By Mark Clark
Central High baseball coach A.J. Kehoe will find out quickly how well his team has prepared for the upcoming season when it opens its 2018 slate of games on Monday at Troy University. The Red Devils play back-to-back games against G.W. Long High and Charles Henderson High beginning at 1 p.m. ET.
“We are going to be very young. That can be both good and bad. But, we will find out Monday. It’s time to get started,” Kehoe said in a preseason interview on Monday evening.
The Red Devils lost a dozen or more seniors from the 2017 squad that finished second in the area with a 21-17 overall record under former coach Bobby Howard who resigned at the end of last season. In 2015, Howard’s first season with Central, the Red Devils won the area title. In both years, the Red Devils reached the Class 7A playoffs. Last season, Central fell in the opening round of the playoffs to Theodore High.
Area foe Auburn High eliminated Theodore before losing to Hoover High in the Class 7A championship last season.
Kehoe says his team will need to get serious about playing good baseball early and nail down fundamentals before entering area play late in the season against Smiths Station High and Auburn.
“We have one of the most competitive areas in the state. All three programs have talent and all three have been capable of winning the area in any season. When these teams play, there is a lot of intensity,” Kehoe said of the area teams.
Central could easily be the low team on the list as the season begins if you take into account its returning starters and ignore the rising players.
“When you look at what we have returning, it is pretty much two fulltime starters and two pitchers with a combined 14 innings of varsity experience between them. We do have two other kids that were part-time starters and a lot of kids coming in for the first time,” Kehoe said.
The two returning position players are both catchers – Jay Kehoe and Slade Gorman. When Kehoe was behind the plate, Gorman played right field. When Gorman suited up with the catcher’s gear, Kehoe was a designated hitter. You can expect the two to rotate in similar fashion this season.
Tommy Vickers saw time as a starter for the Red Devils on the mound, recording 12 varsity innings. Zach Bozeman came in to record two relief innings last season.
The part-time starters are Alex Baker and Mason Davis. Baker played both second and third bases. Davis was a shortstop and second baseman.
“Like I said, we will be young, but that does not mean we do not do a lot of things well. These kids have brought a lot of energy and a competitive spirit to the ballpark every day. Those two things can take you a lot further than you expect in high school. The only real thing these kids lack right now is varsity experience. We have some questions to be answered early on and these kids are ready to get started playing. They are extremely competitive. They want to play and they want to win. Right now, they need to understand the urgency of executing until it becomes second nature to them,” Kehoe said.
In addition to the above mentioned returning players, Kehoe expects to find the right combination of players to become the starting unit within the first few weeks.
Working for a starting position at first base are Zach Johnson, Jeremy Thorn and Tommy Vickers. Gage Tillery, Zach Joyner and Jordan Mitchell will try to earn time at second with Baker. At short stop, Tucker Melton and Davis are expected to share time. Third basemen include Braydon Pelkey and Tyler Watkins. Kehoe and Gorman are the catchers. In left field, Riley Rutledge has the upper hand early. Andrew Valero will be in center field along with D.J. Rias. P.J. Ramsey and Gorman will work in right field.
On the mound, besides Vickers and Bozeman, Peyton Burton, Tyler Horsley, and Tyler Haines will be in the mix along with several position players who will step in to share pitching duties.