web1_howard

Baseball season is just around the corner

By Kevin Eckleberry

keckleberry@civitasmedia.com

Cortney Laye and the Callaway Cavaliers kicked off preseason practice on Monday. Laye is one of the few Callaway players with a lot of varsity playing time. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/web1_laye.jpgCortney Laye and the Callaway Cavaliers kicked off preseason practice on Monday. Laye is one of the few Callaway players with a lot of varsity playing time. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
Sophomore shortstop Ryan Bliss will be a part of a veteran Troup team that will enter the season with high expectations. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/web1_bliss.jpgSophomore shortstop Ryan Bliss will be a part of a veteran Troup team that will enter the season with high expectations. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
Senior Jake Howard will be a part of new head coach David Smart’s LaGrange High baseball team. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News
http://lagrangenews.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/web1_howard.jpgSenior Jake Howard will be a part of new head coach David Smart’s LaGrange High baseball team. Kevin Eckleberry | Daily News

LAGRANGE – It may be the middle of January, and winter is in full bloom, but that didn’t stop the local baseball teams from hitting the field on Monday.

According to the Georgia High School Association calendar, Monday marked the first day that baseball teams across the state could hold official practices.

So, with temperatures close to the freezing mark, the teams from Callaway, LaGrange and Troup each made the way to their respective baseball fields to kick off preseason practice, with a new season set to begin in less than a month.

For Callaway and Troup, it’s business as usual, with veteran head coaches Dusty Hubbard and Craig Garner leading the way.

At LaGrange, there’s a new man in charge, with David Smart embarking on his first season as the Grangers’ head coach after the departure of Todd Herrington.

Smart was hired in July, so he has had plenty of time to get to know his new players.

On Monday afternoon, Smart led his team in an official practice for the first time.

“It was a good day,” Smart said. “If you were looking for some pretty baseball, that wasn’t to be found. But the kids got after it pretty good, and flew around, and the energy was really good. It was a good first day.”

Smart, who was an assistant coach at Columbus High before serving as the Northside head coach from 2009 to 2014, takes over for Herrington, who had been the Grangers’ head coach for three seasons.

Smart inherits a team with plenty of talented players returning, including seniors Jake Howard and Larkin Easterwood, and juniors Ben Anderson, Matthew Anderson and Willis Kemp, who were all key players on a team that advanced to the state playoffs last season.

At Callaway, while the man in charge is still the same, the team will have a drastically different look this season.

Many of the Callaway starters from last season’s team that won a region title and reached the quarterfinals of the state playoffs have graduated, including the three main pitchers, Perry Keith, Kevin Craft and Cody Mimbs.

Life goes on, though, and Callaway’s program has proven under Hubbard it can continue to thrive with new groups of players.

The Cavaliers aren’t completely starting over, with veterans Ty McCann, Devin Brock, Hunter Rollins, Cortney Laye and Dylan Johnson set to lead the way.

“I’m excited for our kids this year,” Hubbard said. “We’ve got a lot of guys that have been behind good players. It’s their time to shine, and hopefully they’ll take the bull by the horns.”

Hubbard said Monday’s first practice session “went really well.”

“We had a good day,” Hubbard added. “We’ve got a lot of kids right now. We’re trying to get them out there and get a feel for them, and then we’ll get rolling.”

At Troup, Garner will have an experienced and talented group of players to lead this spring.

Most of the key players from last season’s team that went 25-6 and reached the second round of the state playoffs have returned.

Among the returnees are pitchers Winston Turner and Bo Halcomb, standout center fielder Miles Cameron, and sophomore shortstop Ryan Bliss, who has already received a scholarship offer from the University of Georgia.

“It was good just to get back on the field, and get balls, and gloves and bats out, and get everybody working together at the same time,” Garner said.

LaGrange Academy’s baseball team won’t begin practice for a few weeks.

Most of the baseball players are also on the basketball team, so practice won’t start until basketball season ends.

Reach Kevin Eckleberry at (706) 884-7311 or on Twitter @lagrangesports