By Carey Phillips
Smoky Mountain’s baseball team will jump right into the Mountain Six Conference battle by opening its season Tuesday at Pisgah, one of the favorites for the league title.
The JVs will play at 4:30 p.m. followed by the varsity.
“Practice has been going well,” Coach Jeremy Ellenburg said. “We’ve definitely been getting a lot of swings in. It’s been tough not being able to be on the field a whole lot because of the weather, but we are fortunate to have the turf. Everybody is going about working together to use it.”
Ellenburg didn’t have his entire team until the basketball players came out last Wednesday.
“We’ve got some things we’ve got to work on, but the guys are ready to go,” he said. “They like coming to practice and working hard.”
The Mustangs have seven players returning from a 13-10 team that reached the third round of the state 2-A playoffs.
“I feel good about the season,” Ellenburg said. “Defensively, I feel like we’re pretty solid. We’ve got some guys returning in some spots and some new guys coming in who are going to be able to help us. This is going to be a scrappy offensive team. We’ll put the ball in play and find ways to get runs.”
There is one unknown area.
“Our biggest concern right now is on the mound because we’ve only got one returner,” he said.
The returning pitcher is senior Austin Townsend. Others who are expected to pitch include juniors Tyler Potts and Noah Webb, who are up from the JVs.
The coach added that returning seniors Bengie Dillard and Dawson Karup could see some time on the mound.
“We’ve got a variety of arms,” Ellenburg said. “We don’t have the velocity we’ve had in the past, but we’ve got some different looks that can keep people off balance.”
Karup will primarily be the catcher with Dillard at third base. Returning junior Jameson Madden and Mason Fisher, a senior who did not play last year, are in contention at first base. Returning senior Conner Seagraves and junior Ryan Waliezer, who is up from the JVs will battle for second base. Potts and sophomore Chase Gribble, who is up from the JVs, will see time at shortstop. Competing for spots in the outfield are Townsend, returning seniors Garrett Sutton and Tyler Burch, and juniors Chris Wilburn and Cole James, who are up from the JVs.
Looking ahead to the conference race, Ellenburg said, “It’s going to be tough again. Brevard and Pisgah are going to be very good. It’s going to be a dog fight every day.”
Derek Hawk returns as pitching coach with Nathan Frizzell again coaching the JVs. Scott Mitchell has joined the staff as JV assistant coach.
The schedule is as follows:
March 10 – at Pisgah; 17 – Hendersonville; 19 – Murphy; 20 – at Brevard; 23 – at Rabun Gap, Georgia; 24 – at East Henderson; 27 – Franklin; 31 – Pisgah.
April 1 – at Swain; 3 – at Pisgah; 6 – Rabun Gap; 7 – at Hendersonville; 9 – at Christ School; 13 – Robbinsville; 14 – Hendersonville; 16 – Christ School; 20 – Swain; 21 – Brevard; 24 – at Brevard; 28 – East Henderson; 29 – at Tuscola.
May 1 – at East Henderson; 5 – at Franklin; 6 – Tuscola; 7 – Franklin.