By Austin Bishop / Special to The Star
The Meridian Star
From now through March 10 will be an educational time for Chris Rose. The veteran baseball coach will be watching his East Mississippi Community College Lions closely to see exactly who will rise to the top as they work toward division play.
"You are going to have an idea after the fall (practice) what you have, but you really don't know how it's going to translate into the spring until you get on the field and start playing games," said Rose, beginning his third year as the head coach at EMCC. "The way I look at it, and look at my teams, the first 20 games are really used to find out what we need to do to go out and win games.
"By that time you learn more about who needs to be in the line-up and who can do what to help you win.”
The Lions who went 19-24 last season, open the 2013 campaign today by facing Bishop State in a doubleheader at Oak Grove High School in Hattiesburg beginning at noon.
From there EMCC makes the short trek to Lauderdale County to take on Meridian Community College in a noon doubleheader on Tuesday. After hitting the road for doubleheaders at Wallace State and Bishop State the following weekend, the Lions finally return to Scooba for their home opener when Jones County Junior College pays a visit on Wednesday, Feb. 13.
One of the reasons the Lions are playing their first eight games of the season on the road is because of reconfiguration of the outfield fences at Gerald Poole Field.
"That field was just so huge, that guys with really good power had to max out on the ball to get it out down the line," Rose said. "The look of the outfield will also give the field a little more character."
While the fence will be closer to the plate in left, there will also be a 17-foot high wall to give it a different look.
"It also kind of works more into my offensive philosophy," Rose said.
He said his team was going to be relatively young, with most of the experience being on the mound.
Among those being counted on the most will be former West Lauderdale standout Smokey Etheridge, who went 6-2 last season with a 4.74 ERA.
Others being counted on to contribute heavily on the mound for the Lions are 6-foot-2, 220-pound sophomore Chase Cameron — a transfer from Montevallo (Ala.) University, Dillon Hawkins, K.C. Abney and Austin Braddock, who is expected to get the start in today's opener.
The Lions will use a four-man rotation when MACJC North Division play begins in the second week of March, but Rose said that will take a little time to develop.
"I have been doing this for around a decade and I have only one team where the guys I perceived as the conference guys at the beginning of the season, ended the year that way," he said. "You just find out a lot of things and things change."
Seeing most of the action behind the plate will be Josh Tentoni and Jake Upton.
Lefty-hitting Trent Waddell is set to play first, with Phillip Tice at second and Drew Standland at short. Tyler Odom and Brad Swede are both looking to see action at third.
Freshman LaDarius Clark of Southeast Lauderdale will get the start in center field, while Colton Caver, Meridian High product Jason Yarbor, Braddock and Chase Reeves are all looking for playing time in the outfield.