A productive summer of baseball came to an end Friday for Spring Garden when the Panthers split a doubleheader at home against Gaston. The other three play dates were on the road.
“We had a second one scheduled at home with Saks but it got rained out so we ended up playing three away,” Spring Garden baseball coach Tony Benefield said.
The first of the road dates was at Saks where Spring Garden defeated area opponent Coosa Christian and lost to the Class 4A Wildcats. At Rome (Ga.) High, Adairsville (Ga.), another large school, edged Spring Garden 4-3 in a game that ended exactly when the two-hour time limit arrived. A second game that day, against Cass (Ga.), was rained out. In Pell City, Spring Garden scored wins over Victory Christian and Winterboro.
Benefield called the team he expects to put on the field for the 2015 season “the youngest of my tenure” as baseball coach at Spring Garden. The Panthers will be led by two seniors – Dylan Kirk and Andrew McLarty – and just one junior – Chase Jennings. McLarty will be Spring Garden’s most experienced pitcher and will patrol center field when he’s not on the mound. Kirk returns as the starter in right field. Jennings will play in the outfield and may see some time behind the plate. He also has worked on pitching, too.
The bulk of the 2015 squad will be six sophomores and three freshmen. Dawson Broome, Taylor Hardin, Ben Ivey, Dylan Lewis, Joe Rogers and Austin Stordahl will be tenth-graders when school begins in August. Broome will play catcher. Hardin will be the starter at first base and is expected to be one of the top three pitchers. Ivey will handle third base. Lewis will pitch and play left field. He may see some time at second base as well. Rogers is an outfielder and pitcher who stretched out to three innings of work against Gaston. Stordahl has moved to shortstop after spending the second half of the 2014 season at second base.
Freshmen Riley Austin, Elliot Benefield and Austin Finch complete the team and their coach anticipates each will make contributions to the varsity. Austin is working at second base. Benefield will catch and pitch. Finch can play both shortstop and second base.
Over the summer, Stordahl and McLarty had the highest batting averages. Stordahl hit .500 and McLarty .440. McLarty, Hardin and Lewis got the most innings on the mound.
The three seniors on Spring Garden’s 2014 team – Grant Benefield, Will Ivey and Will Westbrook – were the leaders of that team and the last of a really good three-year run of baseball talent at Spring Garden. The success the Panthers enjoyed in June should pay dividends when baseball begins again in 2015.
“It was good to say, ‘Hey, we can win, we can still win. We’re young but we can still win,’” the Panthers’ pilot said. “We got better this summer. That’s what we’ll do next spring, try to get better.”
Spring Garden’s baseball area for the next two seasons will include Cedar Bluff, Coosa Christian and Gaylesville in addition to Spring Garden.
Overall, I was pleased considering all the inexperience,” Benefield said of the summer work. “We must definitely keep working hard developing our pitching if we are to be successful in the spring.”