Evans High School coach Ricky Beale penciled in his first lineup card last week with the first initials and last names of his nine starters and designated hitter.
The names were familiar. Some of their positions weren't.
The Knights' middle infield has changed from a season ago. The names of their former shortstop and second baseman can now be found on Division I college rosters.
In their place, at least for last week, were Corey Holloway (shortstop) and Glenn Cassedy (second). The combo is one of the only question marks as Evans prepares to follow a run to the Class AAAA quarterfinals.
"We had two three-year guys out there," Beale said of the Knights' 2009 team. "Hopefully these guys will grow and learn. I think they'll be OK once they start getting used to playing with each other."
The Knights' strength appears to be on the mound. Seniors Matt Blume, Tyler Barden and Michael Farr anchor Evans' rotation. Senior Rick Thigpen made his case to be the Knights' closer with a solid seventh inning at Greenbrier Monday.
Blume should be the leader. During the season-opening victory at Greenbrier, he worked his way through numerous tight spots, struck out four and found trouble only with a Kyker Timmerman home run in the fourth. He struck out Timmerman in his other two appearances.
"We weren't sure how our pitching was going to look first game," senior center fielder Tevin Nelson said. "So I think he threw exceptionally well."
Beale said Blume succeeds by locating his pitches and mixing them up. The pitcher used the same formula last season. Blume frustrates hitters who feel they can overpower him.
His ability to remain unruffled through tough spots drew praise from Greenbrier coach Chris Wilkins following the rivals' first meeting, a 3-2 Evans victory.
The question: How far will that take Evans?
The Knights surprised in 2009, overtaking Westside and Harlem to finish second in Region 3-AAAA and earn a home playoff series.
Evans won its first two series at home before falling at Loganville in the quarterfinal. The run has given the current group of seniors confidence.
"The goal this season is state champ, most definitely," Nelson said.
"We know we have our main pitchers coming back."
Beale would probably try to temper the remarks. The Knights showed at Greenbrier they could have the pitching to compete with the upper-tier teams.
Beale also saw evidence of early season kinks to be worked out.
"We've got to get better," he said. "These kids expect to do well, but also they know they've got a lot of work to do."
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