Jackets ready for last Tri-9 campaign
There were plenty of highlights to Lee County's baseball season last spring. The Yellow Jackets swept county rival Southern Lee. Pitching ace Nick Durazo, now pitching at East Carolina, fired a no-hitter as part of an outstanding senior season. A five-game winning streak gave the Jackets a shot at a state playoff spot.
The postseason berth didn't happen though, so entering Lee County's last season as a 4A program and in the Tri-Nine Conference, the Yellow Jackets want to put a better season with the highlights.
Lee County had an eight-player senior class last season as it went 10-13 overall and 7-9 in the Tri-Nine. Head coach Charlie Spivey sees opportunity for the Jackets who will step up into new or larger roles rather than a big obstacle.
"I think our challenge this year is we've got to move a lot of kids around," Spivey said.
That goes for Jackets stepping into the starting lineup, which will likely vary from game to game, especially early in the season, Spivey said. It also goes for "mixing and matching," as Spivey puts it, depending on opponent, situation, a Jacket strength or any number of other coaching calls.
"I think a lot of kids will get a lot of playing time early on and whoever performs will earn more playing time," Spivey said.
Chase Arrington, Hampton Thomas and Alex Scott are the main pitchers Spivey will rely on. The Jacket manager believes he has a deep pitching staff. At the same time, replacing a definite ace such as Durazo is tough.
"I don't see our pitchers going seven innings too often," Spivey said. "We'll have to mix and match. It's our job as coaches to put guys in the right spot and do the right thing with our rotation."
Arrington, a senior and four-year starter, will be at catcher, a corner infield spot or in the outfield depending on where the Jackets need him when he's not on the mound. Scott, a senior, was one of Lee County's top sluggers last season. He will see increased time at pitcher and shortstop this season. Hampton Thomas earned more innings in key games as a sophomore and will be a bigger part of the Jacket rotation.
Lee County, along with the other eight Tri-Nine members, get no time to ease into the season. Needing to get in 16 conference games, the Jackets open up with conference contests out of the box instead of getting a few non-conference games to try out a few things.
"It's awful, and it's not just us, none of the coaches in the Tri-Nine want to do it," Spivey said, "but then again, everyone has to do it."
An unplayable field postponed Lee County's scheduled opening night against Apex on Wednesday night, moving the game to Mar. 13. The Yellow Jackets are slated, field-permitting, to host Fuquay-Varina for a Tri-Nine game Friday at 7 p.m. Five of Lee County's first six games are Tri-Nine games.
"Our field's under water. I've never seen that much water on it," Spivey said.
Rain and winter weather has interrupted some of the Jacket preseason but intrasquad games in the last few weeks have been valuable, as were two scrimmages against Pinecrest last week.
Competition for playing time might make a coach's job tougher but it's been healthy throughout the offseason and preseason says Spivey. Teammates have pushed each other and it should make the team better now that the season's here.
"As a coach," said Spivey, "it's going to be exciting to see how it pans out."