Greenbrier's first baseball practice on Feb. 12 had a player inventory drastically different from that of last year's team. Many of the key components from last season's unforgettable 35-1 team that won a Class AAAA state title were nowhere to be found.
The heavy-hitting seniors such as Rich Poythress, Chris "Fud" Johnson, Tim Thornhill, Cal Morris and Rafael Parks won't play another game at Greenbrier's field. Most have moved on to bigger and better fields.
"You don't replace guys like that," first-year Greenbrier baseball coach Rodney Holder said.
He'll have to anyway. Almost the entire starting infield is gone, and those players took their bats with them. Though two of the top pitchers in the state, junior Nolan Belcher and senior Brandon Cumpton, are back, they won't enjoy the offensive support they got last season.
"We'll be a different kind of offensive team this year," Holder said. "What that will be, we don't know yet."
It's not all bad news. Most teams in the state can only dream about the type of hitters still in Greenbrier's arsenal. Senior Jeff Rowland, who hit .411 from the leadoff spot last season, will return to the lineup, and Cumpton (.359 from the plate last year) and Belcher (.395) also will help themselves.
"One of my goals is to improve on my hitting," Cumpton said. "We've got to improve all the way around."
Still, five starting positions are open. Senior Damien Lucree and junior Pat McGowan are expected to make an appearance in the starting line up this season. Seniors Michael Hester at second base and Russ Winter at catcher were starters last year.
Holder said more than 30 juniors and sophomores are competing for the rest of the open spots on the team.
"It's tough here because some kids are not going to make it who could probably play somewhere else," he said. "We're fortunate enough to have a lot of young kids who worked hard over the summer."
With the young talent rising, Greenbrier's players don't seem worried. The statements made by Rowland at the first day of practice didn't sound like they were coming from a senior whose team no longer had almost 75 percent of its run support.
"Last year, we had people on the bench that could have started anywhere else," he said. "We're not going to be a power hitting team, but we're going to find a way to get it done. We don't want to sound cocky, but we're not real worried about it."
Greenbrier's season opens at Burke County on Feb. 28.
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