By Reid Bankston
WATER VALLEY – Entering his fifth year as the head man of Water Valley baseball, Doug Robbins can’t help but be pleased at the prospects for the 2009 season. Behind a versatile group of athletes, the Blue Devils, led by Tank Hervey, Brandon Brooks, and Josh Johnson, look set to launch a serious challenge on a region title in 2009.
The 2008 season marked the first time in three years that the Blue Devils did not win a region title (2A 2005, 3A 2006-2007), falling just short with a 17-9 overall record. However, the bulk of that youthful team is back, now having the experience to match their talent.
On The Mound
There’s no way around it, winning championships in baseball and good a solid pitching rotation go hand in hand. For the Water Valley Blue Devils, seniors Tank Hervey and Brandon Brooks, along with junior Josh Johnson, will lead the rotation for Robbins.
“I don’t know if we really have an ace. We have four or five guys that when they are having their day, I think they can compete with anybody,” said Robbins. “People look at Tank as the ace of our staff, and realistically he may be, but like I said, we have four others who are capable of beating anybody when they get their stuff together.”
Although each of the aforementioned trio is capable of shutting down the opposition on their day, Robbins isn’t naïve enough to think those three can do it alone. Sophomores Drew Pratt, Shonquayle Jenkins, and Walt McCullough will all need to step up in order for this pitching staff to reach its full potential.
“I don’t think we have anybody that will awe you when you see them, but I’m real pleased with how we throw strikes. Overall I’m pretty pleased with where we are right now,” said Robbins. “Of course that’s an area (pitching) that you have to progressively get better throughout the year.
In Water Valley’s jamboree, the Blue Devil pitching staff showed its potential, as Hervey handcuffed the Lafayette Commodores in a 6-1 victory in four innings, while Johnson neutralized Southaven for a large portion of his outing. If Water Valley is to reach their full potential, Robbins and the rest of his staff will have to get more of the same from the top end of his rotation.
In The Field
Former Major League Pitcher Earl Wilson once said, “A baseball game is simply a nervous breakdown divided into nine innings.” For teams who don’t take care of the fielding aspect of the game, I imagine they share that exact feeling. However, with the wealth of athletes at their disposal, Robbins expects fielding to be a strength of his team.
“I hate to use the word potential, but potentially we could be really good defensively. We’ve had to move a couple of people around for offensive reasons, but I’m really pleased at where we are defensively,” said Robbins. “D.C. Logan is a new addition and he covers it well in the outfield. Tank (Hervey), Chris (Gaston), and Walt (McCullough) will be out there, so that’s guys who have some experience and know how to play out there. Brandon Brooks (third base), Josh Johnson (shortstop), Shonquayle Jenkins (second base), and Drew Pratt (first base) pretty much round out the infield and we’re expecting J.D. Fondon to handle behind the plate for us.”
While Robbins said his team could be lacking in depth, he was quick to point out the growth of Taylor King in the off-season. King could find time at third during Brooks’ outings on the mound.
At The Plate
Arguably the most versatile aspect of the Blue Devils’ game is at the plate. Josh Johnson and Tank Hervey proved against Lafayette that Water Valley doesn’t lack the long ball, as each recorded a homerun last Saturday, and that the Blue Devils can manufacture runs as well. Although they are capable of scoring runs in mass, Robbins knows that ultimately, playing small ball might be the best route to a championship.
“Most of our guys handle the bat really well from a small game stand point; we’ve probably got more speed this year than we’ve ever had,” said Robbins. “The opposing pitchers will dictate the game and we’ve got some really good pitchers in this district. When Ackerman’s number one is on the mound, you’re not going to score eight or nine runs and Hamilton has a real strong staff as well.”
The top of the Blue Devil lineup will be occupied by Johnson and Brooks, arguably the team’s most competent hitters, while Hervey, Pratt, and Jenkins, will look to produce runs in the middle of the lineup. The speed of Gaston and Logan could prove to be a big problem for opposing defenses.