First-year Lakeside High School baseball coach T.J. Davis knew what he had before the season started.
The Panthers returned all their key player. The prognosis for this season was good.
Lakeside has experienced the success it thought it would to this point, with one loss in the region and the top spot in the 3-AAAA standings. Its success has been fueled by a strong senior class, led by aces Harrison Brawley and Ryan Hutchins, catcher Mike Gram and infielder Patrick Arrington.
Those are four names to highlight, but Davis wants people to know his team's success goes beyond that.
"It's always one team -- everybody plays for the name on the front of jersey -- and for one goal: Make sure to get to No. 1 in the region, and in the playoffs have the possibility to host," Davis said.
Gram signed his intent to play for Limestone College, but he hasn't had to carry the team. Many times, the bat has been taken from his hands.
Opposing teams often have chosen to walk Gram.
He estimates his walk total this season to be in the low 20s, by far the most on the team.
Davis said Gram's stat line one game was 0-for-0 with three walks and an intentional pass.
"I try to look at good pitches," Gram said. "Against good teams like Westside, Evans and Harlem, they're not going to give me anything good to hit."
Arrington has benefited from batting in front of Gram. The Panthers shortstop was batting .432 entering spring break.
He started the season in the fifth spot before moving to leadoff during the Panthers' win over Westside. Since then, he has batted second, with Gram slotted third.
Arrington also has drawn praise for his play in the field.
"They have to pitch to him to get somebody out before they get to (Gram)," Davis said. "And Patrick's hitting it well, hitting it hard."
Davis said Hutchins' season has been a surprise. The pitcher appeared in just two games last year while battling an arm injury.
He has emerged his final season at the top of the Panthers' rotation, along with Brawley.
Hutchins has reported no arm problems this season and said he is leaning toward playing at Gordon College in the fall.
He and Brawley have proved an effective pair. They offer teams different looks.
Hutchins throws hard and relies heavily on his fastball.
Brawley has to be more crafty.
"They really offset each other well," Davis said.
Davis said the combo would be useful for the playoffs, which the Panthers hope to enter as the No. 1 seed from Region 3-AAAA.
They have some work left. Remaining games with title contenders Westside and Harlem will be pivotal.
The Panthers are confident their team concept will carry them.
"We're just going to have to keep working hard and hitting well," Gram said. "There's no reason why we shouldn't win region."
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