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Jackets looking for solid season

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Buford baseball preview

By Robert Howey

 

   

BUFORD – The Buford High School baseball team sports plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the 2013 Jackets.

Coach Eric Funderburk returns five starters from the 2012 team which compiled a 10-14 mark last spring and earned a playoff berth to the Class AA Upper State baseball playoffs.

The Jackets have a solid pitching staff led by junior hurler Kholby Pate.

Funderburk can also count on returnees Evan “Buck Shot” Flynn, James Gardner, Austin Pate and Matt Bayne along with senior closer Matt Bass.

Funderburk said he will also look to young hurlers Gabe Hinson, Scotti Moser and Austin Caskey.

 “I feel pitching is going to be a strength for this team,” Funderburk said. “A key for us is that our pitchers will be consistent and throw strikes.”

BHS veteran catcher Tripp Wright, a four-year starter at the plate and an all-region pick, will handle the Jackets’ pitchers. Wright also earned the Most Improved Player Award last season.

Gardner, a sophomore, will also work at catcher as will Flynn, a sophomore returnee.

Sophomore Austin Pate is a returning starter at first base. Kholby Pate will see action at first base along with freshman Hank Thompson, who played on the Junior Jackets team last season.

Gardner returns at second base as a starter and Gabe Hinson, a sophomore, provides depth after moving up from the Buford junior varsity.

Moser, a freshman, is at shortstop where senior returnee Josh Mullens will see playing time. Freshman Austin Caskey will also draw time at short.

Senior Jordan Whitaker, a returning letterman and a team captain along with Skylar King, gets the call at third base. Whitaker earned the Jacket Pride Award last spring. The versatile Flynn will also work at the hot corner.

Kholby Pate is a returning starter in right field where King, a senior captain, will also contribute. Bass, a senior, is also expected to draw playing time in right. Look for King to also see action as the Jackets’ designated hitter.

Varsity returnee Garrett Johnson will be in center field where Troy

Cunningham, a junior, will supply depth. Cunningham was the Junior Jackets MVP last season.

Left field has senior returnee Matt Bayne as the projected starter. Junior Daniel Mackey, the BHS jayvee Jacket Pride Award winner last season, and freshman Druw Rollings, who played on the BHS jayvee team last season, will also draw playing time.

“I like the mix of players we have this season, a good group of veterans and young players who I feel are going to mesh into a solid unit,” Funderburk said. “This is the most depth we’ve had in my five years at Buford High.

“I feel they will work as a group and I’m proud of the way they’ve worked in the off-season to improve and get stronger,” Funderurk said.

Funderburk will be assisted by Garrett Hammond, Tripp Watts, Mike Gandy and Marc Rape.

Rashad Cunningham will lead the Junior Jackets team along with Gavin Flynn.

Funderburk said the Region IV-AA race will be a battle.

“Andrew Jackson is the defending region champion and they are ranked No. 3 in the Coaches poll, with Chesterfield in the top five. AJ is outstanding and Chesterfield has been a power in Class A and I think they will be strong in Class AA. Cheraw and Central are teams you have to contend with each season because they’ve been there before. I look for Indian Land to be improved.

“As for our team, I like our chances and I feel this is a team which is going to compete and play well each time out,” Funderburk said. “If we get steady play from our pitchers, I feel we will be in every game.”

Funderburk said the Buford baseball program will hold a Military Appreciation Night on March 6 at Buford Park when the Jackets host Chester.

All current and former military personnel will be admitted free. Pre-game festivities will be held to recognize veterans and active miliary personnel.

Tourney reset

The third annual Comporium Preseason Invitational, a preseason high school baseball tournament, was  slated to begin play Saturday at Andrew Jackson High School, but was postponed due to rain and wet field conditions. The tournament will begin play at two sites on Monday.

Defending tournament champion South Pointe High School of Rock Hill  faces Parkwood of Union County, N.C., at 4:30 at the Buford Park.

The 7 p.m. game has Buford meeting Central High of Pageland.

Play at Andrew Jackson on Monday features Lancaster facing county foe Indian Land at 4:30 p.m. and Andrew Jackson battling Great Falls at 7.

The tournament features division play at Buford and Andrew Jackson.

The Andrew Jackson  field includes Lancaster, Indian Land and Great Falls.

The Buford division has South Pointe, Parkwood and Central of Pageland.

South Pointe won the 2012 tournament after Chesterfield took the title in the inaugural event.

Comporium Communications is the event sponsor, with Founders Federal Credit Union serving as the corporate sponsor.

Crenco Food Stores is the associate sponsor for the event.