Longhorns possible Watauga contender

By Matt Hill
STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

   MOUNTAIN CITY--As the 2003 high school baseball season gets underway for the Johnson County Longhorns, head coach Pete Pavusek comes in cautiously optimistic.
   The Longhorns return six starters from a team that went 13-12 a year ago, but due to the bad winter weather, the team has not been able to practice very much.
   That's a concern for Pavusek going into this season.
   "I kind of thought we would be a contender, but we've not had too many opportunities to practice," Pavusek said last week. "The weather has not been helping us. We've got a good bunch of kids, so we're hoping for the best."
   One player that's sure not going to be rusty is ace pitcher Jon Arnold.
   Arnold was an All-Carter/Johnson selection a year ago after having a lot to live up to.
   Arnold followed one of the best pitchers in school history in Chris Gambill, but has quickly made a name for himself.
   Pavusek expects huge things out of his senior ace in 2003.
   "We're looking forward to him having a big year," Pavusek said. "He's worked hard and wants to do well. He's not talkative, but he's a super kid. We're hoping he will have a good season."
   Jon Westphal will be the Longhorns' No. 2 pitcher, and he also has a lot of potential. Last summer, Westphal took his senior league team to the state tournament.
   Manuel Price, Michael Davis, Robert Rayburn and Brandon Robinson will also see action on the mound.
   The Longhorn bats were up and down last year, but they hit quite a few home runs. With power hitters like Jeff Lewis and Judd Townsend now departed, Pavusek doesn't expect the power to be there like it has in the past.
   "We should be a lot better hitting for average," Pavusek said. "I hope we'll be a better hitting team this year."
   Johnson County basketball player Matt Peters will see action at first base, along with utility player Michael Reid. Ryan Baugess, and Davis will split time at second.
   Price, Davis, Arnold and Westphal will be the shortstops.
   Adam Leonard brings experience to third base. Leonard is coming off an ACL injury he suffered at the end of football season, but Pavusek says he has recovered nicely.
   "He's got a lot more mobility now," Pavusek said. "He can hit, so we're expecting big things from him."
   Price and Baugess will each see time at catcher.
   Hard hitter Joe Atwood will start in left field, while Westphal will be in right field when he's not pitching or playing shortstop.
   Centerfield will be manned by Rayburn and Ernie Hodge, with Tommy Short getting into the mix once basketball is out of his system.
   Pavusek hopes his team can be right in the thick of the Watauga Conference race. It looks to be anybody's for the taking this year.
   "Nobody is going to run away from it," Pavusek said. "It's going to be like a couple of years ago when there were several teams at the top."
   The Longhorns will get tested early, as they're scheduled to play Unicoi County today.