Hitters, beware. This could be a long baseball season.
It's not that the offensive talent in Columbia County has dropped off this season compared with past years. Hitters such as Greenbrier's Jeff Rowland, Evans' Kevin Millward and Augusta Christian's Josh Whitaker are just three of the players who could hold real consideration as a top hitter in the state.
No, the reason for the warning comes from the other side of the game. The pitching in the county this season could be stronger than ever before.
"I don't know that I'd want to be a hitter in Columbia County this year," Greenbrier coach Rodney Holder said. "I'd want to be a catcher. You could catch some great games this year."
Holder's squad is at the center of the pitching dominance. His one-two punch of junior Nolan Belcher (15-0, 0.73 ERA last year) and senior Brandon Cumpton (14-1, 1.89 ERA) is enough to make any hitter want to take a day off.
The Wolfpack doesn't own a pitching monopoly, though.
The Evans Knights' top pitcher from last season, Kyle Golden (6-2, 2.10 ERA), is back for his senior year. Lakeside's top two pitchers will return to the mound this year, including senior ace J.C. Huffman.
Harlem will welcome back its top hurler, senior Mike Sanders. Augusta Christian lost starter Josh Sizemore to graduation, but senior Josh Whitaker could be even better this season with a healthy arm.
"Our county is as strong as it comes," Huffman said. "Every day there's another pitcher as good as the guy before him. It'll separate the men from the boys."
It could also make for boring baseball. The true baseball purist might enjoy a 1-0 or 2-1 game, but the days of a 12-10 home-run derby that draws larger student sections and makes for better television highlights might be limited.
Even the hitters admit it.
"You're going to see a lot of low-scoring games this year," said Millward, who hit .400 last year. "I've kept up with baseball around here for a long time, and the pitching is the best I've seen in a while out of all the schools."
Some area coaches see the increase in pitching talent as a positive even for hitters. The county's four public schools, Greenbrier, Evans, Lakeside and Harlem, will face each other at least twice through the season.
By the time those hitters see such a high caliber of pitching on a regular basis, they could be ready for anything.
"You take the good with the bad. It's a tough subregion," Lakeside baseball coach Jay Matthews said. "Once you get through our subregion and then the region tournament, you're definitely playoff tested. In fact, it may be a situation where you get to the first round of the state tournament and it could be a breather for you."
The Columbia County News-Times ©2013. All Rights Reserved.