Meridian Star

Sports

February 27, 2014

Raiders counting on pitching to help them make return to AAA

MERIDIAN — After making the playoffs in MAIS AA last year, the Lamar School baseball team will be making the move back to AAA where the likes of Jackson Prep, Parklane and Oak Forest (La.) are lurking.

Not only that, but instead of playing eight division games to determine who will make the playoffs, there will be 21 district games facing the Raiders this season.

“It makes a big difference in your schedule,” said veteran baseball coach Bill Baldner, who is beginning the fifth season of his second tour of duty with the Raiders. “Instead of playing a single game on Tuesday and another single game on Thursday, we play one on Tuesday and two on Thursday. You will need a lot of pitching. That will be a key.”

And quality arms are something Baldner says his Raiders have his season.

“I feel good about our pitching going into AAA,” he said. “Cole Gray came on real strong for us last year and won five of his last seven decisions.”

Joining Gray in the starting rotation will be left-hander Dalton McHenry, right-hander Lance Strickland and another lefty in J.D. Roberts.Lamar opened the season on Tuesday with a 16-6 win over Russell Christian and is scheduled to visit the Warriors on Saturday, before returning home to begin a division series with Oak Forest. The Raiders host OFA at 6:30 p.m. on March 4, before paying a visit to the school for a 5 p.m. doubleheader on March 6.Joining Lamar, Oak Forest, Jackson Prep and Parklane in the division are Copiah, East Rankin, Columbia and Presbyterian Christian.

Baldner is counting on the coaching relationship he has built with most of his team over the previous four years to pay dividends this season.

“This is my fifth year and all of these kids have been here with me since the seventh grade,” he said. “They are beginning to understand what we are trying to do.”

Dalton McHenry will handle the duties at first base for Lamar, while Dylan Miller is at second. Freshman Davis Harrison is at shortstop, and Grayson Calhoun and Burns Mayfield are at third. Behind the plate is Tyler Hinson, from whom Baldner is also looking for big things at the plate.

Roberts is in center field, with Strickland in left and LA. Gidden and Jackson Turner in right. Sophomore Brandon Baggett is also expected to get some playing time for the Raiders, while Jonathan Young will be used as a utility player.

“We are going to have some speed,” Baldner said. “The Roberts kid is fast. He is a lead-off guy and can beat out a three hopper.” Both Roberts and Strickland are lefties at the top of the order for the  Raiders. He said he is looking for Hinson and Turner to deliver some gap power for his squad.

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