LEESBURG -- Best team in the state to never win a title?
Yeah, it's probably Lee County. But forget the Chicago Cubs infamous "wait 'til next year" talk. The Trojans have 22 games on the schedule and that's all they're worried about right now.
Head coach Rob Williams, who will fill out the lineup for his 23rd season, likes the looks of things early. The Trojans open the season today at 5:55 p.m. against Colquitt County.
"On paper we look pretty good," Williams said with a smile.
Lee County returns six position starters off a team that went 20-9 last season, finishing second in Region 1S-AAAA, and fell in the second round of the state playoffs. Once annual visitors to the Elite Eight and beyond, the Trojans have come up short the last two years and had to travel in the playoffs last season for the first time since 2000.
The problem in 2010 was mainly making the easy putout.
"That was a concern coming into this year because we didn't play well defensively last year," Williams said. "In all of the (preseason scrimmages), we have been really solid defensively making all the routine plays."
Senior Chase Patrick returns at second base after a shoulder injury ended his year early last season and will bolster an infield along with Jess Posey (SS), Daniel Nichols (1B) and Jimmy Shiver (3B).
"I think we've got a lot better defense this year," Patrick said. "Just in practice, we're working together. We couldn't start as a team until February, but we did (work) on our own time."
Patrick will hit leadoff and has been "stinging the ball" in preseason," Williams said.
Then there's catcher Chase Griffin, a senior who converted from third base last year. Griffin has signed to play with Georgia Southern next year after hitting .444 with four homers and 34 RBI as a junior.
"I think our lineup is pretty strong this year," Griffin said. "I still want to put up big numbers. I've got big goals so hopefully we can achieve (our team goals)."
And as usual, the major league bloodlines are strong in Leesburg. Posey, the brother of San Francisco Giants catch Buster Posey and Nichols, the brother of Los Angeles Angels signee Thomas Nichols, are poised for big junior seasons. Posey went 4-3 as a first-year starting pitcher and Nichols was pulled up to the varsity team right before the playoffs, where he hit two homers in the postseason.
"If we can get that leading lady (Patrick) on with Posey behind him and then here comes Griffin, Nichols and some of those folks...,"
Williams said. "We feel like we can really score some runs."
Matt Fowler, Luke Roland, Peyton Wade and Pedro Cruz will all roam the outfield for the Trojans.
Posey is the only returning starting pitcher after Matt Suggs and Justin McCalvin graduated and rising senior Phillip Anderson returned to Thomson. But Williams has plenty of arms in Cole Goodwin, Chase Burnfin, Justin Walker, Randolph-Southern transfer Tanner Stone, Nichols and sophomore Matt Mears.
Williams, meanwhile, finished last season with 480 wins and can join an elite group in the 500-win club if Lee County has a strong season.
"I don't know," Williams said of reaching 500 this year. "We've got to have a good year."
His players, however, don't doubt they can get him there.
"Oh, yeah," Griffin said. "If we have 20 games, we'll get him 20 wins."
Williams, who has won 14 region titles and been to two Finals Fours in the last 10 years, is just glad to be sending in signs in the spring.
"I still get exciting," Williams said about the upcoming season. "Jan. 31 my practice bag was packed up. I probably get just as excited as they do to put this stuff on."