By Ronald Frazier
Thanks to a quick change in the 2018 schedule Glenwood got a chance to see what this year’s Gators look like as they opened the season against Mount Vernon, Ga., Feb. 9 at Bill Bowers Park.
The Gators were to open on the road Feb. 10, but the visiting Mustangs requested a change of venue and the Gators obliged as Slade James missed a no-hitter by one batter to help Glenwood take a 5-1 victory.
“The Mount Vernon coach said their field was not ready after the winter weather and asked to swap the home-and-home games so they came to us now and we will play there later in the year,” said Glenwood coach Tim Fanning prior to the contest.
James is one of two returning pitchers for Glenwood hoping to propel Glenwood to its 23rd state title this season, and if Friday’s game was an indicator, the Gators are on the way.
James was an important starter last year as he, Daniel Holley and Jarrett Carter pitched in big games during the 2017 state title run.
Both teams had a sloppy first game as each team committed four errors but Glenwood made more contact and got four hits in the contest while the Mustangs only had the single safety.
“I wasn’t going to pitch him (James) the whole game but his pitch count was low and he had the no hitter going,” said Fanning after the opener. “He never threw more than 13 pitches in a single inning.”
James struck out nine batters including the side in the 5th and did not walk a man. A two-base error and two sacrifice bunts plated the Mustangs’ only run. Blake Kytle’s two-strike two-out single in the 7th broke up the no hitter, but James fielded the next ball and threw the runner out at first to end the game.
Although the Gators had just four hits, Fanning was not worried. Bryce Valero’s gap single in the 5th scored two runs and the Gators added a third run in that inning with the help of a Mustang error.
Jalen Williams’ leadoff double in the second sparked a two-run rally that was really all the runs James would need to win.
“Pitching is usually always ahead of hitting early on. We only had three strikeouts the entire game and one of those was an attempted bunt that went foul. Our guys were making contact,” said Fanning.
The Gators featured a new infield as gone are 13 seniors from last year’s squad. Liam Carbone is now at shortstop with Anthony Torres at second and Williams, who was a designated hitter most of 2017, was at first. Brooks Barton started at third and Valero was behind the plate against the Mustangs.
The outfield featured Champ Baker, Shaw transfer Andrew Tillery and Adams. Tillery, who has already signed to play baseball at NC State, is expected to be one of the Gators’ top pitchers on this year’s squad.
In an odd twist, Glenwood is familiar with the Shaw transfer as he snagged the win against Glenwood in relief in 2017 when the Raiders faced Glenwood in the 2017 opener at Golden Park. It was the first time Glenwood faced a Georgia public school in the regular season.
“We had a lot of players on the basketball team so they have not had a lot practice on the field but I feel we have a lot of talent and am excited about what this team can accomplish,” said Fanning of this year’s team.
Besides James and Tillery, Adams, Austin Downey and Luke Davis add pitching depth. Adams was a key relief pitcher in 2017’s title run and also started games.
Trevor Crisco and Bryce Newman, Jacob Harper and sophomore Joey Druash will be expected to play as well. Crisco did pinch hit and stayed in the game to play outfield against the Mustangs.
“This will be a work in progress, but we have a great schedule and some exciting games,” said Fanning of 2018. “We will host my alma mater Jordan on Feb. 17 and Valdosta High School and Heard County will also be coming to play against us and again we are hosting our annual Border Wars tournament.”
Glenwood’s next contest is on the road versus Lakeside in Eufaula on Feb. 13, and then returning home Feb. 17 to host Jordan at 1 p.m. ET.