Longhorns relying on depth

Published 10:24 pm Tuesday, February 24, 2009

The Marengo Academy varsity baseball team begins its run as the reigning AISA Class AA state champions Thursday when it travels to Jackson Academy to compete in the Gator Classic.

But while the Longhorns lost only three players from their 2008 state title team, they figure to boast a considerably different look in 2009.

According to head coach Jonathan Lindsey, the Longhorns are much deeper than they have been in recent years.

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“My first two years (as head coach) folks came here and they pretty much knew who was going to be in the lineup. Now it’s not a big dropoff,” Lindsey said. “Those guys who have started in the past can’t take anything for granted because we’ve got somebody behind them who can step in and take their place any day.”

That depth has already displayed some of its usefulness as many of the younger Longhorn players have been granted an opportunity to compete for starting roles.

“If somebody gets in a slump, we can just throw somebody right in there and we know they can get the job done just as good as the other guy would,” senior Beau Digmon, the team’s projected left fielder, said.

Thus far, the Longhorns have seen competition at a number of positions. Senior Kyle Schroeder and sophomore Rabe Hale have worked at second base. Hale and sophomore Matt Wallace have repped at shortstop. So

phomore Matt Etheridge has competed for playing time at third base alongside incumbent starter, junior Wood Collins. The right field competition includes seniors Trace Stenz and Dustin McIntyre as well as junior Weldon Fultz and sophomore Trevor Johnson. Even senior catcher Jesse Morgan is considered to have a capable player behind him on the depth chart in sophomore Christopher Sammons.

However, the Longhorns are deepest on the mound. According to Lindsey, Marengo has as many as 12 players capable of helping out on the mound.

“One thing it is going to allow me to do is not ride a guy,” Lindsey said of the pitching depth. “We’re not going to have to ride a guy for six or seven innings. When he gets in trouble, we’re going to be able to pull him and not miss a beat.”

The 2008 Longhorns relied heavily on starting pitchers Phillip Farmer, Clayton Crocker and Trace Stenz. The squad lost Farmer to graduation and will, in the interim, be without the pitching services of Crocker, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury.

However, the Longhorns will return Chris Whitaker, the everyday center fielder, to the mound this season. The Shelton State signee played center in 2008 but did not pitch while recovering from an arm injury.

In addition to Whitaker, the Longhorns also figure to have Wallace in the starting rotation.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Morgan, who handles the p

itching staff from his catcher position, said. “We’ve got a lot of pitchers.”

“It helped me make the schedule,” Lindsey said of his pitching depth. “With our number of arms, I was able to schedule more games. And the more you play, the better you get.”

The Longhorns’ assortment of pitchers promises to get even deeper once Crocker returns to the mound. Until then, the senior will also step away from his customary shortstop position and man first base.

“He’s got such a good glove in the middle,” Lindsey said of Crocker. “And with his arm, he’s going to be a force on the mound. He’s a fighter on the mound and has been for the last two years.”

#While the MA roster is much deeper than the one that walked away with the Class AA state title last season, the Longhorns know their path to back-to-back championships will not lack obstruction.

“Our region is still going to be good,” Lindsey said of a region that includes Pickens, Lowndes, Meadowview Christian, Southern, Patrician and Escambia. “We’re definitely going to have to fight a lot harder this year. We can’t take games off.”

According to Digmon, the team’s motivation is simple.

“Knowing that teams are working just as hard as we are trying to get to where we were last year,” Digmon said.