Trice Powers may have less questions going into his second year as Warren County High School baseball coach, but it may take longer to get any answers.
Coming off a run to region and a second-place finish in District 6AAA, the Pioneers are hopeful to carry momentum into this campaign. The only problem is that the team needs to get on the field at some point.
Rain has limited the Pioneers to just one on-field practice in the last two weeks. It’s hindered Powers’ ability to evaluate his roster, which returns plenty of experience but still needs to fill in some holes.
“We have a good group that’s been working hard,” said Powers, who was 19-13 in his first season. “It’s tough to know what we have with just one day of practice and no scrimmages.
“We’re taking a wait-and-see approach. I hope we can catch the ball again – we were sound defensively last year. I think we can be better offensively. We’ll just have to see. We have lots of question marks.”
The Pioneers can lean on their senior class, which boasts six potential starters and three college signees. Brooks Helton, Ethan Smith, Brandon Hennessee and Hunter Adams were all named to the all-district team following last season. Helton and Smith parlayed their success into college scholarships, with the duo signing with Faulkner University and Lenoir Rhyne University, respectively.
Will Cantrell and Dylan Ward are also part of the senior class and will be counted on extensively this season.
Cantrell, who committed to Bryan College in the fall, believes the group is ready to compete for titles.
“Overall, I think we have a good team this year. We are hoping as a group to win a championship and make it as far in the postseason as possible,” said Cantrell.
Helton and Smith have seen enough through the offseason to think big success is on the brink.
“This team has put a lot into the offseason and it should be a fun year,” said Helton. “Expectations are always set high and with it being my senior year, I’m ready to go out with a bang.”
“I’ve seen big jumps in guys just in the weight room. To me, that is a great indicator of the work this team has been putting in,” added Smith.
The seniors also praised the underclassmen, who Powers thinks could determine a lot of the team’s success this season.
“We have large freshman and sophomore classes. Can some of them step up? If guys can come in and fill roles, we’ll have success,” said Powers.
Filling the roles of Cantrell and Hennessee may be priority No. 1. Both seniors may miss the first part of the season due to injuries. Cantrell is nursing a back injury while Hennessee injured his knee during football season.
Their absence, along with the departure of District 6AAA pitcher of the year Tyler Hollingsworth, will need to be addressed.
Helton and Ward look to be the early favorites to take the hill early and often for the Pioneers.
“Brooks and Dylan pitched a lot of innings for us last year. We have other guys who are capable, but those two we know what we have because we’ve seen them do it before,” said Powers. “We’ll see how it continues.”
Upcoming juniors include Trace Adcock, Joey Burgess and Heath Kuykendall. Adcock got the most playing time of the trio last year, appearing in 12 games.
A giant sophomore class includes one returning starter, catcher Braden Bottoms. He's joined by Bryan Bynum, Bryson Elrod, John Garrett, Omari Harris, Alec Hobbs, Kason Holder, Ryland Holder, Ty Martin, Brady Melton, Ben Rivers, Jared Scruggs, Westen Wilson and Wyatt Wilson.
The team's freshmen are True Craven, Ashton Forth, Curtlan George, Raleigh Gilliam, Chance Hunter, Kyle Johnson, Briley Moore, Layne Roberts, Alyx Smith and Will Vance.
Warren County will try to get in some work this week with a pair of scrimmages against Coffee County. The Pioneers are set to travel to Manchester Tuesday for 10 innings of work and the Red Raiders will make the return trip Wednesday. Both scrimmages are hoping to begin at 4:30 p.m., depending on travel time.
The Pioneers open their season in the Grand Slam Challenge tournament Monday, March 11. Warren County will take on Mt. Juliet in its opening game.