Randy Carr was born with a positive demeanor, so it should come as no surprise that the Sterlington baseball coach is enthusiastic in regards to the upcoming season. That said, Carr's optimism is founded on solid ground.
Featuring a roster stocked with veterans, the Panthers appear poised to improve upon last year's 16-17 campaign, which ended with a 4-2 loss to Riverside in the second round of the Class 2A state playoffs.
Though the Panthers must fill the void left by the graduation of a pair of three-time, first-team All-District performers — first baseman/pitcher Jake Auger (.316, 5 HRs, 27 RBI) and center fielder Jordan Crew (.308, 1 HR, 28 RBI) — and first-team All-District pitcher Chet Parks (4-2, 3.17), Carr welcomes back a seasoned cast which includes four first-team All-District honorees.
Senior righthander Casey Sutton returns as the ace of the staff after compiling a 6-5 record with a 1.25 ERA last season. In 81 innings, the 6-foot-4 workhorse averaged over a punchout per inning as a junior, while walking only 15 and allowing 53 hits.
Sutton has received a scholarship offer from Northwestern State, with more offers almost certain to follow.
Seniors Taylor Lockwood and Allen Anders will also get turns on the mound as will Austin Haman (jr.), later — make that hopefully, sooner — in the season.
Rehabbing from a football-related knee injury that required surgery, Haman, enters his third season as a starter. An All-District second baseman last season, Haman (.324-4-14) will figure into the outfield mix upon his return.
Carr hopes to have Haman back in the lineup in time for the Trey Altick Memorial Tournament two weeks from now.
“Austin started zigging and zagging this week,” Carr said. “He's already throwing in the bullpen and looks very good. I'm excited about that. He's a great baseball player.
“When Haman gets well, our lineup is going to be tough. I think it's pretty tough without him.”
Another three-year starter, senior Kyle Dolecheck (.292, 11 RBI) returns behind the plate.
The infield will depend upon the pitching rotation. Cody McGuire (jr.) and Elliott Courson (jr.) are the first basemen with Sutton and Devon Murphy (fr.) at second, Kyle Vandergracht (jr.) and Tyler Buffington (jr.) at third base and Austin Mills (jr.) and Murphy at shortstop.
McGuire, who missed a sizable portion of 2012 with an injury, hit .259 in 27 at bats. Making the most of his opportunities, Vandergracht finished with a .385 batting average in 39 trips to the plate. Mills was among the team leaders in runs (27) and stolen bases (10).
Taylor Lockwood, who earned All-District honors in right field last spring, slides over to center field as a senior. An explosive presence and base-stealing threat at the top of the lineup, Lockwood hit .333 with a team-high 27 hits (3 home runs, 5 triples, 4 doubles) and 16 RBI as a junior.
Page 2 of 2 - Trent Raffray will start the season in right field, with Anders in left.
“Trent Raffray can play all three outfield positions and second base,” Carr said. “We have a lot of flexibility with our lineup.”
Sterlington has scrimmaged Oak Grove and St. Frederick the past two Saturdays.
“We've made some mistakes in the scrimmages, but that's what scrimmages are for,” Carr said. “We've had some mental mistakes — not throwing to the correct base, advancing on hits — those type of things. But the mistakes we've been making are correctable.
“I like the maturity of this team. I really, really like this baseball team. (Pitching coach) Mark Sims and (batting coach) Bucky Chandler have done a great job this spring. They're both great coaches.”
Continuing the preseason, the Panthers will host an eight-team jamboree Saturday, starting at 8:30 a.m., before opening the regular season in the Oak Grove/Delhi Charter Tournament on Thursday.