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WATER VALLEY – The Blue Devil baseball team opened their season on Tuesday, facing Houston.
The official home opener followed weekend action when Head Coach Jeb Lee got his first glimpse of his team during Saturday’s jamboree with a four-inning scrimmage against Lafayette and a three-inning scrimmage against South Panola.
“I thought we looked good, especially with the conditions,” Lee said after the weekend’s debut that included snow flurries. “The kids handled the cold weather extremely well, and I’m very proud of the effort and execution.”
Although the scores are secondary during the scrimmage, the 3-1 win over Lafayette and the 1-1 tie with South Panola is part of the story of the team. Lee explained that the shortened games provide opportunities to give players a chance to try different things.
Lee said that he was happy with the results and that he believes the team played well against solid competition.
The coach noted that the Blue Devils have a deep roster this season and even though he had his starting lineup ready for Tuesday’s game, it will likely be tweaked in games ahead.
“I told the kids it wouldn’t be shocking if in first six games, we have six different lineups,” Lee explained.
Pitching and defense are expected to be the key strengths this season. Pitchers Brady Hill and Andrew Peysinger showed their potential on the mound during the jamboree.
“He worked around some danger against South Panola,” Lee added about freshman Tyler Richardson, who also saw action. “I’m very pleased with him.”
Lee also noted that Ethan Hyde will be a solid reliever.
Dre McCray did not pitch in the jamboree, Lee planned to start him in Tuesday’s game against Houston.
Marion Morgan, McCray, Steven Crawford and Brady Hill all had promising turns at the plate, although the team did not have many at-bats during the jamboree.
Lee expected Houston to be a strong competitor, explaining the Hilltoppers have a strong program year after year with multiple state championships.
“As far as our team goes, our expectations are through the roof. I expect us to have a chance to really make a run at this,” Lee reported about the upcoming season. His team is returning roughly eight starters.
“Our defense is pretty much intact. I am excited about our leadership and, of course, Dre McCray is one of them. There haven’t been too many things that he has not seen when he is on the field,” Lee noted.
A new addition to the coaching staff is Matt Wolfenbarger, of Batesville. Wolfenbarger was the former head coach for Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, a program he started. Cole Camp, a former Blue Devil, also serves as an assistant coach.
“He brings a lot of youthful energy, which is what we need. I love that about him,” Lee noted about Camp.
Lee is confident that the new competition his team will face in conference play will be good for his players. The Blue Devils are competing in Division 1-3A, following redistricting. The division includes four perennial powerhouses in the north half of the state.
“We will see future college players every Tuesday and Friday,” Lee added about the talent from rival competitors with players already committed to play at the next level.
The Blue Devils will also face tough non-division competition during the season, including the opening week where they will see 4A, 5A and 6A competition for their first three games.
After the game against Houston, a 4A team, on Feb. 15; next on the schedule is a trip to Cleveland Central, a team that finished one game shy of making it to the north half in 5A competition last year. The opening week ends with a trip to face South Panola Tigers, a 6A team.
“There is a lot of exciting baseball to come,” Lee said. “One of our goals is to win 20 games again. Even with the schedule that we have, I feel like that is a goal that is achievable. We have a chance to do some special things that haven’t been done in a long time,” Lee said.