By Michael Calhoun, sports intern
SPRINGVILLE – Months removed from claiming the Class 5A state championship, the Springville baseball team returns to the field this season boasting of a squad flush with talent and loaded with sky-high expectations despite fielding a roster bereft of several key cogs from last year’s title run.
Guided under the watchful eye of head coach Jonathan Ford, the Tigers head into this season following a 34-9 2019 campaign that culminated in a Class 5A state championship. The title game victory was Springville’s first state championship since 1992.
“To be honest, we do not have anything to fall back on because we have not done this before,” Ford said. “But my expectations for this group is to work as hard as possible to be the best they can be.”
Springville lost eight players from this past year’s team, all of whom are now playing in college: Brant Brown at UNA, Chase Isbell at Samford, Brandon Daniels at Lee University, Ivan Cornelius at Lawson State, Bradlee Cole at Marion Military, and Justin Bromley, Riley Usrey and Max Harrison. Though the Tigers will miss their contributions, this year’s team is poised to maintain their place atop Class 5A.
Springville fields a roster this year that is expected to contend for another state title. Among the players that return include Class 5A Player of the Year Braden Hughes. Hughes is expected to be an all-around leader for the Tigers on the mound and at the plate this season. He finished this past season as a 2019 Maxpreps Second-Team All-American. As a junior, Hughes hit .398 with 49 RBI. On the mound, he was 12-1 with 71 strikeouts and a 1.79 ERA.
“Everyone knows who our leader is,” Ford said. “That is Braden Hughes. He leads by example but also vocally. All the guys feed off him and they do so because of the competitor he is, as well as his humility. We have an amazing group of guys who work extremely hard but are not real vocal. That is another aspect that we are figuring out as the season begins.”
In addition to Hughes, junior first baseman Jake Goolsby returns and is slotted to hit behind the Samford commit. According to Perfect Game, Goolsby has a “large and sturdy frame with present strength. Ran a 7.65 second 60-yard dash. Primary first baseman, took reps sitting back on the baseball, fields the baseball with developing hands, makes the turn to second base with developing footwork, young actions that will improve with additional reps at the position.”
Also returning, and who is high on Ford’s list of players expected to contribute, is junior catcher Parker Wells. Senior Clay Tittle returns, as well. He came on as a pitcher last year and should fall right into the number two role on the mound this season. Seniors Gavin Bingham, Hunter Howard and Austin Sharit are also slated to have a big impact as starters this season.
The rest of the lineup will be all newcomers. Freshman pitcher Brady Gillespie has stood out in preseason practice, according to Ford, who said that Gillespie could end up getting some big innings for the Tigers this season.
“I believe this team goes into the year with more unanswered questions than last,” Ford said. We had five guys last year that started for four years. This year’s group is competing to find their roles. We know we are a different team with different strengths and weaknesses. So, we will work to be the best competitors we can be.”
Springville opens this season against Chelsea at Choccolocco Park, in Oxford, on Feb. 17 at 3 p.m.