THREE TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Heritage. The Generals, who won 30 games a year ago and reached the Class AAAA state semifinals, return a solid core of players led by pitcher/first baseman Cole Wilcox, infielders Brody Campbell and Johnathan Hickman and outfielders Lance Dockery and Luke Grant.
2. Gordon Lee. The Trojans, fresh off a runner-up finish in Class A public a year ago, lost six starters, but last year’s depth will keep them strong. Senior catcher Dylan Minghini and pitcher Austin Thompson were postseason stars in 2017.
3. Calhoun. Chip Henderson’s team graduated six seniors from last year’s surprising Class AAA semifinalist, but led by left-handed pitchers Davis Allen and Brett Potts, the Yellow Jackets should again contend.
THREE PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Cole Wilcox, Heritage. The 6-foot-5 pitcher is a projected MLB first-round draft pick after a 2017 prep season in which he won nine games and an offseason that led him to Canada, where he helped Team USA to a Gold Cup championship.
2. Andre Tarver, Ringgold. Still just a junior, the Mississippi State-committed outfielder has added 15 pounds to his 6-foot-2 frame, a scary proposition for teams coming into cozy Bill Womack Field.
3. J.P. Tighe, Dalton. The catcher, who recently committed to Georgia Southern, led the Catamounts into the Class AAAAAA state semifinals with a .457 average and 45 RBIs last season.
RINGGOLD, Ga. — Brent Tucker summed up his accomplished baseball program's mindset with GHSA teams set to open the season Monday.
"Well, we're still pretty angry from last year, to be honest," the Ringgold coach said. "A lot of programs with three straight region championships and three times in elite eight would be happy. We're sick of that. We want to go further this year."
Many projections a year ago had Ringgold winning the Class AAA title, but spotty defense and a hot North Hall team derailed those plans in the state quarterfinals. So while the Tigers sat home and licked their wounds after finishing the season 29-8, fellow region members Calhoun and Coahulla Creek were competing in the semifinals.
"We are hungry, and you could see that hunger in August when we opened the weight room," Tucker said. "This is a very talented team at every position. We have athletic kids with high baseball IQs."
The Tigers also have a lot of pitching, including six left-handers led by starters Wyatt Tenant and Holden Tucker, who will team with right-handed ace Nathan Camp in one of the area's top rotations.
Those guys shouldn't have to be perfect with a batting order poised to light up the scoreboard. There's plenty of speed in Camp, Tucker and outfielders Andre Tarver and Dylan Wright. There's ample power with Ty Jones and Tarver — a 6-foot-2, 200-pounder who has committed to Mississippi State for baseball but also has received college scholarship offers for football — and what should be improved defense.
In the field, though, Coach Tucker may have to experiment a bit.
"With all the lefties we have, we're having trouble with infielders," he said with a laugh. "Ty Jones, for example, is one of the best outfielders in the area, but we might have to move him to third. When Nathan's pitching, we will have to move some people around."
While the Tigers seem loaded and motivated, their coach knows just getting through Region 6-AAA won't be easy, in part because Calhoun and Coahulla Creek return key members of last year's surprise teams. As usual, Ringgold has what is expected to be a brutal schedule before region play begins as well.
"We always want to test them early," Coach Tucker said. "This team should respond. The thing I like most about this team is the athleticism. Sometimes you don't think about baseball as being athletic, but when you are, it shows in everything. We're very excited to get going."
Contact Lindsey Young at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6296. Follow him on Twitter @youngsports22.