There’s no way around it. Bad weather will hamper spring sports teams’ pre-season preparations. Before the mid-February maladies struck, the Horatio baseball team’s early training was rolling right along.
“The big thing is we have been able to work,” said Lion coach Stephen Sprick. “We were able to compete on the field in January. That doesn’t happen very often.”
The Lions have been in the weight room daily, but have also been able to get on the field most days. They even held a scrimmage where Sprick was able to get a look at the younger players under game like conditions. “Our ninth grade group has really been impressive,” he said.
Freshmen were set to play major roles last year before Covid 19 caused the closure of the state’s schools. Sprick has a tentative lineup that projects three sophomores and a freshman mixed in with juniors and seniors.
Sophomore Case Davis returns at first base. “He’s got to get more consistent,” Sprick said. “He has all the skills a first baseman needs.”
Freshman Grayson Porter is projected at second base. “I like his skill set as a freshman. I have seen him really progress in the last month,” the coach noted.
Another sophomore, Tucker Emerson, is at shortstop. “He is competitive and wants to win,” Sprick said. “He makes difficult plays look easy. I think he can become a special player.”
Senior Blake Pickett has started since his freshman year at third base. “I expect him to bring the leadership qualities that seniors should have,” the coach pointed out.
In left field is senior Lane Moya. “I really like the way he’s worked to have a good senior year,” Sprick observed.
The coach said centerfielder Carson McKiever has grown up through the HHS baseball program. One talent was obvious from the beginning: speed. “He can cover gap to gap. He can run,” Sprick said. “His arm is stronger. I’m really excited for his senior year.”
Junior Landon Willis is in right. “He played a little bit last year. He’s still trying to figure out some of the nuances, but he’s athletic and has a good arm,” said the coach.
Behind the plate will be sophomore Grayson Wright. “He’s got all the tools to be a great catcher,” Sprick said. “Consistency is a big thing with him. When he’s good, everybody knows it.”
When it comes to pitching, a long list of Lions will get innings. At the top of the list is senior Easton Leonard. “He will start as number one. He’s pitched in some big games,” the coach said. “Right now he’s a little banged up. The next couple of weeks will be big for him.”
At least three of the infielders will pitch at some time. “Porter has been impressive. He has three pitches. He needs to get more comfortable with his changeup,” Sprick said.
“Davis is a lefty. He keeps the ball down and gets lots of ground balls. Tucker is working on throwing more strikes, but he’s got good stuff.”
The bonus for Horatio is that Leonard can play anywhere in the infield when someone else is pitching.
“McKiever will eat innings for us. Jace Hankins and Dalton Dowell with get their innings. Lane Moya can pitch as well,” the coach noted.
The Lions will need all the depth they can find in conference play. Horatio’s baseball conference is the same as the basketball conference. In the southern segment are the Lions’ old rivals Dierks and Murfreesboro. The northern part of the league brings two more traditionally strong teams in Magnet Cove and Poyen. “There are five good teams in the conference,” Sprick said. “One pretty good team won’t go to regional.”
Horatio is set to host the AA South regional tournament, where the competition is fierce year after year. “I think it’s the best tournament in the state,” said the Lion coach.
“I like our depth. I feel like we have a lot of quality players. We got 19 on the roster, 19 who want to be here,” he said. “We want to get out there and play.”
Before the season starts, the Lions will take in a college game. The Horatio community has made it possible for the Lions to go to Arlington, Tex., and watch Arkansas and Texas play.