Improved prospects for Warriors

By Jeff Birchfield

STAR STAFF
jbirchfield@starhq.com

   A solid infield, an experienced outfield and tough pitching should help Happy Valley improve for the 2002 baseball season from one year ago, when they were unceremoniously shut out in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament.
   "You've got to be solid and make plays to give your pitchers a chance to win," said defensive-minded head coach Greg Hyder. "The pitchers have to help you out making plays. We're getting pitching into Happy Valley.
   "We've got 3 to 4 good ones and a good closer. We've not had that much in the past. You always have a chance to win with good pitching. We got a lot of pitchers back, they just have to grow up."
   Junior Britton Brummit is the lead pitcher for the Warriors, going 7-1 in his freshman year and 7-5 last season. Underclassman Michael Holmes takes the number two spot, with sophomore Tim Whaley the number three pitcher and freshman Ryan Toney rounding out the starting rotation.
   "Brummit throws hard, he's smart and has good mechanics," raved Hyder. "Holmes throws hard and he has some good off-speed stuff. He's gotten stronger in the offseason. He's just got to stay on top of his game mentally. That's the biggest thing he needs to work on.
   "Whaley come on a lot last season. Ryan Toney is one good freshman. It's different stepping in varsity ball. He should be in rotation by mid-season. You can't throw him to the dogs. You've got to break him in. Forrest Holt is our closer, he's usually good for the last two innings."
   The pitchers will benefit from an experienced catcher in the form of junior Cody Cannon. "Cody has caught since he was a freshman," remarked Hyder. "He does a good job behind the plate. He's a solid catcher with a good, strong arm. I think before he is out of here, he has a chance to be a Division 1 player. We hope he will be our offensive leader this year."
   Backing up Cannon is promising freshman Shannon Buchanan. "He's a fiery player and we're excited about him," said Hyder. "He's got a strong arm and good mechanics."
   Over at first base is senior Daniel Back, who was forced to miss the football season, after injuring his knee in a pre-season scrimmage. "He rehabbed the knee and worked hard to get where he can play," said Hyder. "He's a leader and we need him back in there."
   Dustin Hendrix and Joe Powell are fighting for the second base position. "Both will be playing," said Hyder. "Dustin played last year, but it's been good how Joe has been pushing him."
   Shortstop features Jon Harrison, also the team's lead-off hitter. "He hit the weight room," said Hyder. "We need a little pop off his bat. If he continues to work hard, he's going to be a dandy."
   Third base will see Holt and Shawn Bare share playing time. "Bare played second base last year, but he's more of the prototype third baseman," Hyder stated. "He's bigger and stronger than last year."
   Onto the outfield and Holt's name once again emerges as the leftfielder along with Whaley. "The great thing about Forrest is that he is versatile," Hyder commented. "He can play several positions. Whaley is the starter and he led us in home runs last year."
   Rounding out the two remaining outfield spots are Lamar Rollins in the centerfield and Cody Whitlock on the right side. "The starting outfielders are all basketball players and they need to get playing time," said Hyder. "They're all good athletes and are in good shape. The challenge is getting them to swing the bats. The backups are a little shaky, except for leftfield."
   Naming favorites to win this season's Watauga Conference crown, Hyder starts with the perennial favorite. "Until somebody beats them, you have to go with Unicoi County," said Hyder. "They're the team to beat. Unicoi County is solid, well-coached and the kids believe that they are going to win.
   "North and Central should both be good teams. Elizabethton and Hampton are new to the conference and are unknowns. Hampton has two good pitchers. Elizabethton could be pretty good. Johnson County lost (Chris) Gambill and it's interesting to see how they will do without him.
   "I see us right now as a middle of the pack team. We're just hoping we can work hard and get better."