Patriots hope for strong finish and playoff berth
By David Shelton
Estill – Competing in the toughest SCISA class A baseball region in the state has its share of positives and negatives.
On the positive side, the schedule is competitive and there is ample opportunity to make your team better and more prepared for postseason play.
On the negative side, with the new SCISA playoff rules in place or 2017, playing in the best region may prevent a playoff caliber team from making the playoffs at all.
This spring, SCISA has opted to trim the state playoff field in half, cutting the list of playoff participants from 16 to eight. This move was mostly due to the change in pitching rules with pitch counts being used this spring.
So, four region champions will make the playoffs, along with four at-large teams. That means, depending on who and how the at-large berths are determined, a pretty good team from a strong conference could be left out.
Patrick Henry’s baseball program is in a precarious situation this spring. The Patriots appear to be clearly one of the top teams in class A, along with fellow region members Dorchester Academy and Holly Hill Academy. It is likely those three teams will make up the top three in the final region standings.
Patrick Henry enters April 5th with a 5-3 region mark, 8-5 overall. The Patriots have split with Holly Hill but were swept by Dorchester Academy. A 9-8 loss to Dorchester on April 4th slipped the Patriots into third-place. Patrick Henry has five regular season games remaining – two region and three non-region. Winning out would enhance Patrick Henry’s chances of earning a playoff berth.
“I believe we are definitely a playoff team,” head coach Blake Hodge said. “How it pans out in the end, I don’t have a clue. But I think we’re a quality team in a very good region. Some of the other regions are not nearly as strong at the top. It is what it is. Hopefully we can finish strong and find a way in, if they take three teams from our region.”
Despite some defensive issues at times, Hodge feels his 2017 Patriots are as capable as any team he has coached.
“When we play well, we can compete and play with any team in the state,” Hodge said. “Our biggest issue in some of our losses has been defense. We made nine errors in the 9-8 loss to Dorchester. We still make too many mental and physical errors defensively. We are fairly consistent at the plate so our ability to score some runs has helped us.”
Sophomore Kennedy Fairey has been the team’s most productive player this season. Fairey is not only the ace of the pitching staff but also is hitting .571 while leading the team in RBI’s and stolen bases.
Adding to the pitching staff are junior Batten Bostick, sophomore Garrett Griner and freshman Kyle Jarrell. Senior Alex Jones was expected to be a major part of the pitching staff but has missed the entire season to date with an injury sustained in basketball. Jones could possibly return for mound duty if the team makes the playoffs.
“Kennedy has been spot on as our ace and the other guys have been pretty consistent overall,” Hodge said. “Alex would have been a major help and if he can get back late, he would be a big addition.”
Defensively, Bostick starts at third and Fairey is at shortstop. Griner starts at second base while Jarrell is the starting catcher.
Senior Reeves Altman is a veteran and proven hitter at first base. Senior Gill Griner starts in left field while senior Mitchell Hanna starts in center. Sophomore William Cone is working in right.
“We’re more of a small ball team offensively, manufacturing runs when we can,” Hodge said. “The team has bought into that style and they really work hard at it. It’s a selfless group, which makes them a real pleasure to coach.
“This group has a great attitude. They are a true definition of a team. They like each other and they play well together. I enjoy being around them every day.”