ROCKINGHAM — Three consecutive shutouts to open the playoffs and an appearance in the 4A East Region final series.
Not bad for a team which was still juggling its lineup midway through its schedule.
Richmond Senior coach Ricky Young moved Jeremy Smith from shortstop to center, Drew Butler from second to short, Mikey Steele to right from center and James Buie to third from right. At the time, Young said made the changes because he thought it would solidify his team’s defense.
Young expects much of the same this spring with the majority of the last season’s squad returning.
“The big advantage this year is depth,” Young said. “We are two-deep at every position this year, even in the outfield. Guys know they have to produce or I will find someone else to put in there.”
Young returns six “everyday” starters — Bradley Brown, Adam Sweatt, Buie, Butler, Smith and Steele — from last season’s club. Young added there is still a competition at first and in left field after both Ryan Mercer and Austin Bower graduated. Also returning for the Raiders is Chalin Williamson, who saw time spelling Brown behind plate, Jacob Sears and Richard Lassister.
“Defensively, I feel really good about the team,” Young said. “Hitting is going to come and go, but pitching and defense is always going to be there. I think the big thing is these guys are a year older and stronger and they understand what we want to do. I’m hoping we score more runs this year, but hopefully we shouldn’t have to because of our pitching and defense.”
Expected to anchor the Raiders’ pitching staff is Nic Bullard, who teamed with Mercer last spring to form one of the best duos in the Southeastern Conference and the region. The battle to lockdown the No. 2 spot in the rotation is expected to include Ethan Baucom, Brandon Gibson, Cody Leviner, Brown, Buie and Sears. Steele could be used in a closer role after impressing the coaching staff with his velocity during the summer season.
Brown and Buie each made a handful of appearances on the mound last year, while Sears got the starting nod in the SEC tournament title game against Scotland.
“I feel comfortable with any of them,” Young said. “The key is their ability to throw strikes and let our defense go to work behind them. If you can’t throw strikes, I will bring someone else in who can. I think competition can only make you better.”
“We’re going to monitor pitch counts early in the season and get as many out there on the mound as we can. I think we have a good schedule to do that against. We are going to see who can throw strikes for us when conference rolls around.”
Richmond is slated to open its season 5 p.m. today at Terry Sanford. Its home opener is set for 6 p.m. Friday against Charlotte Christian.
— Sports editor Shawn Stinson can be reached at 910-997-3111, ext. 14, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @scgolfer.