Baseball players, coaches preparing for 2016 season

Some of the top statistical baseball players from last season hope to have an even better 2016 season. The players, along with their teammates and coaches, gathered Jan. 14 at Tucker High School for the annual DeKalb County Baseball Media Day. As a junior, M.L. King’s Darrius England finished second in the county in hitting last season with a .508 batting average on 31 hits. England said he spent his offseason in batting cages and with his summer team to prepare for the season, but he hopes his leadership shines more this season. “I want to be more of a team player; motivate my team,” he said. “I want to go deep in the playoffs, I want to make my team better and make everyone feel comfortable on the field—be a leader.”

 Players and coaches from DeKalb County baseball teams gathered for the annual Baseball Media Day at Tucker High School. Photos by Travis Hudgons

Players and coaches from DeKalb County baseball teams gathered for the annual Baseball Media Day at Tucker High School. Photos by Travis Hudgons

Miller Grove’s Kaine Smith finished behind England in the hitting stats with a .490 batting average in his junior season. Although he was pleased with his batting average, he was not pleased with his number of stolen bases. He tied for sixth in stolen bases with 27.

“This offseason I really focused on base running because I want to get my steals up,” Smith said. “I saw that they went down last year so I’m really focusing on my steals this year.

“My expectations are to be No. 1 [in stolen bases], but if I finish in the top three or five I’ll be happy with that,” he added. “I’m really looking forward to being No. 1 in steals.”

Despite a 1-4 record as a sophomore, Redan pitcher Marlin Willis had solid numbers last season with a 1.66 ERA in 33 2/3 innings—the third best in the county. Willis credited his offseason workout for last season’s success, and hopes his most recent offseason workout will result in a dominating performance on the mound this year.

“This season I want to win a state championship,” Willis said. “I want me and my teammates to do a good job, play as a team, play as one unit and try to get a ring this year.”

Lithonia is looking to have a better offense this season.

Lithonia is looking to have a better offense this season.

Lakeside’s Cole Howard is another top pitcher from last season who is looking to duplicate his junior season. He had a 1.99 ERA and a 6-1 record.

“I’m trying to do somewhat as good as last year, but trying to be more of a complete player than just a pitcher,” Howard said.

Druid Hills finished the 2015 season above .500 with a 13-12 record but missed the playoffs. With a large senior class returning with experienced pitchers, head coach Pete Bartlewski said he believes his team has what it takes to make the post season.

“We’re looking forward to the season,” Bartlewski said. “This should be a good year for us if our guys stay healthy, throw strikes, field and hit, we should be in good shape in our region.”

Samuel Marion is entering his second season as coach of the Lithonia Bulldogs and this season will be about understanding the game of baseball for his players.

Druid Hills has a senior class returning with experienced pitchers.

Druid Hills has a senior class returning with experienced pitchers.

“Learning the game of baseball was the main thing we worked on [this offseason],” Marion said. “Just trying to get these guys to know that baseball is a smart man’s game—it’s a thinking game. I am emphasizing more this year in thinking—thinking and playing smart.”

The Bulldogs are hoping to improve from a three-win season with more offense this season.

“I think our hitting will be better this season,” Marion said. “We worked on defense so much last year that it kind of hurt us on offense. So I think now they understand small ball and I think they’ll do better on offense.”

 

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