By Erik Harris
JEFFERSON COUNTY — Baseball season has arrived.
Hewitt-Trussville, Clay-Chalkville and Pinson Valley all bring back their head coaches, who expect big things in 2015.
Jeff Mauldin is starting his third season as the Huskies’ head coach, and despite the loss of five starters on the field and four big contributors on the hill, expectations are high.
Mauldin has eclipsed the 30-win mark in his first two seasons and strives for nothing short of that this year.
Although Hewitt-Trussville lacks heavy innings returning on the mound, senior catcher Cyle Moore should help the pitching progress throughout the season. The senior returns for his third campaign as a starter behind the plate. The Shelton State Community College signee is coming off a stellar junior season that saw him hit .412 with 40 runs batted in and a .986 fielding percentage.
Whenever the ball doesn’t reach Moore’s mitt, Mauldin has a pair of experienced seniors waiting up the middle. Center fielder Quin Jackson and shortstop Carter Pharis rarely miss an opportunity to record the next out.
Pharis set multiple offensive single-season school records as a junior and has signed to play at UAB. Jackson is a player that produces excitement for the Huskies. His live arm and exceptional speed landed him a scholarship with Lawson State Community College.
Hewitt-Trussville will need all the excitement it can get out of Jackson as the Huskies face one of the state’s toughest areas. Class 7A, Area 6 doesn’t have a slouch.
Defending Class 6A state champion Spain Park headlines the group, followed by Mountain Brook, who eliminated the Huskies in the second round of the 2014 state playoffs. Rounding out the area is Vestavia Hills, who Hewitt-Trussville beat in the opening round of last year’s playoffs.
For the first time since 1999, the Cougars will attempt to rebound from a season in which they failed to reach the playoffs.
In head coach Bubba Roberts’ first season, Clay-Chalkville finished behind Oxford and Gadsden City in Class 6A, Area 13, leaving the Cougars on the outside looking in when postseason play arrived.
Roberts hopes he can lean on his experienced pitching staff to get back in the Class 6A postseason in Year 2. Matthew Calvert, Thomas Johns, Colton Friday and Christian Crawford bring back major innings on the mound.
“We’ll be relying heavily on our pitching, especially early in the season,” Roberts said.
Finding reliable fielding behind those arms could be the challenge. Center fielder Darius Baldwin, left fielder Braxton Parvin, third baseman E.J. Watson, second baseman Kyle Mosley and catcher Josh Jackson must all be replaced.
“All of these players that we are replacing are either playing at the next level or had an opportunity to play at the next level,” Roberts said.
Luckily for Roberts, his new batch of starters should have plenty of time to break their gloves in before Area 12 play begins March 17 at Pinson Valley.
The Indians are coming off a down year by their standards. They ended the season 20-19 after being swept at Mortimer Jordan in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
But, third-year head coach Shane Chappell returns seven players that started — at least on a part-time basis — on last year’s team. Four of those guys were everyday names on the lineup.
Seniors Baker Hodge and Destin Davidson should provide experience in the middle of the infield in their first season playing in Class 6A. Gage Farley will bring senior leadership behind the plate and senior Hunter Davidson can play multiple positions when he’s not toeing the rubber.
“We also have a good group of newcomers who will play a significant role for us this year,” Chappell said.
Outfielder Jacob Brown, utility player Brett Jordan and pitcher Blake Mayes (all seniors) are expected to contribute for Pinson Valley this season.
“Our juniors and sophomores are really talented and hard working,” Chappell said. “Some of them are pushing for significant roles. Their ability is going to give us the depth that we lacked last year.”
The Indians have 39 games scheduled for 2015, nine of which will be in Area 12 play. Pinson Valley is the only Area 12 member to reach last year’s playoffs.
Pinson Valley will likely vie for first place with Clay-Chalkville, as Shades Valley and Huffman also reside in the league.