This isn’t the same Trinity baseball team that won Class 3A state baseball championships in 2012 and 2013. Veteran coach Ken Whittle made that clear on the first day of practice.
“We talked about how last year was last year,” Whittle said. “Nobody cares what you did. All we can focus on is this year. Knowing that when people see us, they’re going to play their best baseball.
“It’s an opportunity for these guys who have been waiting in line for their time. We’re learning ourselves, what we’re capable of doing. Are we a bunting team, are we a hit-and-run team, are we a base-hitting team, are we a home-run hitting team? We’re trying to figure that out. We’re trying to find the right combination so that down the road, we can say this is the combination we feel like we can win with.”
Like the 2012 team that turned its season around at spring break in Gulf Shores and finally grabbed attention by beating area rival LAMP in the second round of the state playoffs, this is a team that flies under the radar. Gone are senior pitchers Brock Stevens, Allen Wood, Tatum Dean and third baseman-turned-closer Will Holland, along with several fielders and their bats.
“It’s going to be a challenge,” senior pitcher Zach Reid said. “I think this team has the talent to get there again, but each year the team is different so we’ve got to find our strengths and be able to play to that. I think we will learn a lot as we go, but we’re a very good fielding team, we’ve got a lot of team speed, we get guys on base. I think we’re an offensive team this year.”
Senior catcher Will Cook, who replaces 2013 senior Zach Walker behind the plate, said the 2014 squad has just three seniors and will spend much of the season searching for the right combination of leaders and contributors.
“We’re similar to the team from two years ago,” Cook said, “because like us, there were only three seniors on that team and were not considered to be the best but we have a lot of heart and a lot of team unity between our senior class and juniors. We’re a very strong defensive team and have weapons on offense. It’s just slow going right now.”
“We’re going to have to, throughout most of the season, rely on how well the juniors step up,” senior outfielder Christopher Hynniman said. “That’s what we’re trying to work toward now, having those juniors move forward and make a step in how well they’re doing.”
The Wildcats will find out a lot about themselves over the course of this week in the Jason Armstrong Memorial tournament, featuring 18 of central Alabama’s best baseball programs.
“It means a lot, that the tournament is named after a man who came from our school,” Hynniman said. “For us, it’s a step toward the region games. How well we do there carries into those region games. That’s one of the big steps we take as a team.”
Trinity will play Charles Henderson (Tuesday), Prattville Christian (Thursday), LAMP (Friday) and Opp (Saturday) this week.
“We’re going to open the tournament with Charles Henderson, the (defending) 4A state champs,” Reid said. “That will be a fun one to play, a fun one to watch for a lot of the fans. We always learn a lot from the FCA tournament, learn who our contenders are on the mound, in the field and at the plate.”
For the Wildcats (2-2), the lessons may come quicker this season. Trinity players may use the spring break tournament in two weeks as a turning point, just as the 2012 team did, but the first gauge will come this week in the Armstrong Memorial tournament.
“With the minimum amount of games we’ve played so far, it’s hard to place everybody where they’re going to be in the long run,” Cook said. “With the tournament coming up, seeing better competition, having to play back to back, it’ll really test everybody on the team. Those who are going to step out and lead on this team will step out in this tournament.”