'Landers aim for success on diamond

By Wes Holtsclaw

   After success on the gridiron and the hardwood, the Cloudland Highlanders are longing for something the school hasn't been known for in baseball: postseason success.
   The 'Landers enter their 2003 campaign with a new coaching staff and an ignition to win.
   The senior and junior laden squad will be coached by former standout athlete Robbie Turbyfill and Bo Manis, a former high school and college athlete from Avery County, N.C.
   Turbyfill takes the reigns in his high school head coaching position after coaching junior high football the past two years. He is hoping to see some good things evolve out of the program.
   "We've got an older bunch," Turbyfill said. "We return a lot of juniors and seniors from last year. Some may not be in the same spot that they were, but I'm evaluating them on my own. We'll be okay."
   The Highlanders will be led by seven seniors and six juniors this season with a main focus on pitching and hitting.
   "We've got good depth at pitching," he said. "We can use five or six at any time, but we,ve got to get their arms in shape. Four out of the six came from basketball and are not in shape yet."
   The goals for this season are simple like any other.
   "We hope to improve throughout the season and make a strong showing in the tournament," said Turbyfill. "That's what it's all about."
   Leading the way for Cloudland on the mound will be seniors Cole Gouge (3B/OF) and Josh Johnson (OF), who saw significant time last year with junior Mark Byrd (OF/SS).
   "We've got to do the best we can," said Gouge, who is batting clean-up. "This is one of the best hitting teams I,ve been on so far. We've got to work out in the field and get better at little things."
   "I've done about everything you could ask for," Johnson said. "I threw a no-hitter last year, but I just want to see us win. We had a winning season last year, but we want to be competitive in the conference."
   Sophomore David Holden and juniors Dane Christman and Aaron Stocton are competing for outfield positions, while seniors Jeff "Bubba" Steiner (DH/OF), Jimmy Dyson (OF) and Gregory Birchfield (PR/IF) will be counted on in various roles.
   "I think we'll do well, we've just got to get out of an early slump," said Jeff Steiner. "I hope I can contribute to the team from a hitting standpoint and do whatever they need to win."
   Returning to infield positions are senior first baseman Dale Baker and senior catcher Mark Barnett. They will be joined by junior Clint Steiner (2B/P) and Dakota Benfield (OF/2B) throughout different rotations.
   "We'll do well if we work together as a team," said Baker. "We want to get some wins under our belts and we'd like to have a chance to win the conference."
   The Watauga Valley will be very competitive this season and the Highlanders hope to be in the mix.
   Said Turbyfill: "UH is always tough and the (Drew) Harrell kid is good. Unaka is good with strong pitching and solid players. North Greene put us out last year and could be in the middle of it this season."
   "Our main thing is to play fundamental defense and we hope to not hurt ourselves."