Things look much more uncertain for Hillgrove in 2012 as it faces a major rebuilding process after losing 13 seniors, including seven every-day starters from last year’s state runner-up squad
“Obviously, we had a good group that we have lost and now we have a young team,” Hillgrove coach Dave Richardson said. “We had a lot of good kids who played with us for three or four years and are now playing college baseball. We have a lot of new kids and the focus is not so much on replacing the kids we lost, but on bringing the new kids into the lineup.”
It will be a much different Hillgrove team, in more ways than one.
The Hawks will have to replace nearly their entire infield with the departure of stalwarts such as third baseman Ryan Raper, who is now playing at Kennesaw State, first baseman Max Oberkofler and Eric Baguley.
“We lost 80 percent of our infield,” Richardson said. “Our catcher, Michael Adkins, is gone. Max Oberkofler is gone. Eric Baguley is gone. Ryan Raper is gone. Our defense is going to have to be solid.”
Hillgrove will also have to rebuild its pitching staff, with only two arms — senior right-handers Sean O’Leary and Brian Minter — returning.
“Of our top nine guys, only two of them our returning,” Richardson said. “We lost seven quality arms, so we need the younger guys to step up.”
The biggest change for Hillgrove will be at the plate. A power-hitting team that hit 49 home runs last year, the Hawks will be more of a small-ball squad after losing 44 of those 49 homers through graduation.
Also contributing to Hillgrove’s newly-found emphasis on small ball, according to Richardson, is the introduction of the BBCOR bat, which will be used by high school teams this season and is less conducive to power hitting.
“Obviously, we don’t have the power hitters that we had last year, so we’re going to be more of a small ball team,” Richardson said. “We hit 49 home runs last year, but 44 of those have graduated. We also have to adjust to the BBCOR bat. People will not hit as many home runs and the game will go back to speed, bunting, defense and pitching.”
Senior pitcher/infielder Tyler Graham, a Middle Georgia College signee, and senior outfielder Tyler Mauzy (Georgia College and State University) return and will be among those who will provide veteran leadership for the younger Hawks.
The young Hillgrove team will be tested against a tough non-region schedule that includes Class AAAA state champion Marist, AAAAA semifinalist Colquitt County, AAAAA quarterfinalist Brookwood and Mill Creek, the team the Hawks beat in last year’s quarterfinals.
For Richardson, the tough early schedule is a good preparation for the Hawks as they look ahead to competing in a tough Region 4AAAAA.
“It will be a good test for our kids,” Richardson said. “It will give us a good idea of where we’re at, and it will help get us ready for region play. We play in a tough region, with teams like Harrison, Kennesaw Mountain, McEachern South Cobb, and Campbell is supposed to be better, so we can use this kind of early test.”
With such a young and untested team, it’s still too early for Richardson to get an idea where his Hawks are going in 2012.
“Obviously, it’s very early, so time will tell,” Richardson said. “We’ve got to develop an identity. We have a lot of young players that we’re bringing into the lineup, and they will have to develop and grow as players, and that will take some time.”