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Challenges await baseball Tigers

The Demopolis High baseball team opens its season Monday when it hosts 4A powerhouse Jackson in a double-header. The game comes little more than a week after the team took its first free swings of the year in the Feb. 7 Hit-a-thon.

“We’ve got to get a lot done in a short amount of time,” DHS head coach Ben Ramer said. His team spent much of its time working on bunting and executing the hit-and-run in recent weeks. Ramer said he believes the small-ball approach will suit the team’s roster makeup.

The 2009 Tigers have a number of questions to answer as the season gets underway. Chief among their tasks is determining who will start at several key positions.

“We want to put the best combination of nine players on the field that are going to give us the chance to be successful,” Ramer said.

The Tigers return senior Jacob Kerby to the catcher’s spot. Sophomore Ben Pettus is entrenched at shortstop, while junior Larry Dunn serves as the incumbent starter at first base. The team also returns senior Trey Oates, who figures to be near the front of the Tiger rotation.

The squad’s projected frontline starter and top center fielder, Shelby Speegle, still has questions as to exactly when he will take the field and in what capacity. The senior southpaw suffered a serious knee injury during the final game of the Demopolis football team’s playoff run. The original prognosis had him slated to miss the baseball season entirely. Speegle hopes to take the field for competition soon, but has yet to receive an estimated return date.

The Demopolis injury issues are compounded by Dunn’s current health concerns, which may limit his availability early in the season.

All of that adds up to a number of holes to be filled all over the diamond. Those open spots have created a competition for playing time within the team.

“It’s more fun because we get to come out here and compete. Nobody has a job,” said senior Morgan LeCroy, who is returning after missing all of the 2008 season due to injury. “You come out here and have to work for a job. It doesn’t matter if you are a freshman or a senior.”

“It’s real exciting because everybody has to come out here and work and it’s open to everybody,” senior Demetrius Charleston said. “Everybody’s got a shot to show what they’ve got.”

With only six players who logged significant playing time at the varsity level in 2008, the Tigers will be forced to rely on young players early. That prospect does not concern some of the team’s veterans.

“As a senior, you want to go out on top and with so many young guys having to step up, it is going to be tough,” Speegle said. “But it shouldn’t matter how old a guy is. If he’s good and you feel like you can trust him, that’s where it counts.”

While the lineup has more than its share of uncertainty, the squad has grown accustomed to the realization that the 2009 Tigers will be decidedly younger than the 2008 version.

“We’ve got a lot of work left to do. We’ve got to fill in a lot of positions that haven’t been taken yet,” Kerby said. “We’ve just got to have a lot of young guys step up and take these positions.”

“You always want your seniors to be your leaders,” Ramer said. “First and formeost, that’s who the younger guys are going to look to. I think it is important that they come out and set the example.”

That necessity is apparently not lost on the senior class.

“If I don’t do my job, (the younger players) won’t do their job,” Oates said.

With such a reliance upon inexperienced players, the team’s veterans said they understand the urgency of gelling early. The 2008 team started 3-11 before it overcame its difficulties and made a run into the playoffs.

“We came together as a team,” Oates said of the catalyst to 2008 success. “I think we’re better (in terms of chemistry) than we were last year. But we can still get better.”

“We just want to get a faster start. We’ve got a schedule that, if we show up to the ballpark and we’re not ready to play, we’re going to get beat,” Ramer said. “The attitude that I want them to bring to the game is that if they show up ready to play, they’re going to be successful.”

Ramer said the team’s success will be determined almost completely by the effort of its components.

“We want players that have great skills and great effort,” Ramer said. “We have good ballplayers. But we’re not good enough to go out there and go through the motions and win games.”

Ramer said that while the team always desires to go 34-0, he will measure his team’s growth by the effort it displays.

“A kid may not be able to control ability. He may not be able to control talent. But he can give 100 percent effort,” Ramer said.

The Tigers’ double-header against Jackson is scheduled to being at 11 a.m. Monday at the DHS baseball field.