Lakeside baseball coach Jay Matthews has plenty of chess pieces. Now he just has to figure out where to put them.
"We're in a situation where we're returning some starters, but we're sending only one guy back to his original position," he said.
Senior John Arena, last year's starting center fielder, will remain in his starting spot in the outfield this year. The rest of the returning starters will fit in somewhere. Their exact positions have yet to be determined.
"The way I look at it, I'm going to find my best nine to 10 hitters and then find a place for them to play in the field," Matthews said.
The main concern is up the middle, where Lakeside lost both their starting second baseman and shortstop. Matthews said of all the positions in the field, those two might be the toughest to fill.
"You can make a corner infielder out of a middle infielder, but it's tough to make middle infielders," he said. "We've got some young middle infielders, but are they ready for varsity? If the answer is no, then we've got to make them ready."
Fielding errors plagued the Panthers last season. This year, the same might be true if the middle infield positions aren't secured. In one sense, it's just more ammunition for the Lakeside critics to project a third-place finish or worse in the subregion.
"A lot of people don't give us a shot because we're in the same region with Greenbrier and Evans," senior J.C. Huffman said. "We play the underdog role, but that's fine with me. I like it. It means we have nothing to lose."
Lakeside did finish in fourth place in the subregion last year, but it was only two years ago that the Panthers swept Greenbrier, split with Evans and reached the second round of the state tournament.
More recently, the Panthers program showed what it's capable of last season with an upset over top-ranked Statesboro in the region tournament. Lakeside, the four-seed, went to Statesboro and swept the Blue Devils to earn another state playoff bid.
Now that key series is used as a motivational tool.
"We look back to that Statesboro series," Huffman said. "We went into that series all pumped up and going in the right direction. We want to go into this season with that same attitude."
Lakeside will begin the year with a home game against South Aiken on Monday.
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