published Sunday, February 17th, 2013

New-look Ringgold Tigers still talented

Columbus High School second baseman Hunter Swilling, left, slides safely back to second after a pick-off attempt by Ringgold shortstop Slade Dale in the first game of the 2012 GHSA Class AAA championship series in Ringgold, Ga.
Columbus High School second baseman Hunter Swilling, left, slides safely back to second after a pick-off attempt by Ringgold shortstop Slade Dale in the first game of the 2012 GHSA Class AAA championship series in Ringgold, Ga.
Photo by Doug Strickland.

Teams to Watch

1. Gordon Lee. The Trojans return all but one starter off last year's 24-win team, including 10 seniors. The Trojans have pitching with sophomore ace Conard Broome, speed in leadoff man Adam Vandiver, and power in DH/outfielder Branton Phillips and catcher Tanner Sexton.

2. Heritage. The Generals graduated some key pieces from last year, but an experienced nucleus that includes Lee Gibson, Colby Chattin, Jordan Liles, Austin Morris and Jacob Carter returns.

3. Ringgold. Yes, the Tigers graduated a star-studded group, but a deep, if not spectacular, pitching staff is back and enough offense at the top of the order to score runs.

Players to Watch

1. Austin Parrish, Ringgold: The Georgia State recruit hit eight homers and drove in 36 runs while also going 8-0 on the mound, including two key playoff wins.

2. Trey Silmon, Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe: The strong-armed catcher is one of the most feared hitters in northwet Georgia after batting over .400 with seven homers for Johnny Burch's Warriors last year.

3. Slade Dale, Ringgold: The leadoff hitter who is already drawing interest from SEC schools scored an area-best 47 runs last year while batting .424 with six homers and 15 doubles.

RINGGOLD, Ga. — As Brent Tucker put his Ringgold High School baseball team through the paces on a 35-degree Saturday afternoon, the coach of one of the most accomplished programs in Georgia allowed himself to take in the moment.

Tucker just graduated the most successful class of seniors in program history, a group that totaled nearly 100 wins, but instead of lamenting what's no longer there, he sees the potential of the next chapter of Tigers baseball.

"That was a tremendous group of players we lost from last year, no doubt, but I'm very excited for a bunch of guys who in some cases have been waiting for two years to get on the field," Tucker said. "They deserve this opportunity. We have a lot of new faces, and I'll admit it's kind of been fun to get back to teaching."

The Tigers, though relatively inexperienced, won't lack for talent. Senior Austin Parrish moves into the No. 1 pitcher's role after going 8-0 last year and will join with leadoff hitter Slade Dale to form a potent top of the batting order. Junior outfielder and pitcher Logan Baldwin also returns with experience.

For the Tigers to succeed in the new-look Region 5-AAA, though, players such as Gabriel Rich will have to seize their moment. A senior who's been on the Ringgold bench for three years, Rich has shown enough in summer-league play to earn a scholarship to Cleveland State. He will fill a big void at third base and be a part of the Tigers' pitching rotation.

It's stories like Rich's that excite Tucker the most.

"Gabriel would have seen a lot of time for most programs in the area," Tucker said. "He's waited his turn and now he's ready to prove himself. Guys like him and [senior] Andrew Douglas are why this is going to be a great year, to see how they move forward."

But can the Tigers come close to the level of having reached the state championship series twice in the last three years?

"The big thing is we don't have as much confidence as we had last year, but this team has the potential to get that swagger back," Dale said. "it's a different group seeing the old numbers with new faces, but we all want it badly and I think we'll get there."

Added Parrish: "This team has a great work ethic, and I think it will come together. It really is exciting, and I think if we play like we can, we'll be there."

about Lindsey Young...

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 ...

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