, Muskogee, OK


February 26, 2013

PHOENIX PREP BASEBALL PREVIEW: Champs at the forefront

1. Hilldale

Hunter Harrison is about to become the hunted, along with his Hilldale teammates.

No matter the holes — there are a few — to fill, they’ve got the state championship banner and trophy, and opponents know this.

The Kings of Sting need to be ready.

“Definitely,” he said. “We’re going to have to go out there and expect a war every day. We’re going to get the best from everybody we face and we’ll have to be ready to give it back.”

It’s a situation he’s familiar with.

Harrison (12-1, 1.58 ERA) won five playoff games including a four-hit, 2-1 victory over Berryhill in the  Class 4A title game, and leads a core of returning starters that includes speedy center fielder Miles Jackson (.341, 5 triples) and left fielder Scott Rodden to go along with the middle of the Hornets infield – shortstop Colby Mullens and second baseman Matthew Bargsten.

“He leads by example in the way he plays,” Riddle said. “You can’t say enough about what he did for us in the postseason and he followed that with a good summer and he’s going to determine a lot of our success this year.”

With Jackson and Rodden in the outfield and the middle of the infield set, the defense Riddle puts on the field is solid. 

“We’ve got some holes to fill but we’re going to put the work in needed to get there,” said Jackson.

The biggest question is at catcher and plugging the middle of an offense that lost its 3, 4, 5 and 9-hole hitters from 2012.

One of those missing is Jarrard  Poteete, the MVP of the All-Phoenix team and a four-year starter behind the plate.  Still competing for that spot is a couple of freshmen – Isaac Isham, who worked there on the Hornets’ summer team, and Aaron Sanders – and Seth Hurd, a junior, who is recovering from a broken wrist.

“We lost a lot of offense and that’s definitely a place we’ll miss Jarrard,” Riddle said. “His experience behind the plate is something we can’t replace either. We call the pitches from the dugout so it’s not a game-management thing as much as it is having an arm that gets the attention of baserunners and keeps the pitcher from having to worry about that. The kids we’ve got competing have that, they just don’t have the experience at this level.”

The one most likely to be affected by this is Harrison, along with Deven Riede, at this point perhaps the No. 2 arm.

“With Jarrard, you knew there was never a doubt if he came out there and wanted something done with a batter or in any situation, whether it was a pitch or not, you knew he knew what needed to be done,” Harrison said. “These guys will get there with experience. But where Jarrard was also the vocal leader out there, when I’m on the field I know, especially being a senior, that’s going to be a role I need to fill.”

Overall, there’s enough pieces in place to keep the Hornets in the conversation for a possible repeat championship.

“By the time we have to start thinking about playoffs, I’m hoping we are,” Riddle said. “But we’re going to be young in a lot of places to start and that’s going to show for awhile.”

That would somewhat fit in with last year’s pattern. The Hornets finished the year winning 13 of 14 to end at 27-7.

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