After experiencing some not-so-encouraging signs before the regular season, Augusta Christian's baseball team probably could not have scripted a better start.
The Lions learned after the previous school year that a number of key players would be leaving for public school. That left a small roster -- 11 varsity, 11 junior varsity -- and little experience. Then, during a preseason tournament at Midland Valley, Augusta Christian was knocked around by some of South Carolina's top public schools.
The experience might have prepared the young Lions well. They opened their regular season on a big stage, beating Westminster 11-3 at Lake Olmstead Stadium, home of the Augusta GreenJackets. The next day, the Lions beat region foe Ben Lippen in a shootout.
Augusta Christian coach Jack Hook said Ben Lippen could be among the top three teams in the Lions' region.
"I'm pleased with the start," Hook said. "After we got past the North Augustas and South Aikens -- I think just playing that tough level of competition helped them. I think we'll be competitive."
To do so, the Lions probably can't handle much more bad news.
They have one returning starter, junior Nick Cerasuolo. Drew Dillard is the team's lone senior. He served as a relief pitcher in 2009 and had six at-bats.
But Dillard has been one of the bright spots early. He earned the win as the starting pitcher facing Westminster. He struck out nine in four innings that game.
The next day, during the region-opener against Ben Lippen, Dillard launched a three-run homer to help put the game away.
Augusta Christian had built a 10-3 lead, but Ben Lippen battled back to within a run before Dillard's shot.
"He had two really good games in a row for us," Hook said.
Hook expressed concern last week with the arm health of Cerasuolo, who is expected to be one of the Lions' top pitchers this season. Cerasuolo started the Ben Lippen game, but left after two innings with arm soreness, Hook said.
He said the junior would be evaluated to determine whether he could continue to throw and when he might be back.
The Lions can't afford to lose too many arms.
Hook said the team lost three of what would have been its top four pitchers to public schools after the 2009 season.
"I've got a lot of kids that can throw and throw strikes," Hook said. "Hopefully, they can carry us through. They just don't have varsity experience."
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