Wildcats looking to start district off right tonight

By JOSEPH ELERSON | News-Telegram Sports Writer

March 25, 2008 - After the first 13 games of the season, Sulphur Springs head coach Jerrod Hammack did not expect to see his Wildcats with a 6-7 record on the year. He also did not expect to see the district as tight as it is heading into the opening games tonight.

"I am an optimist and this is a new season for us," Hammack said. "Some people think of this as a second season, but I think of it as a third season with your scrimmages, predistrict games and then the district season."

Currently, Texas High (13-3) is the only team with a winning record, while Lindale (9-9) is the only team coming in with an even .500 record. Paris (8-9), North Lamar (4-8) and Mount Pleasant (4-10) have losing records.

Hammack said with two of their first three games at home against Mount Pleasant and Paris and a rematch at Lindale on Friday, these contests could be an early indicator of the top teams in district. Lindale has already defeated SSHS, 3-1, on Feb. 29 at Kilgore.

"Of course I would love to be 3-0 by the time we play Texas High next Friday night," he said. "We have to take this one game at a time, and we can't worry about Lindale on Friday or Paris next Tuesday."

The Wildcats open District 11-4A today when they host Mount Pleasant. The JV game will start at 4:30 p.m., with the varsity to follow at 7 p.m. In other District 11-4A action, Paris travels to Lindale, while Texas High hosts North Lamar.

"We have to take care of Mount Pleasant tonight since this is a rival game and they are expecting to beat us," Hammack said. "We need to start the district season at 1-0 before anything else can happen."

For the Wildcats, returning district MVP Brittan Diamond will start on the hill today, having compiled a 1-2 record with a 2.75 ERA. He has struck out 31 batters and walked only three in 28 innings. He is also batting .366 with six RBI and seven runs scored.

"When he steps on the mound, we expect to win every game," Hammack said of Diamond. "Sometimes that puts pressure on him when the players and the coaching staff expect him to win. He is a competitor and I expect him to go out tonight and play well."

As a team, Sulphur Springs is hitting .286 with 25 of its 101 hits going for extra bases. Jace Jackson leads the team with six doubles and one triple and is batting .359 on the season.

Senior Jeff Beck is second on the team with a .370 batting average with four doubles, nine RBI and two steals, while junior outfielder Ben Barrows is hitting at a .300 clip to go along with five walks and two steals. Senior second baseman Brandon Whittle is hitting .297 with four doubles and three RBI.

"It is real tough to see us struggling right now record-wise with the talent that we have on this team," the coach said. "We are scratching our heads and for whatever reason things are not clicking right now with this team."

With 11 games remaining in the season and 10 of those being district games, Hammack said the team has three big keys in hopes of a return trip to the postseason.

"The big keys for us are the pitchers hitting their spots, finding ways to play solid defense, and we need to figure out a way to score some runs even when we are not swinging the bats well," he said. "We have not done that yet this season, and I expect to see things work out tonight."

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