Hornets bring strong core back to field

Feb. 18—HUNTSVILLE — Coming off a season where Huntsville got its first playoff win in 13 years, the Hornets bring a strong core back to the field.

The Hornets will bring back three of their top pitchers from last season in senior Luke Durham, Collin Sanders and Jackson Batten. Huntsville also returns senior Cooper Molnes in the outfield and at the plate.

However, after graduating eight seniors last year, the Hornets have a split of guys with experience and guys who have just been called up.

"We have a lot of guys who have a lot of varsity experience and we are going to roll out some young guys to get some work in to see where we are," Huntsville head coach Justin Jennings said. "We don't have a lot of depth on the mound so we have to roll some guys out."

Durham brings back a big arm for the Hornets on the mound. Last season he led the team with 48.1 innings pitched where he got the ball for 11 starts and two relief outings. He boasted a record of 5-5 and had an ERA of 5.18. Of the 238 batters he faced, he struck out 51 while walking 29. Durham also collected the win in Huntsville's playoff win last season.

As Durham will have a lot of momentum on the mound, he will be joined by two other seniors in Sanders and Batten.

Sanders will also fill the role of the Hornets' second baseman when he is not on the mound in relief. He would see 13 appearances on the mound last year with one start. Batten would get the nod for 16 and 1/3rd innings where he would sometimes struggle to find his groove, but has the chance to turn things around.

"We've got three seniors who have thrown quite a bit," Jennings said. "Those three guys have thrown quite a bit for us these last three years. We have a lot of experience with those guys. District wise we aren't really concerned because we know those three are going to give us a chance against anybody... We are just looking for some other guys to step up in the first three weeks of tournaments."

Huntsville's roster contains 16 members, with eight seniors. The other eight are made up of three juniors, four sophomores and one freshman.

"We are starting with a lot of young guys this season but if we can get our chemistry going, it will work out," Durham said. "We have to get these guys ready for a varsity baseball season."

The good thing with the baseball season is the Hornets have three tournaments and their opening game to determine what works best for them once district kicks in.

Defense for the Hornets lost key members but has others to fill their shoes. Huntsville graduated center fielder Caleb Cotton, who is now playing at Sam Houston but has filled the role with Molnes, who doesn't have the same speed but is close.

Sophomore Austin Taylor is another member that is expected to bring some athleticism to the field when the Hornets need him.

"This is not a knock on any of the previous clubs, but this is the best defense we've had since I got here," Jennings said. "We have a lot of athleticism and our outfield is very fast. We were able to replace Caleb with a guy who is almost as quick. Defensively, I like where we are early."

While the team is looking to be strong defensively, their offense will have some kinks to work out. Batten returns with a .368 average from last season, but the next six for average hitters are no longer with the team.

Sanders was the next best average as he batted a .260 in his 73 at-bats. The Hornets also struck out 198 times as a team last year.

"We returned several starters but there are some spots that will see some guys competing against one another," Jennings said. "It's either guys with a lot of experience or guys without a lot of experience. We will roll out some different combinations and lineups to try and find what works best for us. We are switching five or six guys in the lineup. We just need to get some guys to get into pressure situations."

The schedule for Huntsville is rather favorable this season. Huntsville will start its season on the road with a matchup at Montgomery. Once tournament season stops, Huntsville wi;l play 9 of their 15 games at Kate Barr Ross Park.

"We've played pretty well at home," Jennings said. "We won a home playoff game last year and that was huge for us. Our crowds have gotten better and at times they have been a difference-maker for us. I think it's key for our kids."

Now, Huntsville will try and make the postseason for the third consecutive year under Jennings as they come off a playoff win. Fans will get their first look of the team at home on March 14 as the Hornets will face Lufkin at KBR.

The only thing left is to play baseball.

"Everybody knows what baseball has been like here but we are just trying to take the next step, " Jennings said. "We've made back-to-back playoff appearances and now we are looking to win a bi-district round and see what happens. We are prepared and have the guys to do it."

"I want to see how far we can go with this new year," Durham said. "I like the momentum from last year and I want to keep it rolling into this season. It would be nice to come out with a district championship to put at the new stadium."