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AJ upbeat about baseball

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By Robert Howey

Andrew Jackson High School baseball coach Andy Morton is confident the Volunteers can shine on the diamond this spring.Morton, the AJ jayvee baseball coach last season, is upbeat with the return of seven starters to the Vols’ lineup this season.The veteran cast includes MVP Daniel Pardue along with Josh Eubanks, the team’s Offensive Award winner last season, and Defensive Award winner Greg Cook.Pardue, a junior, returns at shortstop to solidify the heart of the AJ defense, which includes senior second baseman Eubanks along with senior catcher Cook, senior center fielder Justin Hinson and top pitcher Lance Horton.Horton earned the Vols Most Improved Award last season when he and Pardue were selected to the All-Conference VIII-AA team.Horton, when not pitching, will be at first base. Eubanks will be at second with Pardue at shortstop.A pair of juniors – Chad Dicola and Justin Sellers – are in a battle at third base.Cook is at catcher, with versatle sophomore Dylan McKittrick providing depth. McKittrick will also see time in the outfield and will work in relief on the mound.Senior Pace Roberts, a returnee, along with Hinson lead the outfield play, with sophomore Tyler Bradley in right field. Roberts is the Vols’ lead-off batter.Juniors Dylan Hammond and Dylan Price provide outfield depth and will also help with the baserunning. Junior Corey Ingram provides depth at first base.“We have some competition at each position and I feel that will help build the team,” Morton said.Horton and sophomore Tyler Vaughn, who will also work at second base and shortstop, are the top hurlers.Morton said he will look to Pardue, Eubanks and McKittrick in the AJ bullpen. The AJ closers are Justin Hinson and Cook.Morton will be assisted by Jim Barton and Michael Owens.“I feel good about this team,” Morton said. “I also feel good about our future.”As for this season, Morton sees a four-team race for the league title.“I know Cheraw has an outstanding defense, but I feel AJ, Buford and Central will be right there competing,” Morton said. “We have a lot of senior leadership and I feel this team will compete hard.”A year ago, AJ was 5-17, but Morton said he expects the Vols to fare better.“We have our share of veterans back and we have some players who are filling in nicely for us,” Morton said.