Gilmer splits doubleheader

by Robbie Bills

Building consistency will be key for the Gilmer Bobcat baseball team.

A year removed from replacing most of their lineup, while depending on first-year underclassmen to start at the varsity level, coach Jim Plouffe is looking for the Bobcats to improve in several facets of the game.

“Last year it always came down to an inning, and we weren’t mentally tough to hang with other teams for a complete game,” he said. “We need to get over that mental hump. If we do that, we’ll be OK. We’ve just been young. (Opposing team’s) older players put pressure on you. They hit the ball hard, then they’ve got runners on base and pitch counts go up. Then we don’t throw it over the plate because we’re scared of giving up a home run. We want to build some consistency, finish games and avoid bad innings.”

There are 50 total players in the program. In addition to the varsity and junior varsity teams, Plouffe added a C-team this season, which is open to eighth-graders. For the first time in his three seasons at the helm, Plouffe had to cut players following tryouts.

“I want us to get experience so we can build something. I want to get the snowball rolling. If we can do that and get some momentum, it’ll carry these young kids who are coming through, because we’ve got some players in that eighth-grade group,” said Plouffe. 

The Bobcats spent the offseason hitting on their own at the indoor batting facility beside the softball field at Mountain View Elementary, and later began two-on-one instruction with a coach leading up to the start of official practices Jan. 19.

“We’ve always had to come out in the cold weather and hit outside,” Plouffe said of recent seasons. “Now, kids can hit inside and get 200 swings a day, and that adds up. There are a lot of kids in that junior class with tremendous bat speed.”

He added, “Baseball is a slow process. There’s such a high skill level and in high school everything is much faster. You’ve got to have kids that love the game and stick with it. This year’s junior class experienced trial by fire last year. They were thrown in there.”

Gilmer returns six position players, as well as all but one pitcher from last season’s 6-18 team. The defensive alignment will vary depending on who is pitching. Junior Chad Watkins’ offseason surgery has affected the defense as well. Once Watkins returns, he will play center field.

To begin the season, the middle infield has been first-year varsity starters, junior Dylan Hatcher at shortstop, and sophomores Chandler Sutton and Drew Healan have split time at second base. Noah Ralston started at second last year and will move to third base for his junior season. Freshman McKendley Chadwick will play first, but could also see time in right field. Senior Noah Wilson has played center field in Watkins’ absence when senior Garret Rigdon is on the mound. Junior Avery Sirmans will return behind the plate as the Bobcats’ catcher.

In the outfield from left to right will be returning varsity letter winners, junior Dalton Stephens, Rigdon and senior Chris James. Stephens played third base a season ago while James played both first base and right field.

Pitchers will be comprised of senior Mayson Carver, Rigdon, Chadwick, Stephens and Healan, as well as freshman Brooks Rosser. According to Plouffe, it is uncertain if Watkins will be able to pitch once he returns to the lineup. 

“We’re going to throw it over the plate, let them hit it and play good defense,” Plouffe said of the Bobcats’ approach. “Gilmer’s always had a good defense. Our problem has been hitting the ball and pitching. Hopefully, the hitting is going to come through. We have a lot of coachable players in the program. Up and down the lineup, we have kids that will battle. We don’t have anyone who will hit the ball over the fence, but they’ll battle at the plate.”

The region is no longer subdivided, and the schedule will not consist of three-game series versus one opponent over the course of each week. This season, Gilmer will play each team twice, and opponents will vary throughout the week.

“It’s back to where we were a couple of years ago,” Plouffe said of the schedule change. “Everyone has to play home and away. What you have to do is be consistent, and hope someone else knocks someone off and upsets them. We want to make the playoffs and have a post season. By the end of the year, we want to make sure we’re not making silly mistakes. We have good leadership. We just want to continue to improve.”

Joining Plouffe on the coaching staff are assistants Jeff Thurman, Drew Owens, Bill Sizemore and Andy Marinelli. Thurman will coach the junior varsity and C-team. 

Weather washes away early season

Inclement weather led to the postponement or cancellation of six baseball games this season.?After falling to River Ridge (6-2) in a scrimmage game Feb. 12, the Bobcats were back in action Monday to begin the regular season with a doubleheader against the Dawson County Tigers.

Gilmer lost the first game 2-1. GHS left four runners stranded in scoring position, and two innings ended with a base runner caught  between second and third  base for the final out. Both of Dawson’s runs were unearned. Ralston scored GHS’ lone run after he reached on a single and eventually scored on a throwing error.

The Bobcats bounced back in game two, 10-9. Carver pitched the final one and 1/3 innings and got the win. Hatcher had three hits and Wilson knocked in three runs. Gilmer hitters combined for four doubles, which was more than the team hit all of last season according to Plouffe. 

“After the first game I think we just got comfortable,” Plouffe said. “We started putting it together. Being as young as we are, we probably came out a little intimidated (in game one). I think we realized we could play with them in the second game.”

The JV defeated White 9-0 at home.
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