Prairie View Baseball Preview
Armed with a deep pitching staff and five returning starters from last year's 24-4 MAIS Class 2A quarterfinalist team, the Prairie View Spartans are looking for more in 2018.
"We came up one run short of moving on to the semifinals last year," second-year coach Bo Barton said. "I believe that left a bad taste in a lot of kids' mouths."
Barton's optimism is based on a pitching staff anchored by seniors Blake Ray and Tanner Caldwell and Mason Rogers, who gained significant experience as an eighth-grader last season.
Also in the mix are juniors Tyler Peters and JaMarco Edmonds, sophomore Hayes Crockett and eighth-graders Cade Murphy and Caleb Christmas. Edmonds is the lone lefty in the group.
"Last year, I really feel like the reason we won district was our pitching depth," Barton said. "Every team is going to have one really solid pitcher that's a little better than everybody else. My and (assistant coach) Mason Caldwell's strategy is to get to the (opponents) 4-5-6-7 pitcher. We try to make sure there's not a lot of difference between any of our pitchers, if possible.
"To win district, I feel like you need three good starters who can go five or six innings, and four or five more who can come in and get you a couple of innings and finish games."
On paper, this year's staff has the potential to be deeper than last year's. However, it will take time to see how the rotation pans out.
"I don't know who our No. 1 is right now," Barton said. "We haven't been outside a lot because of the weather, but we have been throwing since January. I have a pretty good idea of who the top five are, but I'm not sure who the No. 1 is."
Prairie View's depth isn't limited to the mound corps.
Sophomore Layton Rainbolt (.426 batting average, 1 home run, 12 doubles, 22 RBI) is the catcher and Crockett (.364, 24 RBI) will be in the outfield. Otherwise, the lineup is unsettled.
"The only for sure spots are Layton behind the plate and Hayes in the outfield," Barton said. "Layton does such a good job back there."
Caldwell, who can play virtually anywhere, will bat somewhere near the top of the lineup, after batting .427 with 17 doubles and 38 runs scored last season.
Ray (.479, 1 HR, 39 RBI) provides middle of the order pop.
Junior Connor Ouellette started most of last season at second base.
"We have a lot of kids returning," Barton said. "Even at that, we only have three seniors."
Sophomore Jacob Farrar joins the Spartans after starting the past two seasons at Beekman.
Where all the pieces fit together remains to be seen.
"We have some kids who started last year who may play different spots," Barton said. "We have some kids who have gotten stronger and some who have gotten faster since last year."
Also competing for playing time at various positions are senior Jacob Walker, juniors Austin Carroll and Gage Riles, sophomore Jaheem Brown and eighth-graders John Major Guerrero and Camron Thompson.
"The good thing about this team is we have a lot of depth," Barton said. "It is going to take a good player to get on the field. We have 13 or 14 boys who can step in at any time. It's going to be easy to coach these kids because they are going to have to give their best every day. If they don't, they realize somebody is right there waiting to take their spot."
Regardless of how the lineup plays out, the Spartans are certain to apply pressure to the defense. Barton's believes in running anywhere, anytime.
"We hit four home runs last year, which is not a lot, but we averaged almost 11 runs a game," Barton said. "We believe in bunting, we believe in pitch selection and we believe in running the bases and taking chances. Sometimes it bites us, but more often than not it works for us."
The analytics prove Barton correct. Last year, the Spartans stole a mind-boggling 247 bases while being caught only 36 times for an .873 success rate. Crockett (39 stolen bases), Ray (31), Rainbolt (29) and Caldwell (20) are all a threat to run regardless of the situation.
At this point, Barton says the Spartans just need some work.
"We have lost four games already to the rain," said Barton, whose team opened the season with an 8-7 road victory over Tallulah on Monday. "If we could play in the gym, we could beat just about anybody."
Joking aside, reclassification has strengthened the South side of the bracket.
"One thing we are going to have to deal with is the South part of the playoff bracket is going to be much tougher than last year," Barton said. "Brookhaven and Centreville have dropped down from 3A to 2A, and both have really good baseball programs."
Still, Barton expects the Spartans to be a factor in the end.
"I am anxious to see how far these boys can go," Barton said. "Our goal is to win the whole thing."