TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Ringgold. The Tigers boast five players who made either first or second-team preseason all-state in Class AAA and have one goal in mind this season: a state title.
2. Calhoun. The Yellow Jackets are perennial contenders in Class AA and this year will be no different with a strong top of the pitching rotation and a stout middle of the lineup.
3. Heritage. Seniors abound on the Generals’ roster, including strong pitchers Cody Sherlin and Jake Sampson.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Matthew Crownover, Ringgold. The senior pitcher, who has signed with Clemson University, is one of the top-rated left-handed pitchers in the country and is expected to be one of the Tigers’ top hitters.
2. Josh Shubert, Calhoun. The slugging senior outfielder is the latest in a long line of big-time prospects for the Yellow Jackets.
3. Adam Weldon, Ringgold. The 6-foot-5 senior first baseman hit nearly .500 last year and will anchor one of the Tigers’ pitching rotation spots this season.
RINGGOLD, Ga. — As the construction crews and work trucks buzz around the still-being-renovated Bill Womack Field, the Ringgold Tigers are busy trying to ignore them as they prepare for one of the most anticipated seasons in the successful history of the program.
The Tigers went 24-4 last year, losing two games to Region 7-AAA rival Cartersville and the last two to eventual state champion Columbus in the second round of the state playoffs. That Ringgold won the opening game of the three-game series and was up late in game two before losing has not left the minds of the returning players.
It is, said senior outfielder Reed Walden, very much still in their thinking.
“It definitely left a bitter taste in our mouths, and when we’re working out it adds a little extra motivation,” said Walden, one of six returning starters for the Tigers, who enter the season ranked second in the preseason coach’s poll. “We had the talent to win it all last year, but it just didn’t come together for us at the end. We’ve got the pieces again this year, but we’ve got to take care of business.”
Those pieces do not include the graduated big three of pitcher/third baseman Colton Cross, the Best of Preps North Georgia Player of the Year, shortstop Zach Lance and catcher Caleb Jones, players who made up three of the top four bats in the potent Tigers’ lineup last year. Ringgold, though, still boasts what coach Brent Tucker calls one of the top pitching staffs in the state, beginning with senior Matthew Crownover.
The Clemson University signee is considered one of the top left-handed professional pitching prospects in the country by scouting services after posting sub-1.00 ERAs the past two seasons. Senior right-hander Corey Kafka, who battled injury last season, and senior Adam Weldon will anchor the other two rotation spots. Each throws in the 90 mph range and will give the Tigers a very intimidating starting three.
“Pitching is still our strength and we’ve got enough arms for the innings,” Tucker said. “Matthew has looked great in preseason workouts. I mean, he’s one of the best in the country, Corey is healthy and Adam is ready to step up.”
Tucker will find out early if his team has put last year behind. The Tigers play their first six games on the road, with each of the opponents ranked in their respective state. Among the games are matchup against Florida power Trinity Christian, Russell County, Ala. and Georgia Class AAAAA powers Lassiter and Etowah.
“The first six games are tough, so we’ll get tested early,” said Tucker, whose team will open its renovated field March 9 against region foe Gilmer County. “We’ve got some holes to fill, but we like the guys who are stepping in.”
The veteran Kafka will assume third-base duties when not pitching, while Andy Mochabee will catch and sophomore Slade Dale will man shortstop. What the team loses in power, it makes up for in speed. In a region that also posseses third-ranked Cartersville and fourth-ranked Allatoona, Ringgold will need to find different ways to score runs.
“We will definitely be more aggressive on the bases,” Tucker said. “And that’s something we’ll need to do because we won’t hit for as much power this year. We hit 46 home runs last year and we might hit 18 to 20 this year, but we might be a better team.”
Lindsey Young is a sports writer at the Chattanooga Times Free Press who started work at the Chattanooga News-Free Press 24 years ago. He covers the Northwest Georgia prep beat and NASCAR. Lindsey’s hometown is Ringgold, Ga., and he graduated from Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School. He received an associate’s degree from Dalton Junior College (now Dalton State) and a bachelor’s degree in communications from UTC. He has won several writing awards, including two Tennessee Sports ...