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2012 SEASON PREVIEW: Intrigue aplenty as Lee County baseball opens season tonight

Longtime Lee County baseball coach Rob Williams not only saw his No. 1-seeded team get upset for the second time in three years in the first round of the state playoffs last season by a No. 4, but 2011’s final defeat had a hefty price: It denied Williams career win No. 500, which he’ll get another sot at tonight in the Trojans’ 2012 season opener. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

Longtime Lee County baseball coach Rob Williams not only saw his No. 1-seeded team get upset for the second time in three years in the first round of the state playoffs last season by a No. 4, but 2011’s final defeat had a hefty price: It denied Williams career win No. 500, which he’ll get another sot at tonight in the Trojans’ 2012 season opener. (joe.bellacomo@albanyherald.com)

LEESBURG — There’s all kinds of great story lines coming out of Lee County High’s baseball program, which will open its season tonight at home against Westover as part of the inaugural “Greatest Show on Dirt” four-team invitational.

1) Daniel Nichols, a future Georgia Bulldog, will man first base and try to follow in the footsteps of his Yellow Jacket brother, 2007 Ray Knight Herald Player of the Year, Thomas Nichols, who led the Trojans to the Final Four.

2) The youngest Posey brother, Jess, is trying to battle back from injury and return with a vengeance, just like his older brother in the majors, Buster, who broke his leg in a nasty collision at home plate early last year.

3) There’s a new arm in the rotation, junior Chris Mosley, who could solidify the Trojans’ pitching staff, although he’s never thrown a varsity pitch.

4) Head coach Rob Williams, in his 24th season at the helm, needs just one win to reach his 500th career victory.

Want To Go?

WHO: Westover at Lee County.

WHAT: 2012 season opener for Lee County.

WHEN: 4:30 p.m. today.

WHERE: Leesburg.

And to add to that, the Trojans return their batting average leader and a First Team All-Region 1-AAA pick in right fielder Pedro Cruz, who hit .409 last season and was tied for the team lead with 27 RBI.

“We’ve got a lot of talent,” Cruz said. “That’s all I’ll say. Everybody on the team can hit.”

Cruz, along with Nichols, who batted .404 with four homers and 27 RBI as a junior and signed with the University of Georgia in the offseason, both return, as well as six other position starters on a team that averaged more than eight runs a game last year.

“I’m just happy that we’ve got all our returning hitters back in the lineup (minus Chase Patrick and Chase Griffin), but I’m really excited about our pitching staff this year,” said Nichols, a Region 1-AAAA honorable mention selection last season. “We drove in runs last year, but we gave up some also. It’s great to know we’ve got a pitching staff that’s going to help us out this year.”

Lee County was upended in the first round of the playoffs in 2011, marking the second time in three years the Trojans lost to a No. 4 seed in the postseason opener. Last year it came against Jones County as Lee finished 16-12.

“We just ran out of arms there at the end,” said Williams, who will go for win No. 500 in the season and home opener today at 4:30 p.m. against the neighboring Patriots.

With 11 pitchers in 2012, the Trojans don’t expect that to happen again. Posey, who will return to shortstop when he’s not pitching, played in just seven games last year after missing nearly the entire season due to back injuries. Posey, a senior, went 4-3 as a sophomore and is expected to be Lee County’s top arm, while also hitting somewhere in the middle of the lineup.

“A big plus for us is we have Jess back healthy and that’s a great thing to see him out here smiling and enjoying himself, not having to work in pain,” Williams said. “It just ate at him (missing most of 2011). He wanted get out there, but those things happen. We just hope this is going to be a great year for the Posey family (returning from injury).”

Mosley, a lefty, will join Posey in the rotation to give the Trojans a solid 1-2 punch. Junior Ty McAllister and T.J. Roberts, the only sophomore on the roster, will battle for the third slot in the rotation, while a slew of others will provide depth and relief (Matt Mears, Brent Kyzar, Luke Early, Jay Howell, Dalton Daniels, Chad Moore).

Jimmy Shiver returns at third base, while Mears will man second. With the loss of catcher Nate Gay, who moved back to Pierce County, junior Steve Edwards will handle most of the catching duties.

The outfield returns intact and there are at least five who can play there — Cruz in right, senior Luke Roland in center and junior Andrew Stroud in left, joined by senior outfielder and designated hitter Mark Fowler and junior Casey Hightower. Roland and Hightower can both hit leadoff, while Stroud may hit cleanup, Williams said.

Cruz, who will likely return to the No. 2 spot in the lineup, expects to become one of the leaders in the clubhouse after a breakout junior campaign.

“(I’ve become) more of a leader as a senior,” Cruz said. “Even though it’s my last year, (I) just want to go out and have fun.”

On top of it all, there’s added motivation. Northside-Warner Robins was selected as the preseason favorite to win Region 1-AAAA over Lee County, which is the defending region champ and has won seven of the last nine titles.

“We’re disappointed that we weren’t preseason No. 1 (in the region),” said Nichols, who has been selected by Collegiate Baseball as a 2012 Louisville Slugger Preseason High School All-American. “It just motivates us to keep our head down and keep moving forward. We know what we can do.”