Sweetwater High School will field a young baseball team when it begins its 2012 season Tuesday at San Angelo Lake View.
Only three seniors — none of whom held a starting spot a year ago — are on the roster. And of the 12 underclassmen, only five either started or got a significant amount of varsity playing time in 2011.
But those five players all earned first- or second-team all-district recognition, and two of them — outfielder Ryan Linebaugh and catcher Sean Morrow — are entering their third year as varsity starters.
Despite the team’s youth, fourth-year coach Roland Herrera says improvement — Sweetwater was 12-16-1 overall and 2-6 in district play last season — is the number one goal. “We want to do better than the previous year’s team,” he said, “and to be better than any team Sweetwater has had. I see a lot of potential.”
With perennial baseball powers Brownwood, Wylie and Snyder in their district, it will be a tough challenge getting to the Class 3A playoffs. However, Herrera is undeterred. “We can’t help who we’re in district with,” he said. “We need to think about turning things around and getting better and better each year. We’re in this district together, so let’s just get out there and play and get after everybody. We’ve got to approach everything with a winning attitude.”
Sweetwater’s only other returning starters this season are first baseman Greg Aiken and outfielder Willie Norman, and there will be a lot of competition for the other spots. The infield candidates are James Clift, Parker Scott and Stephen May at second base; Cole Maxwell, May and Scott at third base; and Dylan Bennett, Clift, May and Gabe Medellin at shortstop. Kaleb Hoover, Brandon Howell, Albert Leija and Gabriel Melendez will compete in the outfield, as will Shawn Campbell at catcher.
Hoover and Medellin are the most experienced retur-ning pitchers from a year ago. However, Herrera said that almost everyone on the team was capable of going to the mound and doing an effective job.
“We’re young, and we are probably lacking in varsity experience,” he admitted. “But we’re counting on these new guys to step in. You want the guys coming in to try and be better than the guy before them, and these kids are competing pretty hard with each other.
“I think our defense overall will be better,” Herrera continued. “I think in pitching, we’ll have more people to go to. I can put a lineup out there and almost everybody we have is a pitcher.”
Herrera said he’s been very impressed with his preseason pitching against Levelland, Fort Stockton, Lake View and Midland Lee. “We’ve used a lot of pitchers and not had very many walks,” he said. “We’re probably way ahead of previous years as far as that.
“With this group, I think everything is key. It will be (getting) clutch hitting and defense. And I think that our pitching will get better once we start facing people who are our size.”