Coming off the first postseason appearance in 11 years, the Wildcats bring back a solid group this season, and in a new class and slightly different-looking region, are out to make it back. VR coach Jay Sneddon believes the group he has coming back this season will be able to pick up the slack for the four seniors he lost to graduation.
Preseason all-state shortstop and pitcher Wade Bailey will lead the list of returners, but several others are capable of having an impact.
"The good thing is we were deep last year and had some guys on the bench that could play. This year, hopefully, they can step right into those roles and we won't miss a beat," Sneddon said. "Hopefully, one through nine will all find a way to contribute in some way. It might not all be offensively or defensively — it might be on the mound — but we've got 11, 12 guys that can contribute. [Stephen] Kegley needs to have a good year, [Mikey] Palagano, [Zach] Dutton, obviously. Then we need guys like [Lance] Agan, [Brandon] Miller, Weston Smith and Paul Reeves have all got to have good years for us to be successful."
Region 5-AAAAA is similar to last year's region in Class AAAA, but loses region champions Alexander and third-place finishers Pope. The region will bring in Allatoona and Woodland, Cartersville, as well as keep plenty of other strong teams. With 11 teams in the region, all the teams will play each other twice for 20 region games.
"We lost some good ones, but we gain Allatoona, which stands out. We've gained some other ones, but they're by far the biggest impact team coming into the region. They're the ones we've got to look out for. Then you have the normal nemesis — North Paulding, East Paulding, South Paulding are all going to be right there. Woodland is supposed to have some good pitching, so I see six or seven teams really battling for those top-four spots," Sneddon said. "We really need to win the games we're supposed to win, get some help along the way and maybe win some games we shouldn't win."
With so many region games, the Wildcats have just six non-region games to prepare. They will use today's scrimmage against Central and start the regular season on Monday at Campbell to decide the best fit going into the region opener against Rome on March 8.
"A good problem is we have some depth. A bad problem is we have to narrow it down. [Today] we're going to look at a lot of different people in a lot of different places. Treat it almost like a summer game, where we get to move people around, mix things up and try to find that proper combination before we head into region play," Sneddon said.
If the Wildcats do have success again this season, it will be with a continued strong work ethic and a team that gets along well and works hard together to get better.
"We have good team camaraderie, which always helps. There's not a lot of problems within the team. They all get along well and that translates on the field in good effort and good, positive attitudes," Sneddon said.
Now that they've overcome the playoff hurdle, the Wildcats can't just be content with making it once. They also can't believe they will make it again this year just because they made it in 2012.
"They got a taste of it, and that's always a good thing. That makes them hungry to get back. The problem is we can't take for granted that we're going to have the same kind of success this year as we did last year. We can't live on last year's laurels. We've got to move forward, take it a game at a time and play hard. We can't be complacent. We can't be satisfied with what happened last year," Sneddon said. "We've got to be hungry."