ROCKINGHAM — Jeremy Smith and Drew Butler were expected to be joined at the hip this season for the Richmond Senior baseball team.
Richmond coach Ricky Young penciled the pair at the top of his lineup and more importantly as the heart of Raider defense as the double-play combination — Smith at shortstop and Butler at second.
While Smith is still the leadoff hitter and Butler is the No. 2 batter, Young broke up the duo defensively. Young inserted Smith into center field and moved Butler to shortstop.
“We felt we needed some more athleticism in the outfield,” Young said. “Jeremy is the fastest guy on the team and we felt he could cover so much ground. In the first few games, there were some balls we thought we should have caught. Plus, we felt Drew could handle shortstop and Adam (Sweatt) could handle second.”
The moves also allowed Young to make other changes in his lineup as well. Young switched Mikey Steele from center to right and slid James Buie to third base from right field.
“I think this is the best defense we could have out there,” Smith said.
Both Butler and Smith agree their transition to their new positions wasn’t easy at first.
“I was fine with it (the change),” said Butler. “I knew I needed to get more work there in practice. I had played there before in practice and in travel ball.”
Smith was a little more enthusiastic about the change.
“I was like yea, no more errors at short,” Smith said. “I wanted to move to center field anyway. I haven’t played there in a long time. I think I was 8.”
Now locked into their new positions, the pair could focus on their offense and doing what Young wants them to do — wreak havoc on the opposition.
In two postseason games, Smith is 4-for-5 with five stolen bases, while Butler is 2-for-7 with an RBI and a stolen base.
“They can both run and they both can handle the bat,” Young said. “They do what we want to do and that’s put pressure on the other team’s defense.
“We feel if we can get Jeremy on base, we can score him. To the average fan, Drew’s batting average is not where it should be, but he does exactly what we ask him to do.”
Young added Butler is called to take several pitches in his at-bat to give Smith a chance to steal or give himself up to move Smith into scoring position.
“A lot of times I get the fake bunt-steal sign,” Butler said. “Or I try to move Jeremy over. Other times, I try to get on base and let the big guys get the RBIs.”
The Raiders will continue their quest for a 4A championship 6 p.m. Friday at New Bern.
“We plan on going a lot further,” Smith said. “We are just going to go out there and play and do what we do.”
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org