led on the diamond this year by Alabama commitment shortstop Chandler Avant. Avant is rated at the 75th best high school player in the nation by nationally recognized publication Baseball America.

“Chandler’s a good player,” Austin said. “He had good hand, good feet. What I like most about Chandler is how hard he works. As soon as he gets through practice, he is ready to get right back at it. Players like Chandler don’t come along very much.”

If the Patriots make another deep run in the AISA postseason, they will likely meet the Tuscaloosa Academy Knights whom the Patriots have squared off against the past two seasons. The Patriots claimed the AISA AAA state title after beating the Knights in 2012. The Knights knocked the Patriots out of the playoffs in the semifinal round.

Austin said his team hopes to see the Knights in the playoffs again this year.

“We hope we get to see them,” Austin said. “The further you go in the playoffs, the better the teams you see. Last year, they had a great team, and they knocked us out. The year before we beat them in the finals. We look forward to playing them again this year.”

The Patriots open their season on Feb. 13.