In that six game winning streak, Chapel Hill picked up four wins against county teams, defeating Douglas County twice and Lithia Springs twice. The Panthers are set for a showdown with Alexander in their next game on March 12, and these two teams could arguably be the top squads in the county this season.
Chapel HIll is coming off a decent year in 2012 when they finished with a 14-10 overall record. However, the Panthers struggled in the region, going 5-8, including losing their final four games. This year the team is looking stronger, led by some of the veteran returning starters of last year’s squad.
In fact, Chapel Hill nearly returns a starter to every position this year. Leading the group of returners are catcher Mason Tritt, third baseman Ryan Moffett, outfielders MJ Rookard and Eric Lloyd, and first baseman Jason Phillips.
Tritt anchors the team behind the plate and is one of the best, if not the best catcher in the county, and in the 3A region. So far this season he is throwing out nearly 75-percent of the would be base stealers and manages to pick a runner off base about ever other game.
“This is the first time in seven or eight years I have given a catcher the opportunity to call his own game,” said CHHS coach Mick Harper. “He keeps everything in front of him and if a runner steals a base it is usually because the pitch is in the dirt or the runner got a good jump off the pitcher.”
Tritt will also supply power at the plate this season and will bat clean-up.
Moffett, an all-county player last year at second base, has been asked to move to third this season to fill a gap from last year’s departures.
“Ryan is the epitome of a team player,” Harper said. “He will do what every you ask, when every you ask. You don’t usually move a guy who was an all-county player the previous year but he has the arm strength and demeanor to move over and play the position.”
Moffett will hit sixth in the lineup, dropping down from second last year. The move, according to Harper was a positive one. Harper hopes to give Moffett more RBI opportunities batting sixth.
The tandem of Rookard, Lloyd, along with part-time returner Brett Roberts, gives Chapel HIll a good defensive outfield.
“You will have to earn a hit out there,” Harper said. “They are not going to give up many routine balls that fall and they will make some superb catches.”
Rookard is also the leadoff hitter. According to Harper he has a good eye at the plate and will make pitchers work. Harper added that he “understands the role of a leadoff hitter.”
Lloyd will bat mostly out of the fifth spot but could also see time batting fourth or sixth. Jason Phillips returns to first and will be a vital run producer hitting between fourth and sixth as well.
Filling out the infield are shortstop Brandon Whiteford and second baseman Triston Leggett. Whiteford started his freshman year but has battled injuries the last two seasons. Leggett, a sophomore, filled in for Whiteford at short his freshman season and will now move over to start at second. Harper believes the pairing with give Chapel Hill one of the best middle infields in the region.
On the mound, the Panthers return one of the best overall pitchers in the county and in the 4A region last year, Brandon Sattenfield.
“Getting Brandon back this year is the biggest plus for us,” Harper said. “We are a different team when he is on the mound, confidence wise as well as performance wise.”
As for figuring out the rest of the pitching staff, Harper said that is what the early part of the season is for. Right now the No. 2 and No. 3 starters will be Jacob McClure and Rookard, in no particular order.
“They are not going to overpower anyone but both are guys that beat the strike zone and keep teams off balance,” Harper said. “They can log some innings for us and throw strikes.”
Figuring out the relief pitching is still a work in progress with Jason Rodriquez, Andrew Abernathy, Lloyd and even Tritt in the mix. Tritt has a good shot at closing out games but Harper admits it is tough to lose a solid player behind the plate.
Chapel Hill will play in the 4-AAA region this year with teams such as Callaway, the preseason favorite, Rockmart and Central Carrollton. The Panthers have already beat Central once, winning 12-6 earlier in the week. Harper believes that the season will come down to Chapel Hill and Callaway.
“Our ultimate goal is to win a region championship,” Harper said. “We have made it to the (State Tourney) Elite 8 but have never won the region. After that, then we want to make a run at the State Championship. If we can solidify our pitching and get a little more depth, then we can make a run.”