The Columbia County News-Times is previewing the upcoming baseball season for each of the county's teams.
Harlem High School coach Jimmie Lewis is quick to tell a joke, but he's serious about his team's gearing up for a run at the AAA championship.
Lakeside High lost seven starters from a 2007 team that failed to make the state playoffs and will try to use that as motivation.
Bulldogs stacking up for a region run
Longtime Harlem High baseball coach Jimmie Lewis sat on a plastic chair and kept a sharp eye on the proceedings on the field.
He talked of needing a fence to shield the dugout from errant throws.
Then he reflected on how many preseason practices he'd been a part of.
"Half the guys out here, I coached their daddies," Lewis said. "That means I'm old."
Harlem's baseball coach thinks he has the pieces to get out of the first round of the AAA state playoffs this season, but he's ready to play the waiting game.
"There's so much junk to work on," Lewis said as he watched his players work on defending a bunt. "What all it boils down to is can you hit, can you pitch, can you field?"
Lewis has the upperclassmen he needs to field a strong team, with five seniors and six juniors. Three of his seniors -- Mike Leverett, Steven Waters and Trey Crain -- were still playing basketball when baseball practice began, but Lewis expected his team to come together before opening the season at Lakeside on Feb. 26.
His pitching staff is healthy with left-handers, but not yet anchored with what Lewis would consider an ace.
"I don't have any overpowering pitching," Lewis said. "We don't have the guy that can go to the mound and blow people away.
"As long as we hit the ball well, like I think they can do, and play defense, my pitchers are good enough to hold their own."
Lakeside embraces role as underdogs
In Lakeside's huddle after its first stretching session with a finished roster, Panthers coach Jay Matthews told his players to get acquainted with the faces around them.
"This is your family," he told them. "This will be your family for the next few months."
Lakeside likely will need that bond in what looks to be an uphill journey toward a state playoff bid, a goal the Panthers fell short of last season.
The Panthers graduated seven seniors last season and return just two starters. Matthews' team could get a boost from basketball players and wrestlers who reported to practice Monday but considers his team the underdog in a perennially strong Region 3-AAAA.
"As far as the rest of the region looks at it, we got a lot of holes to fill, and we do," Matthews said.
"I guess one would assume we're young. But we still got a lot of upperclassmen. If we get some pitching, we'll be in good shape."
The Panthers have one arm they know they can count on and several arms with potential.
Senior Chris Burns, who signed with Presbyterian College, returns to anchor Matthews' staff. From there, it's a guessing game.
"Velocity-wise, he throws the ball real well," Matthews said. "He's going to get a lot of innings this year, which he hasn't in the past. If he can handle that, he can be a catalyst for us."
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