The Loudon High School Redskins baseball team unofficially kicked off the season on a high note Saturday by defeating the Harriman High School Blue Devils 6-3 in an exhibition game at home.
“I thought that the majority of the guys at the beginning pitched really well, came out and commanded the strike zone, which is nice,” Jason Lambert, LHS head baseball coach, said. “About this time, though, pitching is a little bit ahead of hitting — that’s typically what we see, especially early on in the preseason.”
Lambert believes the offense needs to take another step before the start of the season in two weeks. The varsity squad played the first seven innings, and junior varsity finished out the final three.
“I think we need to have a lot more competitive at-bats, that’s the biggest thing,” he said. “Offensively, there’s not a lot of positives other than the fact we had like nine stolen bases. We accomplished our quality-at-bat goal, which was to get 18 quality at-bats in the first seven innings, which was good. There was a lot of swings and misses and a lot of looking strikeouts, and that’s got to change for guys to be able to help us compete on a daily basis. I thought our young guys, our junior varsity that came in, had a great three innings, just a couple of hiccups here and there, but I was really happy with our guys.”
Junior pitcher Trey Willis commanded the mound and showed off his big arm as the team’s starting pitcher. Willis will be tasked a team leader this season following the departure of six talented seniors.
“Yeah, I’m probably just trying to be a leader to the young ones, teaching the young ones how to persevere and play ball either way,” he said. “Even if we’re as good as we were last year or not, I mean, just showing them what I can do and how good it can be and just try to live up to the expectations.”
Willis backed up All-State pitcher Nathan Hickman last year and flashed ability with his 6-foot-4 frame exploding off the rubber. He spent time in the offseason working on speed and mechanics.
Willis, Jacob Mallory and Cade Smith will be three of the team’s go-to pitchers in place of Hickman, Brody Bingham and Jackson Duncan.
“Trying to throw a little faster and my mechanics, just trying to get better,” Willis said. “I mean, we’re going to have to actually play more smart baseball, play with more IQ. I mean, it’s not going to be easy fun and games this year, we’re going to have to work for it this year, and I think that’s what makes us better this year.”
The Redskins, along with many other teams in Tennessee, have struggled to find practice time outside due to weather.
“We’re not the only ones dealing with the mishaps of the weather, but we’ve been having good indoor practices,” Lambert said. “I think we’ve been on the field maybe four times since before today. It seems like every time we get the field dry or ready, it rains within the next two days. ... We just roll with the punches, do what we can and keep our guys working hard in the gym. I think we’ve got good hitting workouts, we’ve got some pretty good programs in design and we’re keeping up with our guys and bullpens. When we’re in the gym, we spend a lot of time teaching, so we’ll have more time to be able to work on some of the intricacies of the game.”
The Redskins are coming off one of the most successful seasons in program history, following a trip to the Class 2A state tournament and two first-place finishes in the District 5-2A and Region 3-3A tournaments.
Lambert believes his team will tout “more consistency” but will still be relatively young.
“Defensively, we’ve still got a great defensive nine that we can put out there on the field, and I knew that we were going to have some quality arms and we showed that today that we’ve got guys that can go out there and pitch big games,” he said. “We’ve also got guys that didn’t get to throw today that will be equally successful as the ones that did today, so I’m really happy about that. We’ve got to take some big steps hitting, even from last year. We lose a lot, but we’ve still got to take bigger steps. We’re not going to be satisfied if we can’t meet a better expectation of offensive production.”
Loudon is expected to finish in the top half of the District 5-2A standings, if not compete for the championship again.
“It depends on our effort and attitude, that’s about it,” Willis said.
“We had the impression that the district should come through us, I mean, that’s what we tell our guys every day that it’s important that they view themselves and train as if that they can get through district and set themselves up for success in the postseason,” Lambert added. “We’ve got a lot of weeks of baseball between now and then, so we’re just preparing for tomorrow. We’ll get our guys ready for Florida for spring break.”
The Redskins will kick off the season March 9-12 with a four-game tournament in Panama City, Fla.