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DHS coaches reflect on season

Rick Boone stepped up to the plate Saturday, April 11 and slugged a two-run shot against visiting Sweet Water. It was one of the few Demopolis offensive highlights during senior day. It was the first hit of Boone’s season and the only home run of his career.

Less than one week later, assistant coach Mike Randall addressed the six Demopolis seniors just moments after their season ended in a 3-2 loss to visiting Tallassee in the first round of the AHSAA playoffs.

“Rick Boone hitting a home run is probably the greatest thing I’ve ever seen in sports,” Randall said in a moment that was equal parts light and appropriate.

The moment was one of many Tiger coaches and players will remember fondly as they look back upon a season that fell short of what they had hoped.

“We never really stressed win-loss records. We stressed improvement and we stressed record,” Randall said later as he looked back on the season. “From the beginning to the end, we saw growth, we saw effort.”

There is likely no one moment that adequately characterizes the 2009 Demopolis Tiger baseball season. It was a campaign that saw the team struggle offensively for the majority of the first half before rallying to win the area championship with four straight wins over Chilton County and Selma.

“For our team, I would say the highlight was getting down 1-2 in the area and then stepping up and winning the series with Chilton to put us in the position to win the area.”

Throughout the 30 games that made up the season, the Tigers never found an absolute answer for the revolving door at third base which saw Chase Cameron, Trey Oates, Austin Holley and Jacob Roemen each log innings at the position. Likewise, right field featured both Morgan LeCroy and Logan Holley in a de facto platoon role.

In addition to the rotating fielders, the Tigers boasted inexperienced players at second base and left field. Freshman Kole Thrasher played nearly every inning at second base for the Tigers while junior William Hill played left field.

“Our most improved guy throughout the year was Will Hill. He’s a guy that was on the junior varsity (in 2008) but didn’t get to play a whole lot. He came into this year probably as a backup in our minds. He really didn’t impress us offensively in practice, so we were swinging for him,” DHS head coach Ben Ramer said. “But we had some inconsistency in that spot and he started to find a way to get on base whether it was by walk or hit-by-pitch. Then he started to get some big hits. He was really the epitome of a kid taking advantage of an opportunity.”

If Hill was the Tigers’ most improved player, Oates was a close second. The senior pitcher had shown flashes of his abilities in previous years, but had yet to put everything together until this season.

“Coming into this year, Shelby (Speegle) had thrown significant innings for us, but that’s it. We lost four of our Top 5 arms. We knew Shelby was going to be good for us,” Ramer said. “I think that Trey knew he had to step up and he did. Every time we had him pencilled in to start, I knew that we were going to have a chance to win the ball game.”

Oates combined with Speegle to form a potent rotation for the Tigers down the stretch.

“Without a doubt, Shelby Speegle playing (was the highlight of the year),” Randall said of the southpaw, who overcame an ACL tear in only 10 weeks to take the mound on opening day for the Tigers. “I didn’t give him a chance of playing three-quarters of the season just from what I heard about the severity of his injury. But he played every single pitch.”

“What he did was phenomenal,” Ramer said. “I don’t think what he did could be discounted whatsoever.”

“I compare them a lot with last year’s seniors,” Randall said of the group. “We didn’t have five guys turn around and sign D-one or with a JuCo somewhere. But we’ve got six kids that know where they are going and what they are going to do.”

“First of all, they are great young men. I think the world of them. You could count on them to be here,” Ramer said. “You could count on them to work everyday. They didn’t have the senior year they wanted in terms of wins and losses, but they carried themselves with class. You wouldn’t think by wins and losses that you’d advanced your program with a season like this, but we did.”