Taking it to the next level (UPDATES: fixes spelling of McCalvin's last name; reflects season opener rained out)

Photo by Scott Chancey

Photo by Scott Chancey

Lee County's top pitcher, Justin McCalvin, has his throwing hand is in a cast. Trojans coach Rob Williams, however, just shrugs it off.

Considering the Trojans' overall talent, he can afford to do that.

"I wasn't overly concerned until I heard (McCalvin) was going to have surgery," said Williams, whose team's season opener Tuesday against Colquitt County was postponed because the field was too wet from Monday's rain to play; the game will be made up Saturday at noon in Moultrie. "Nobody likes to lose their No. 1 starter, especially before the start of the season. But we are fortunate to have five or six other guys we can run out there."

McCalvin, a senior who led Trojans with nine wins in last year's 23-4 campaign, cut his pitching hand in an accident at church. At first it seemed like the injury would not have much of an effect on the right-hander's upcoming season.

"We were playing a game at church and I slipped and cut the my hand on an electrical outlet," McCalvin recalled. "I didn't think much about it then, but a couple of months later, I noticed that my hand was starting to look skinnier. I was at a friend's house and his mother is a doctor. She said it (the hand) didn't look right and I should have it checked out."

It was discovered that McCalvin damaged his right ulnar nerve, resulting in muscle atrophy and led to an operation earlier this month. He is scheduled to have his cast removed on March 7.

When he returns to the rotation, meanwhile, is anyone's guess.

Prior to the injury, McCalvin was atop the Lee County rotation. Now, junior Phillip Anderson, senior Matthew Suggs and sophomore Jess Posey will all move up a spot in the order.

"He's has been doing his band work and when he gets the cast off, we'll let him start throwing a little," Williams said of the timetable for McCalvin's return. "After about two weeks, we'll start getting him some work in relief and watch his pitch count. Hey, we'd love to have him back right now, but we'll survive."

In the meantime the Trojans will start their quest for a seventh region title in the past eight years.

"I think we are a very athletic team," Williams said. "We have a bunch of pretty good pitchers with Justin, Suggs and Posey. Anderson (who moved to Leesburg from Thompson) has been very impressive. We have the ingredients for a very good pitching staff."

Williams' optimism carries over to his offense.

"Offensively we have a chance to be very good." Williams said. "Suggs sets the table for us at leadoff and we are looking for (Chase) Griffin to get some key hits for us along with Posey and (Chase) Patrick. I think we are going to put the bat on the ball a lot this year."

Williams' major concern can be summed up in one word -- consistency.

"What I'm looking for is consistency," the coach said. "Can we be consistent in crucial situations? Can we make the pitches when we need to? Can we move the runners over when needed? But I feel good about this team. I think we can pitch and I think we can hit. If we can do the little things, then we'll be in good shape."

If there is one cloud hanging over what has become a monster baseball program at Lee County, is the team's inability to win a state title. The Trojans have been to the state finals twice in Williams' 21-year stint as head coach, and he has compiled a 463-157 record in the process.

So close, but no cigar.

"In some ways that does bother me," Williams said of Lee's failure to cash in on a title. "On the other hand, if the guys are giving it everything that have and still come up short, you can't ask for more than that. I don't lose any sleep over it."

Then the coach paused, turned and said, " Well, the '05 (state championship) game against Henry County still bothers me some. We were down 2-0 in the bottom of the last inning. We had two men on and one out. Buster (Posey) was on deck, then we hit into a double play.

"I sure would have liked to have seen Buster get an at bat," Williams recalled.

And that is hard to shrug off.