Rebuilding: Local teams take a step forward during 2016 season

Published 3:00 am Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The 2016 high school baseball season didn’t come with a lot of fanfare, but that didn’t mean your favorite local teams didn’t have any success.

In what was a transitional season for many of the ball clubs in Pike County, all four programs took a step in the right direction.

Four members of the Charles Henderson Trojan baseball team signed on to play baseball at the collegiate level in 2016 in Hunter Reeves, Jackson Murphy, Nick Lewis and Chase Hartley.

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Nick Lewis became the first Trojan to sign when he signed with Wallace in Dothan in late April and was followed by Hartley who signed with Enterprise State Community College.

Murphy and Reeves became the latest to sign when they made it official with Wallace-Dothan and Jefferson Davis.

“When I get up every morning I dream about this day, about getting to the next level,” Murphy said on signing day. “I always would think of (former CHHS catcher) Chase Smartt and how he put a lot of work in. I’ve tried to fill his shoes and those are big shoes to fill.”

On the field the Trojans had to adjust to life on the diamond without long time head coach Derek Irons who left after seven years to become the new headman at Oak Mountain.

Former assistant coach William Teal took the reigns and led the Trojans to a playoff run into 2016 after finishing the season second in the area behind rival Rehobeth. The Trojans started the season with a 21-1 record without former greats in Austin Ingram and Chase Smartt. They won the annual Terry Sikes Tournament in dramatic fashion and steam rolled their way through Tallassee in the opening round of the state playoffs. Even though the Trojans didn’t get to where they wanted to go, Teal believed the Trojans surprised some people.

“A lot of people didn’t give us much of a chance,” Teal said following the season. “We were losing Austin Ingram and Chase Smartt…The word on the street was they didn’t expect us to be as strong. My guys knew how to win and they fought and played hard.”

Senior Bryson Gandy was named second team All-State at the conclusion of the season.

The Pike Patriots continued to improve in 2016 under second year head coach Allen Ponder. The Patriots finished the season with a 28-15 record. They advanced to the second round of the Class 3A state playoffs after defeating Hooper in a best two-out-of three series. They ended their season against Bessemer.

At the end of the 2016 campaign, the Trojans sent both Hunter Jones and Ponder to Montgomery for the AISA All-Star Game.

“I am very excited for Hunter,” Ponder said. “It is very exciting for our program to have an all-star.”

“Hunter is a very tough player. He is one of the players we needed to count on to help us win. If he played well, we had a good shot.”

Jones finished the season batting about .340 with one homerun and 18 RBIs.

The Goshen Eagles finished with two players on the All Messenger team following the conclusion of the 2016 season in Cory Peterson and Landon Wilkes. Peterson finished the season batting .465 with 18 RBIs and 18 stolen bases while Wilkes finished the year on the mound 4-4 with a 1.87 ERA and 92 strikeouts.

On the field, the Eagles failed to make the post season after finishing the regular season 12-12.

The highlight of the season came early in the year when the Eagles took on Hillcrest-Evergreen in just the fourth game of the season. With the Eagles searching for their first win, Wilkes pitched a five inning no hitter and struck out 14 of the 15 batters that he faced in a 13-0 win for the Eagles. At the end of the season Wilkes was named as an honorable mention to the All-State team.

2016 didn’t go at all the way the Pike County Bulldogs would have wanted. They finished the season with a 3-17 record under first year head coach Chad Mansmann.

Thanks to the record in area play, the Bulldogs did make their way to post season play. It was a short trip as the Bulldogs fell in an opening round sweep at the hands of Geneva to end their season.