David Tilton feels people might discount this Beaufort High School baseball team.
The Eagles did not make the playoffs last season, lost pitcher Beau Brown and another solid bat in Kyle Dawson. But Beaufort High returns a lot, including its infield, catcher/do-it-all senior Weber Pike and some new arms first-year coach Scott Mullen is excited about.
And Tilton, the Eagles' slugger and No. 1 starting pitcher, feels the team is on the correct path.
"Coach Mullen has come in here and set some standards for us to know that this Beaufort High program, we've got a certain level of expectations we've got to meet," Tilton said. "We've been working hard so far."
Beaufort High finished below .500 in Region 8-AAAA in 2011. The region success will determine whether the Eagles earn a Class 4-A playoff berth. But Mullen said there will be no special formula for how the season unfolds, that he will pitch the same guys and let the schedule unfold without throwing too much weight to region games.
The Eagles' league schedule starts Saturday with Summerville. Tilton, who threw Monday's season-opening victory versus Battery Creek, should be ready in time to face the Green Wave.
Mullen said the Eagles will treat Wednesday's game at Stratford as if it's any other.
"We're going to go right at them like it was a region game," Mullen said. "We're not going to save anybody. I'm not determining my pitching as far as who we're playing. Right now, we're trying to win the next game."
Austin Willis-Green will throw Wednesday. The rotation also will include Carson Gregory, who Mullen said could throw Friday at Hilton Head High.
The Eagles' bullpen will include Mitchell Stewart, Mark Jones, Luke Smith, Tony Nolan and Joel Fickes. Mullen said he liked Fickes in a closer's role, but that he also might start games as the season progresses. Nolan, as the only left-hander, is expected to make a lot of appearances.
Mullen, a former professional pitcher, said he has stressed to Eagles pitchers the importance of pounding the strike zone. He said he liked Tilton's performance Monday.
"Everything I've seen here in the past is good stuff, but way too many walks, and you're killing your team," Mullen said. "Our biggest thing is to go up there and not be afraid to pitch to contact."
With new bat restrictions imposed by the S.C. High School League, throwing strikes becomes less scary. Mullen said the Eagles have worked extensively on bunting and moving runners, that Beaufort High can hit for power but would be better served manufacturing runs at times.
The road back to the Class 4-A playoffs could be paved with small ball.
"It's just basic baseball right now," Mullen said.
BASEBALL TEAM PREVIEWS
Coach: Dan Tooman (Fifth year, 37-48)
2011 record: 4-6 Region 7-AAA
Notable losses: CF/SS/P Joe Fields, INF CJ Jenkins
Top returning players: 3B/P Shane Dixon (.388 avg., 2 HR), OF Rusty Willman (.382 avg.), 3B/P Shane Goude (.310, 5 CG), SS Thomas Smith (.315 avg.)
Key newcomers: C/INF Clyde Parker, OF Dustin Spurlock
Coach's prognosis: "This year's team has more depth and talent across the board than in years past," Tooman said. "The key to our success will be the players' ability to gel and play as a team as opposed to individuals. Our pitching staff will be our greatest asset, as we return our top three starters and top three relief pitchers. We play in a tough region and intend to compete for both a region title and top four seed for playoffs."
Coach: Scott Mullen (First year)
2011 record: 3-5 Region 8-AAAA, no playoff game
Notable losses: P/OF Beau Brown, OF Kyle Dawson
Top returning players: C/INF Weber Pike (.385, 17 RBIs, 9 2B), P/INF David Tilton (.382, 20 RBIs), INF Mark Jones (.373, 18 RBIs), INF Alex Silon (.370, 2 HR), INF Mitchell Stewart (17 R, 6 SB), OF/P Joel Fickes (2.00 ERA, 6 W, 37 K), OF/P Luke Smith, OF Tony Nolan, Zach Brown, Austin Willis-Green, Carson Gregory
Key newcomers: Ben Vaigneur, Stephen Baggett, Rob Dennis, Matt Thorpe, Jake Snider
Coach's prognosis: "If we pitch well, play defense well and stay focused on fundamental baseball at the plate, good things will happen," Mullen said.
Coach: Bryant Kitty (Eighth year, 102-79)
2010-11 record: 15-13, 5-5 Region 7-AAA, lost in fourth round of Lower State District Tournament
Notable losses: P/OF Ryan Ward, C Hunter VanGeison, C Kyle Wamsley, OF Travis Ramsey, P B.J. Kitty
Top returning players: 2B/OF Tucker Mosley (.234 avg., 10 RBIs), 3B Michael Grant (.333 avg., 12 RBIs), SS/OF/P Khalil Mitchell (.257 avg., 15 RBIs)
Coach's prognosis: "I think we will surprise a lot of teams this year," coach Bryant Kitty said. "Our players have been working hard and we are looking forward to the 2012 season."
Hilton Head Christian Academy
Coach: Danny Morgan (Second year, 4-15)
2010-11 record: 4-15, 1-7 SCISAA Region 3-AAA
Notable losses: None
Top returning players: INF Kevin Campbell (.313 avg.), INF/P Luke Higgs (.313 avg.), INF/P Andrew Halley (.213, 12 RBIs), OF JD Reichel, OF Reese Dolyniuk (.286 avg., 9 RBIs), INF/P Lincoln Fuller (.227 avg.), INF Alec Westmark (.333 avg.)
Key newcomers: C/P George Tesoniero (transfer from Hilton Head High), INF/OF/P Caleb Workman
Coach's prognosis: "As long as our defense can handle the baseball, we will be able to compete with the best teams in SCISA," coach Danny Morgan said.
Coach: Chris Staton (Sixth year, 19-34)
2011 record: 2-14
Notable losses: P/OF Brandon Blackshear, C/SS Paul Habersham, C/OF Terrell Knighton
Top returning players: P/CF Charlie Morrison-Ford (.370 avg.), DH/3B Primos Life (.393 avg., 2 HR), UTIL Amar Wilkins (.364 avg., 17 SB), P/SS/3B Ransom Dunham (.260 avg., 5 SB), OF Gavin Bush (.273 avg.)
Key newcomers: P/UTIL Phillip Harris, C Shawn Wilson
Coach's prognosis: "I am really looking forward to seeing this group take the field together as a team," Staton said. "We have developed and defined our roles as players and have a better overall understanding of the game. We have improved in all areas of the game, from simply the routine plays in the field, to taking a good aggressive approach at the plate and to noticing the little things it takes to scratch out a win. I think the team really wants to get back into the playoffs and make a run at being a state competitor once we are in."
Hilton Head Island High
Coach: Chris Wells (14th year, 245-116)
2010-11 record: 20-10, 6-4 Region 7-AAA. Finished as district champions and advanced to the Lower State bracket.
Notable losses: INF Charlie Wilkins, C Ethan Olliff, INF Collin Stokes, OF Desmond Bush, P Mike Vaniska, P Jeff Lauderdale, P Sean Bartlett, P Nic Levy, P Matt Brown
Top returning players: INF Kevin Hickey (.410 avg. 32 RBIs), INF Storm Grisham (.364, 28 RBIs), C Brandon Johnson (.333 avg.), OF Caleb Martin (.228 avg.), OF Adam Orischak (.314 avg., 26 RBIs), OF Michael Haven (.353 avg., 21 RBIs), P/INF Cameron Stoltz (.286 avg.)
Key newcomers: IF Aaron Facenda, UT Carlos Pecero, P Andrew Dill, P/INF Jake Kizer, P Mat Clark
Coach's prognosis: "If our pitching continues to progress, we should have a shot to compete for the region title this spring," coach Chris Wells said.
Hilton Head Prep
Coach: Lew Kent (First year)
2010-11 record: 15-10 overall, 5-3 region
Notable losses: P Patrick Andreews, Matt Layman
Top returning players: P/INF Dylan Powell (.427, 9 HR, 36 RBIs), Patrick Briody (.419 avg., 27 RBIs), Marcus Hindall (.290 avg.), John Sheehan (.379 avg.)
Coach's prognosis: "The Dolphins are retooling around the loss of Patrick Andrews and Matt Layman," coach Lew Kent said. "With only two seniors and one junior, the Dolphins will be extremely young."
Thomas Heyward Academy
Coach: Nic Shuford (78-49)
2010-2011 record: 17-7
Notable losses: Logan Mock
Top returning players: P/CF Ryan Day .577, 40 RBIs, 5 HR), SS Taylor Cowart (.413 avg.), 1B/P Joe Laycock (.347 avg.), P/3B Zack Newton (.237 avg.), Dylan Crosby, P Will Richardson, RF Bryan Lee Wade (.383 avg.), Forrest Richardson (.382 avg.), Evan Duncan (.308 avg.)
Coach's prognosis: "This year's goals are to win the conference championship and make a run at a state championship," Shuford said.
Coach: Dean Hawkins (Second year, 10-10)
2011 record: 10-10 overall, 9-5 Region 5-A, 1-2 playoffs
Notable losses: None
Top returning players: OF/P Ty Fields (2-1 record, 5.43 ERA, .396 avg.), INF/P Danny Makowski (4-3, 4.47 ERA, .325 avg.), OF/P Dee Delaney (1-0, 3.99 ERA, .467 avg.), P/1B Jay Delaney (3-3 record, 4.12 ERA, .412 avg.), OF Jamel Brown (.298 avg.), C Timmy Campbell (.310 avg.)
Key newcomers: P/3B Malik Fields
Coach's prognosis: "Overall we feel good about our team," Hawkins said. "We have good team speed on the bases and the kids have great chemistry with each other. Many of the kids have known each other for many years and we have some brothers and cousins on the team. Pitching should be a strong suit for us and a key will be getting our big left-hander, Jay Delaney, healthy as he is struggling from a shoulder injury suffered over the summer. We expect his twin brother to help with the pitching load until he can return. The key to the season will be making the routine plays. If we're able to do that, we feel we can compete with any team at the Class 1-A level. Our team goal is to win the region and secure a No. 1 seed going into the playoffs."