2023 season preview: Retooled Callaway looks to win back-to-back region titles
Published 8:30 am Tuesday, February 7, 2023
Callaway has built an elite baseball program. The team under head coach Dusty Hubbard has had tremendous success in recent years, making the state semifinals three straight years (2018-2021) excluding the 2020 that had no playoffs. The Cavaliers fell in the quarterfinals of last year’s playoffs but were able to claim their first region title in four years.
“It was big for us to win a region title,” Dusty said. “We wanted to win it, and it was a goal that we set heading into the year. That was a big part of what we wanted to do. I think it sets the culture and even though we are in a totally different region we want to do it again.”
The seniors have been leading the way for the Cavaliers so far this offseason, and it has made a big impression on their head coach.
“Blake Sheppard, Houston Wilson, Garrett Huckleberry, CJ Steohens, and Dylan Nation have done a really good job in leading,” Dusty said. “Their leadership and ability to take some of the younger guys under their wings has been a pleasant surprise. They are willing to get after those younger guys when they need to as well.”
Callaway got a chance to use the next batting facility that recently opened. It has made a major impact on the Cavaliers pre-season preparation, especially during this rainy period.
“It is not all the way done, but it’s been huge for us,” Dusty said. “I think we are so much further ahead of where we have been in year’s past because of it. We are really ahead of the game. It’s great to have it, but you also see how far behind you were when you didn’t have it.”
The Cavaliers will have a group of experienced veterans peppered with some younger talent that will be learning the Callaway way as the Cavaliers will have five freshman dress out on most nights.
Simply put, the Cavaliers will have big shoes to fill as both of their top pitchers — Justin Moore and Tucker Starling — departed to play college baseball.
Up steps junior Bryce Hubbard who will fill the shoes of the no. 1 pitcher this season after serving as the no. 3 a season ago as a sophomore. Bryce was outstanding last season, going 6-0 with 1.27 ERA in 44 innings pitched. He will likely see a major uptick in innings pitched in 2023. Bryce is also a formidable offensive threat, hitting .302 with two home runs and 22 RBI’s and will play at shortstop when he is not on the mound.
CJ Stephens was nursing an injury a season ago and did not pitch. He will serve as one of the team’s top pitchers and continue to be a reliable offensive weapon as well. The senior hit .315 with two home runs and 24 RBI’s last season and will look to build on that in a healthy senior season.
“He is back throwing, and he is going to help us out tremendously,” Dusty said.
The other starting pitcher will be Brantin Swanson who went 1-1 with a 5.27 ERA in 14 innings as a sophomore. He will see much more time on the mound in 2023. He is also a big part of what the Cavaliers do offensively and hit .313 with one homerun and 14 RBIs. Swanson is the only left-handed pitcher on the staff.
You can write Blake Sheppard’s name in pen at the top of the depth chart for the position as he caught practically every game a season ago as a junior and will take on those same responsibilities again in his senior campaign. Sheppard hit .286 with 20 RBI’s a season ago and will look to build on that this year.
“We’d like to be able to give him a break every now and again,” Dusty said with a chuckle. “Julian Dukes can get in there and play too, but he will be our primary DH and play some at first base as well.”
The Cavaliers also hope to bring along Luke Taylor who could very well be the future for the team at the position.
“When certain guys pitch, we are going to have to move guys around,” Dusty said. “It is going to be a bit of a revolving door.”
Swanson will be the regular starter at first and play there when he is not on the mound. Second base will come down to Lashun Gates and Houston Wilson who could both see ample time in the role.
“Lashun Gates is a guy who has gotten a lot better going into his sophomore year,” Dusty said.
Starting shortstop will be Bryce Hubbard but with him spending so much time on the mound, freshman Blake Herrington will step into the role as well.
Third base will come down to Landon Alsobrook and Slade Hunt.
When he is not pitching, CJ Stephens will be a consistent starter in the outfield. Dylan Nation is another senior who will be one of the starters in the outfield while fellow senior Garrett Huckleberry will also start to give the Cavaliers an extremely experienced group of outfield players.
“I think Garrett has gotten a lot better,” Dusty said. “He’s been a real bright spot for us in this pre-season.”
Freshman Wesley Williams will be a key depth piece in the outfield as well as Luke Taylor who can also contribute at catcher. Vince Williams is also a name that could figure into the outfield equation.
“We feel really good about those six guys,” Dusty said. “Really we have three guys that are back and we like what the other guys add to it.”