Maintenance workers prepped the Effingham County High School baseball field for Monday’s season opener. Rebels head coach Brett Griffin is ready, too.
The Rebels open the 2008 campaign against Class AAA Benedictine. At this point, it may not matter who is in the other dugout for the Rebels, just as long as it’s someone else.
“Last year, we had two weeks (before the season) and felt so rushed,” Griffin said. “These first three weeks, seeing the kids ready to play is mighty difficult.”
The Rebels were 16-12 a year ago, reeling off six wins in eight games to make the Region 3-AAAA championship game against Greenbrier. They were ousted by Woodward Academy from the Class AAAA state playoffs in the first round.
Griffin returns the bulk of that squad for this season, led by outfielder Dylan Scott and pitcher Zach Dotson. An injury kept Scott, a Middle Georgia College signee, sidelined for most of the Rebels’ playoff run last year.
“We’re excited to have most everybody healthy,” Griffin said. “To have everybody ready to play is exciting. Hopefully we can keep everybody healthy. That’s part of baseball season — you have to be able to deal with little injuries here and there. The key to it is having some depth.”
That’s one thing Griffin expects to have this year.
“This is the first year we feel like we’ve got a little more depth,” he said.
Dotson, a junior left-hander, has added 15 pounds. He likely will be the Rebels’ No. 1 starter. Josh Moreland and Scott will follow in the rotation. Evan Jarman, out with an illness to start the season, could join the starting staff once he gets back to full health.
“This is our first year being able to have a three-man rotation,” Griffin said. “Moreland did a great job last year stepping up and giving us quality innings.”
While the rotation is set, it may be a couple of weeks before Griffin settles on a lineup. There are position battles across the diamond. D.J. Collins, the starter at catcher in 2007, is one of three capable Rebels backstops.
“I’m looking forward to the first two weeks to see where everybody is going to fit in and what their role is going to be this season,” he said.
The first two weeks of the season ought to be a trial by fire for the Rebels. Effingham will play Luella, Starr’s Mill, Camden, Lowndes, Camden and Savannah Christian before opening region play.
“I feel like having a tougher schedule is going to prepare us for what we get to face when we have to play better teams at the end of the year,” Griffin said. “We’ve got a lot of people in our region who are pretty good.”
Statesboro may have the best pitching staff in the region. Greenbrier boasts lefty Nolan Belcher, one of the state’s top prospects, and is the two-time defending state champ. Ware County and Wayne County are expected to be strong, as are Glynn Academy and Brunswick.
“You’re looking at three or four teams that are going to have some strong pitching,” Griffin said. “Glynn and Brunswick are no joke. Wayne always hits the ball. I expect it to come down to the end, again.”
The depth and strength of the region also make Griffin hesitant to think about a return trip to the state playoffs.
“We just try to take it one step at a time,” he said. “If we were looking past the region, we would be making a big mistake.”
Griffin does like the direction he’s got the program going in, with state playoff appearances in two of the previous three seasons.
“I do, I really do,” he said. “I like the way the team has come out and approached practice. They’ve done everything I’ve asked. They’re putting forth the effort into it.
“The last three weeks have been a long three weeks that have flown by, too. We feel like we’re ready to play somebody else.”