Columbia County is still a month away from seeing its first high school baseball game of the season, but practice has already started for one team.
The Augusta Christian Lions began practice this week to prepare for the 2007 season.
The two-time defending South Carolina Independent Schools Association Class AAA state champions had 23 boys at the first varsity and junior varsity practice on Tuesday. That total didn't include basketball players who won't join the team until sometime in March.
"The numbers are actually down a little because we graduated 11 seniors, and we have about a dozen freshmen unable to play because of injuries," Augusta Christian baseball coach Craig Johnson said.
One of those injured, senior catcher Taylor Hensley, is recovering from a Dec. 27 elbow surgery. The starter said he'll be back by the time the season begins on March 13.
That gives Hensley and the rest of the Lions a month and a half of preseason practices. Public school teams in the state of Georgia aren't permitted to begin practicing until Feb. 12, but the first Georgia High School Association games start as early as Feb. 26.
Johnson said he'll take advantage of SCISA's long preseason.
"We're fortunate right now because we've got time to work," he said. "Pitching-wise we're still a good bit away from throwing into high pitch counts. We've got a good amount of time to build up to that."
Johnson said his varsity roster includes seven strong pitching options. Last season's state title team made its run with a high-powered offense. Senior Josh Whitaker returns to the lineup this season as the team's leading hitter, but he'll also lead one of the strongest pitching rotations in SCISA.
"I've got nine or 10 pitchers who can at least give us some innings. Seven are solid," Johnson said.
"I'm excited. We're doing a lot of fundamentals right now, and we've got the time to work on them."
Augusta Christian's first game is at home against Augusta Prep on March 13.
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