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Baseball Bulldogs look forward to region battle

It is a new season for Sweet Water in many ways. The Bulldog baseball team moves to AHSAA Class 1A, Area 5. That grouping will pit the boys in purple and gold against Autaugaville and Billingsley.

While second-year head coach Kevin Byrd admits that his team is not very familiar with Autaugaville, he says the squad remembers Billingsley well. The 2008 Bulldogs were bounced from the first round of the state playoffs by the Bears. That, coupled with the program’s ever-present desire for excellence, has the 2009 Bulldogs with much the same goals as their predecessors.

“We want to be area champs,” Byrd said. “We’ve been area champ for I don’t know how many years in a row.”

In addition to playing in a new area, the team will be playing with a new-look roster. The Bulldogs return only four starters from the 2008 team. According to Byrd, that level of attrition has bred a great deal of competition among the younger players.

“None of them are used to varsity time,” Byrd said of of the players that are logging most of the practice reps while some of the team’s key athletes continue to play through the basketball playoffs. “I’m just telling (the younger players) it is a good opportunity to learn.”

Sweet Water figures to have Tate Luker starting at first base.

Ladarius Dumas and Antonio Landrum will likely split time at second. Freshman Michael Thompson, a transfer from Clarke Prep who made significant contributions to the Bulldog football team in 2008, appears to be the frontrunner for the shortstop spot. Justin Waldrop and Linc Luker project to hold down the hot corner.

Eric Lynn is the team’s likely starter at catcher while the outfield mix will include Hunter Mayton, Chris Landrum, Bo Williams and Antonio Landrum.

As for the pitching duties, Byrd is confident in the wealth of arms his roster boasts.

“I know that Antonio Landrum, Sage Nelson and Henry Smith will be starting for us,” Byrd said before citing the contributions he expects from Tyler Henslee, B.J. Cade and Linc Luker. “Those guys are really working hard.”

Even though his crop of players are much younger than the collection of talent he coached in his first year, Byrd said he hopes to improve the team’s defense.

“We’re definitely looking to decrease our errors,” Byrd said. “We’ve changed our approach to the game.”

As part of that approach, the squad has adopted a new mantra: T.E.A.M. According to Byrd, the mnemonic device stands for “Toughness, Effort, Approach and Mastery of fundamentals.” According to Byrd, those aspects of the game are the focus of the four seniors and 20 underclassmen who make up the Bulldog roster.

Byrd said the team’s ability to improve in each of those categories will go a long way in determining just how good the 2009 Sweet Water baseball team will be.

“We don’t have a whole lot of superstars. But this bunch really loves baseball,” Byrd said. “We want to compete. When you play us, we want you to know that you’ve been in a game.”

The Bulldogs, who open their season at Millry on Tuesday before hosting Demopolis on Thursday, will play many of its games north of Sweet Water this season. That is something the team did not do at all in 2008 when each of its contests were against schools from its south.