Most teams look at the end of a season as a tragic moment, or a failure.
Not Sulphur Springs head baseball coach Jerrod Hammack.
His Wildcats finished the 2008 season with a 15-12 record, losing in the area round to a highly ranked Mesquite Poteet team.
"We lost, but we had chances to win. What was so important was that we were not scared or intimidated by Poteet," Hammack said."I'd like for this team to play like that this season. In past seasons we have been unsure about how we would do against metroplex teams. Maybe we are over that."
Hammack, a native of Mississippi, has made baseball coaching stops in Jacksonville, Nacogdoches and Whitehouse before coming to Sulphur Springs four years ago. The Wildcats have made the playoffs each of the last four seasons. Hammack wants that tradition to continue.
"This is the best place I have coached, it's just a great situation. Kids are interested in baseball here, it's important to the community, everyone is very supportive," Hammack said. "Sulphur Springs has a nice youth baseball program and some traveling teams. I really like it." Hammack has a 55-33 record at Sulphur Springs in three years. The Wildcats have made the playoffs each of the last four years.
This year the Wildcats have 15 players on the freshmen team with about 20 on each of the JV and varsity teams.
Not only did last year's varsity team make the playoffs - they had several players earn all district honors. Many of the players like Brittan Diamond, Josh Dunn and Jeff Beck graduated after gaining top honors. The coach hopes other leaders will step up this season.
"We lost some outstanding leaders and guys who played key positions on our team. I really believe this team is capable of doing some great things. We''ll be deeper on the mound. Our junior varsity was undefeated and went 18-0," Hammack said. "We have our returning starters plus all the JV boys. We have a pretty good group to choose from, we have outstanding depth on this team."
Hammack said, "We have players like Jocko Spataro and Grayson North. I think we will swing the bat better up and down the lineup. We may have guys in seventh, eighth and ninth hole who can swing the bat as well."
Jace Jackson was a first team all-district selection as an outfielder, Ben Barrows was a second team outfielder while Mason Rawson earned honorable mention notice at first base.
"We like our chances, even with all the new faces from the JV," Hammack said. "There's still an adjustment from JV to the varsity. How quickly they adjust to what varsity baseball is all about. Rawson has a lot of power, he has to make some adjustments in his swing. Brandon Harry was a back-up second baseman, he did not get a lot of playing time, he works hard and will be given the opportunity. Kolton Jones played behind Beck, but he's a left-handed bat and a big shortstop. Josh Anderson is a left-handed pitcher, he will be a starter or reliever, he will help us with some matchups. Jackson is taking on a leadership role as the centerfield. Barrows is the returning right fielder, he will have the opportunity to be one of the three main outfielders. Cedrick Finnie is another player who did not play that much because we were stacked in the outfielder, he will be given the chance to win a spot."
The coach would like to see his team score lots of runs, but bases his philosophy on defense and base-running.
"Hitting is important, but it is difficult. Even a good hitting team with a .350 average is getting out almost 3/4 of the time," Hammack said. “So we have to give ourselves a chance to win with our defense. We have good speed, We have players with good natural instincts who are good baserunners. We try to put pressure on the defense, hit and run and bunt. We won't rely on a three-run homer, but we will have people with good power. But we can also take advantage of walks and mistakes by the other team."
Jake Dougan, Bryce Jenkins, Matt Prewitt, Cade Wimberly, Colby Suggs, Austin Brewer, Tripp Reeves, Mason Morton, Shane McQueen and Daniel Rosales will all be contributing toward the the team’s success. Reeves, is trying to earn a spot as a sophomore infielder.
"They all have neat little attributes and it's up to us as coaches to bring those out," Hammack said. "I think we will have good depth all over. But what excites me is the six or seven deep we can go on the mound. Not all of them will be starters, some will be in relief. But it is very important for us to find out how each one can contribute. We have pitchers who can throw in the 80s with good control and they're competitors."
The coach said the scrimmages at the start of the year are to see how the team looks with playing time on the diamond. The team is involved in three tournaments against tough competition as slots on the squad are filled.
"We’ll rank our pitchers after the four scrimmages and use them in the tournaments. Then we want to come up with the best lineup and be ready to roll when district starts," Hammack said.
District opponents this year Marshall, Pine Tree, Mount Pleasant, Pine Tree, Hallsville, Texas High and Longview.
"Texas High has won it the last two years in district," Hammack said. "We won district three years ago. This year we feel like we can compete with anybody. This new district is more difficult top to bottom than our district was before. You have teams like Hallsville, which was a playoff team last year. Marshall and Pine Tree have good programs. Longview is a 5A team dropping down to 4A, so you don’t know. Mount Pleasant has kind of been down, they’ve been good in the past. We are not taking anyone lightly. We expect to win a district championship. Hammack said the success of the football team’s state title might rub off on the baseball team.
"We have players on this team who were on the football team that won state," Hammack said. "Our confidence level is high. It's good to have long range goals and we want to go deep in the playoffs. The team is very excited to be there, they're very coachable. They want to make the corrections to get better. We try to keep it small, work on getting better each day. The journey is better than the end. These guys believe they can win and that’s 90 percent of the battle.”
NOTE — The varsity Wildcats play at McKinney Boyd’s turf field today at 6 p.m. in a scrimmage. The game was originally set for Sulphur Springs.
No sub-varsity games will be held today.
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