The departure of key veterans after graduation left some important spots for head coach Ted Carson to fill.
“We're going to be fairly young. This is one of the youngest teams we've put on the field since I've been here,” Carson said of his youthful squad. “We lost two starting pitchers (Dustin Lawson and Ethan Brewer) and Derek Shugart who played big roles for us. The biggest shoes we will have to fill are on the mound. Pitching will be big for us. We are going to have to have some guys come through.”
Cleveland will take the field with only four seniors in 2011, Derek Murray, Jeb Scoggins, Dylan Humble and Adam Taylor.
Murray, Scoggins and Humble will share pitching duties for Cleveland and Taylor will fill the hole at second base. Scoggins will also take a spot at first on occasion while Scoggins will hold down shortstop and Humble works the hot corner at third.
“They are going to play a big part for us this year. They have been great as far as leaders,” said Carson.
The returning seniors will be joined by returning starters Caleb Hiddleson and Jesse Jones.
Look for Hiddleson behind the plate and Jones to fill the hole at first base when Shugart is on the mound.
On offense, Carson said he expects Murray to bat for occasional power but will mostly be counting on solid run production.
“Probably the biggest power we have is Derek Murray. He's really not a true power hitter, but hopefully, we can get a lot of doubles out of him. The home runs will come, but he's just got to hit the ball hard, put the ball in play for us and be our big RBI guy,” he said.
Outside of our starters, all the other guys are new and fresh and have junior varsity experience at best.
“We've just got to find our right little niche and team chemistry. That could take a while. We're young and we're just going to have to work to get better through the end of the year,” said Carson. “We have some young kids who we hope come through for us.
Freshman Jake Wyrick will be utilized by Carson on occasion as a possible reliever in district games, but particularly in weekend tournaments. Reed Allison will see time in the outfield along with Michael Henderson.
A trio of juniors need to have big years if the Raiders are to challenge for the district title. Conor Hale is penciled in for center field and fellow Robert Parr will be seen in the infield on occasion for the Raiders. Carson said Jake Moats will also be handling duties in the infield when the need arises.
The District 5-AAA road will be a tough one once again in 2011. The Raiders will again have to go up against Bradley Central, Walker Valley, McMinn County, Ooltewah and Soddy-Daisy after opening with Rhea County Monday.
“Our district is as tough as anybody's. We jump right into the fire the first day of the season,” Carson said.
The key for Cleveland will be a fast maturing of inexperienced talent. If the Blue Raiders can put together a solid combination on the field, the season could produce fruit at tournament time. Carson said it is imperative to remain confident and stay focused on continuous improvement.
“I always expect the best. That's all you can do. We've got a great group of kids. They've been working hard all winter. We're a young group. We can't get our heads down if something happens bad in the very beginning,” Carson acknowledged.
“This early in the spring, our biggest thing will be developing good habits early. We can't get down. We've just got to work and keep getting better.”