With a seasoned cast returning, the Bastrop Rams seek to improve on last year's 15-16 mark.
Armed with a young — albeit experienced — pitching staff and six seniors on the roster, coach Whit Whitlock has upgraded the Rams' schedule.
“This is the hardest schedule we've had since I've been here,” Whitlock said. “I wouldn't have put this schedule together if I didn't have high expectations for this group.”
Those expectations begin with the senior class.
“This is the most cohesive senior group I've ever had,” Whitlock said. “They have to get stronger in the leadership role. I tell them that I can put them in the right position, but they have to execute. Most of them have been there, done that, so they should be ready for anything that's thrown at them.
“Our success is going to be based on senior leadership and competing on every pitch, knowing what to do and finding a way to get it done.”
Bastrop returns two of its top three pitchers from last year.
Kyle Perkins (2-2, 2.93 ERA) worked a team-high 43 innings as a freshman, while Luke Chain (4-3, 3.90, 41.1 innings) led the team in wins as a sophomore.
Following the loss of Dita Ridgell to graduation, Kylon Ricks or Chase Cockrell, a pair of sophomores, will step into the third spot.
“I think we're going to have a good three-man rotation,” Whitlock said. “They all have a good grasp of what we want them to do. All I ask of our pitchers is to keep us in the game and let our offense and defense win it for us.
“We have to win what I call the freebies war — don't give them more outs than they give us. We can win a lot of games if we do that.”
Others who could figure into the mix are Gavin Pollock (so.), Dollar Ridgell (fr.), Hunter Cockrell (sr.), Morgan Edmonds (sr.) and Joseph Salen (sr.), an exchange student from Norway who is playing baseball for the first time at any level.
Behind the plate, senior Cade Cantrell (.289, 17 RBIs) enters his third season as a starter. Clay Winnon (jr.) and Pollock are the backups.
First base remains unsettled. Depending upon who's pitching, Hunter Cockrell, Cade Cantrell, Winnon and Perkins could all be part of a committee.
Pollock and Jordan Jones (jr.) are the second baseman.
Senior Ty Cantrell (.224, 26 runs scored, 12 stolen bases) moves from second base to shortstop.
“Ty knows the game better than anybody we have as far as knowing where to be and knowing what to do every play,” Whitlock said. “He's going to make all the plays he's supposed to make. I like having the same shortstop every day, so I don't have to interchange guys at key positions.”
Page 2 of 2 - Coming off of a strong freshman campaign, Chase Cockrell (.321, 1 HR, 8 2Bs, 22 RBI) returns at third base.
Edmonds (.294, 8 2Bs, 8 RBIs) is back as the center fielder, with Khalil Key (sr.) in left and Ricks or Hunter Cockrell in left.
Whitlock has high expectations for Ricks.
“Mook has worked hard over the offseason to become the player he needs to be,” Whitlock said. “I really think he's going to have a good year.”
Whitlock's expectations for Ricks apply to the team as a whole.
“Athletically, we should be in every ballgame,” Whitlock said. “Making one or two plays, getting one or two timely hits – that's what sets you apart from the other team.”
Bastrop will get its first test today when it travels to Natchitoches Central for a preseason scrimmage.