Different situations face first-year head baseball coaches Eric Lairsey (Augusta Christian Schools) and Tim Shafer (Augusta Preparatory Day School).
The baseball programs at Columbia County's two private schools are simply in different places. The only similarity between the teams is that both compete in Region 4-AAA.
The ACS Lions are coming off a disappointing 12-8 season after nearly a decade of challenging for the Georgia Independent Schools Association crown. Meanwhile, at Augusta Prep a 12 win season would be cause for a parade on Flowing Wells Road.
Lairsey has Augusta Christian off to a hot start. The Lions are led by a tremendous group of juniors, most notably Jordan Belcher.
Belcher, a pitcher and right fielder, is one of the area's most talented players, and if Augusta Christian is able to return to prominence, it's a safe bet Belcher will be leading the way.
In addition to Belcher, Thomson transfer David Whitfield (pitcher/third baseman), Will "Pee Wee" Reese (shortstop), and Kevin Ensley (first base/left-hand pitcher) are each juniors who are keys to the Lions success.
In Region 4-AAA play, John Milledge Academy should be tough once again and despite a slow start, Westminster wont be a pushover either.
Still, 20 wins and a run in the GISA Class AAA state playoffs could be in the cards for Lairsey's squad.
Augusta Christian's top position players are: catcher, Art Harris; first base, Kevin Ensley (lefty who is a key to the team's fortunes); second base, Wes Hardin; third base, David Whitfield (transfer who has already thrown a one-hitter against Deerfield Windsor); shortstop, Will Reese (should emerge as one of the area's top middle infielders. College prospect who added ten pounds of muscle in the off-season); left field, Ben Palacz (tough kid who plays baseball year-round); left field, Scott Brantley; center field, David Barnett (leadoff hitter and team leader; right field, Jordan Belcher (run producer and key pitcher).
Pitchers: Belcher (gamer who will work in a lot of big games for Lions); Ensley (gives Lairsey a lefty option); Whitfield (struggling with control a little. When throwing strikes he is No. 1 starter); Palacz; Lance Tucker (solid right-hander, throws 80 mph, and will play third base when Belcher pitches).
At Augusta Prep Tim Shafer takes over and faces a tough climb out of the GISA cellar.
Last year's team managed only one win, and this season the Cavaliers are off to an 0-3 start.
On the bright side, Coach Shafer has only two senior starters.
" Our goals are to try and be competitive and being realistic. We may be looking more toward next season," Shafer said. "Our seniors are having to sacrifice a little this year to try and help us build to the future."
Offensively the team will be led by junior catcher Wes Mishoe, sophomore shortstop Thomas Folk, and senior second baseman Jamie Rabun.
The trouble spot will be the pitching staff, or lack thereof.
"We simply don't have any pitchers with experience," Shafer admits. "We have some good arms, we just need to get them some innings."
Coach Shafer realizes he faces a long tough road ahead, but he seems to have the right attitude for the job.
Augusta Prep's top position players are: catcher, Wes Mishoe (probably the most important player for Shafer); first base, Taylor Bird (will also pitch); second base, Jamie Rabun (will be counted on as leader for Cavs); third base, Bob Wilson; shortstop, Thomas Folk (a good player with a bright future. Will need to produce on offense and on the mound); left field, Alex Murphy (starter as a freshman); center field, Mark Harrell (good athlete, who is one of four or five key players at the plate); right field, Michael Lutin (first year of varsity baseball); Will Brooker (a key offensive player who plays a number of positions).
Pitchers: Mishoe, Brooker, Bird, Rabun and Folk.
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