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Deerfield baseball opens today, looking to atone for early end to last season

Photo by Danny Aller

Photo by Danny Aller

ALBANY -- The baseball boys at Deerfield-Windsor compete at everything.

From who has the most infield singles in spring practice (Davis Moore swears he holds the record), to on-base percentage, to who strikes out the least in a season. That last one was up for debate Monday on the eve of the Knights' season opener.

"You had four," Moore told fellow senior Christopher Moates as the two bickered over their 2010 strikeout totals. "Me and Banks had three."

Competition is good for the soul and the friendly competitive juices flow freely on Nottingham Way.

"The attitude of these kids -- they get along so well," Deerfield head coach Rod Murray said. "The dugout is a happy place."

Murray, who has won region titles in each of his first three years at the Knights helm, begins his fourth season at DWS with today's opener at home against Terrell Academy.

And if experience came in greenbacks, Murray would be a rich man.

DWS, which went 17-6 a year ago before falling to arch enemy Tattnall Square in the second round of state, returns seven seniors and seven starters from a year ago.

"These guys have played a lot of innings," Murray said. "They've got plenty of experience. You just hope they pick up where they left off."

The starting rotation returns intact with seniors Banks Kinslow, Rhett Cooper and Moates. Kinslow, the regular shortstop, is the reining GISA Region 3-AAA Player of the Year after finishing with an 8-1 record on the mound and a .480 batting clip with 31 RBI.

Cooper brings a linebacker's mentality to the bump and with the bat, adding pop in the middle of the Knights' lineup, while Moates may be the anchor of the staff.

Moates, a hard-throwing senior, went 5-2 last season after transferring from Lee County and hit .444 with a team-high six homers and 32 RBI. Moates was selected to play in the Under Armor Preseason All-American game this past summer in Tucson, Ariz., and was chosen as an honorable mention all-star there -- one of the top 20 players out of more than 200.

"He went out there and pitched really well," Murray said of Moates, who features two different fastballs, a curve and changeup. "He ranked 15th or 16th out of 200 kids. I think he hit 87 or 88 on the (radar) gun, so his arm is feeling good right now. He's getting the breaking pitch over for a strike, (too)."

The Big Three, along with juniors Lindsey Short and Gil Gillespie, give the Knights plenty of arms.

"Experience (is key)," Cooper said. "We've actually got a good bit of pitching depth this year compared to years past."

Seniors Matt Moree (3B) and Michael Laslie (CF) make the lineup more potent as returning starters along with Moore (LF) and Cooper (RF). Harris Webb, the only sophomore on the team, will fill the hole at second base left by four-year starter Michael Matthews. Short, who may also play some at third, and Hunter Brettel will man first along with Moates during the year.

Gillespie returns at catcher with added experience, which Moates said is a big deal for the pitching staff.

"Last year was our catcher's first year catching," Moates said. "He's got another year under his belt."

The Knights will have to face Tattnall Square, which has knocked them out of the playoffs each of the last three years, at least once this season (minus MLB draft pick DeAndre Smelter). The two meet during the Knights' spring break. Region 3-AAA is tougher, too, with an improved Westfield squad, new region member and 2010 Class AA runner-up Tiftarea, along with Southland and rival Sherwood Christian.

The first test for Deerfield's battle-hardened bunch, though, is annual GISA Class A power Terrell Academy, which us now in Class AA. Ashley Walker's Eagles had Deerfield on the ropes last season in two games, only to fall short each time.

"We still don't know how we got out of there with two (wins against Terrell)," Murray recalls. "We're still shaking our head about that one."