Opening day is here for area baseball teams

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, February 14, 2023

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By Carey Reeder | Staff Writer

Opening day in Chilton County is upon us, and all seven area high schools are gearing up for the 2023 baseball season. Teams such as Chilton County and Isabella high schools hope to take another step in the state playoffs, while others hope to improve upon their 2022 seasons and compete for an area championship.

Isabella represents AHSAA Class 2A Area 6 and will get its season started on Feb. 17 traveling to B.B. Comer High School. The Mustangs were a very young team last season, but another year of experience could pay dividends in 2023.

“It seems like we have always been a young team over the last few years, so we have a lot of our team coming back,” Isabella coach Dustin Green said. “All of these guys are one year older, one year better, one year more experienced … It feels like I finally have an older team now, and I have a good group of 10th, 11th and 12th graders now that you can depend on to play roles.”

The Mustangs ace Colton Conway is expected to lead the rotation on the mound once again in 2023. Conway posted a 2.53 ERA in 30.1 innings pitched in the 2022 season.

“We lean on him a lot on the pitching side of things, and pitching is everything,” Green said. “He does a really good job, fills up the (strike) zone a lot and he is a competitor.”

Junior Tyler Mims will be the solid second option on the mound for the Mustangs, and they will welcome back some players to the lineup in 2023, such as senior Zac Chapman.

“(Zac) has always hit the ball hard, and that is one of the things I like about him,” Green said. “He hits the ball on a line.”

Green hopes the new players mixed in with more experienced ones, such as returning shortstop Austin Porter and first baseman Lane Harmon who Green described as “one of the best first baseman’s in the county,” will be the right ingredients.

“It should be a fun season because it is a lot of hard work and practice that has gone into building what we are hoping to see this season,” Green said. “They are coming into their prime years now, and we are hoping that is going to be a big positive for us.”

Isabella’s opening day is Feb. 20 hosting Fayetteville High School at 4 p.m.

CCHS has their opening day on Feb. 16 hosting Alabama Christian Academy for a doubleheader starting at 4:30 p.m. The 2022 Chilton County Baseball Tournament champions lost The Clanton Advertiser player of the year Eian Headley from last season, as well as dependable players such as Sam Smith and Katon Elijah.

However, the Tigers do have returning talent starting with senior Tre Fulmer, who will move from third base to shortstop in 2023. Fulmer posted a .481 batting average in 2022, posted 31 RBIs and launched three home runs. Fellow seniors Aiden Bee and Cannon Miller are also returning. Bee, who will be a key part of the CCHS pitching rotation, had a .370 batting average last season. Miller, the Tiger’s everyday catcher, had a .398 average last season and hopes to help CCHS capture an AHSAA Class 6A Area 5 championship.

Thorsby High School was another Chilton County team who made their respective classes’ state playoffs. The Rebels’ opening day is on Feb. 16 hosting Jemison High School at 6:30 p.m.

Thorsby has a mix of young and experienced talent, starting with sophomore Aiden Seeley who will be a fixture in their rotation throughout the 2023 season.

“We are a little bit heavy on the younger side, but I think we will be okay, if we can pitch well and play defense,” Thorsby coach Drew Wood said.

The Rebels junior and senior classes are fairly small, but upperclassmen such as seniors Remington Taylor and Payton Cole hope to get Thorsby back into the Class 2A state playoffs in 2023.

Taylor boasted a .316 average last season, put across 32 RBIs and stole 22 bases. Thorsby will also turn to sophomore Patrick Prady to step into their starting rotation after being in a reliever role last season.

“We want to be playing the best we can at (area play) time that will give us the best chance to go as far as we can,” Wood said. “More or less, throughout the course of the year use it as a chance to get better every game and every practice.”

Maplesville, Verbena and Billingsley high schools are all now in AHSAA Class 1A Area 6 after realignment during the offseason. Maplesville’s opening day is the earliest of the three schools on Feb. 17 hosting West Blocton High School at 4 p.m. The Red Devils will hope to get contributions in 2023 to replace losing two .400 hitters in Brady Harrison and Cole Gray from last year’s team. Harrison was also the everyday catcher for Maplesville for four straight seasons, and coach Justin Little has been looking for a solid replacement there as well.

Senior Troy McMillian and junior Bradlee Padgett will be the two pitchers the Red Devil lean on heavily this season, and both have been in the Maplesville rotation since their freshmen years.

Maplesville has just four upperclassmen; two seniors and two juniors. However, Little is excited to see how the mix of talent can come together in 2023.

“We have a lot of young kids that are stepping up to the plate and doing a lot for us,” Little said. “The future is definitely bright … It is going to be a challenging year and our area is really good. We really want to build our bullpen up and have guys who can go the distance and throw a whole, but have guys who can come in and throw an inning or two to keep things off balance. That is the name of the game, if you cannot throw strikes you cannot win.”

Verbena’s first game is on Feb. 17 traveling to Prattville Christian Academy, and their opening day is Feb. 25 hosting Fayetteville High School at 11 a.m. and Thorsby later that day at 3 p.m.

Billingsley brings in some new talent and gets some coming up from their junior varsity team in 2023. The Bears opening day is Feb. 20 hosting Selma High School for a doubleheader starting at 4 p.m.

“We are really excited about the guys coming in and the guys coming up through our junior varsity team, and I am really excited about our pitching this season,” Billingsley coach Jeffrey Alexander said. “I think that is going to be one of the strongest things that we are going to have this season … Really hoping we are going to have a chance at winning our area and making a run in the playoffs.”

Billingsley will have four starting pitchers that will all bring life to the mound and hope to stifle opposing lineups — freshman Kyle Boice, sophomores Mason Truesdale and Landon Jones and senior Shane Shirah.

“We have about three or four guys who can come in in relief as well,” Alexander said. “I am looking forward to getting the season started … Seeing these guys compete is going to be really exciting.”

Jemison hopes to replace its lost production, losing two .340 hitters in Camden Cummings and Donovin Edwards from last year’s team. The Panthers first game is Feb. 16 against Thorsby on the road, and their opening day is the following day hosting Thorsby. First pitch on Feb. 17 is scheduled for 6 p.m.