CALHOUN, Ga. -- A different brand of baseball will be on display when the defending Georgia Class AA state champions from Calhoun take the field this season.
Gone are three players who combined for more than 40 home runs in 2010: Mott Hyde, Jordan Poole and Carter Harrison. The Yellow Jackets still have some power, but getting runners on, moving them over and getting them in will be seen much more than the three-run homer.
"We lost some big strokers," said Calhoun coach Chip Henderson, whose teams won three state titles last decade. "We'll have to nickel and dime a lot more than we have in the past. I don't see one guy capable of hitting 16 to 20 homers, but I do see several hitting five to seven.
"Last year won't win a single game for us this season," he stressed, "and the big goal early is to find our identity. If that means moving runners over, stealing a base or bunting and getting them in, that's fine."
Teams to watch
1. Ringgold. The Tigers return everyone from last year's Class AAA runner-up team, including three of the top pitchers in the state in Matthew Crownover, Colton Cross and Corey Kafka.
2. Calhoun. The Yellow Jackets will have deep pitching and a lineup capable of long rallies. They will be tested in a much-improved Region 7-AA.
3. Heritage. The Generals won 16 games a year ago and return everyone, including talented pitchers Cody Sherlin and Jake Raines.
Players to watch
1. Matthew Crownover, Ringgold. Still just a junior, the future Clemson Tiger batted over .400 and won 10 games with a 0.74 ERA a year ago and figures to improve on all of those numbers.
2. Colton Cross, Ringgold. The senior is headed to Kennesaw State University after batting .416, hitting seven homers and driving in 36 runs to go with seven pitching wins as a junior.
3. Alex Ridge, Ridgeland. The future Georgia Bulldog again will be a workhorse pitcher for the Panthers; his 90-mph fastball will be a major weapon.
This isn't to say the Yellow Jackets are void of talent. Seven players return from last year, including five who had significant playing time. Among the returnees are four pitchers who figure to be the strength of the team. The top two starters will be among the state's best.
Austin Norrell, who was 9-0 with a 2.75 earned run average, and Landon Curtis, who was 4-0 with a masterful outing in the deciding game of the state-championship series, will man the top spots in the rotation. Junior Josh Schubert, perhaps the top hitter in the lineup along with Norrell, also will start after going 4-0 with a 2.06 ERA a year ago, and Cory Greeson, who starred in relief in the postseason, will be counted on as well.
"We actually have five really good pitchers, so we'll be in every game," said Curtis, the star quarterback who has signed to continue playing football at Austin Peay. "We feel good about the season. Losing seven seniors is tough, but we had a bunch of young guys step up in big situations last year."
Two guys will be key in the team's new aggressive lineup: leadoff man Greeson and No. 2 hitter Trent Frix.
"Hopefully those two can set the table for us, because if they get on, we've got some good sticks behind them," said Henderson, referring to Schubert, Norrell, Curtis and Tyler King. "On paper, it might not look good, but I think this team is going to be fine."
Curtis, the lone senior returning with much experience, doesn't want to settle for just fine.
"We're Calhoun," he said. "Anything less than a state title isn't acceptable."