Gil Gillespie is just one of a handful of players Deerfield will rely on this season to fill the void left by seven seniors who graduated after last year's state runner-up finish.
ALBANY — Get a copy of Deerfield-Windsor’s opening-day lineup because it may be completely different come season’s end.
Stealing a page from Eli Whitney’s concept of interchangeable parts, Knights head coach Rod Murray plans to play his guys everywhere in 2012. Many of the Knights, who open the season today with two games at the Tattnall Square invitational, didn’t know for sure where they would play to start the season until Friday.
“We’re still competing right now,” said Murray, who enters his fifth season after falling in the state title game for a second time last season. “There’s going to be a lot of interchangeable parts to this baseball team, but we’ll figure it out. We haven’t really told them anything yet other than the fact we’re going up (to Macon) to play two baseball games (today) and we’re going to take a look at a lot of different folks. That’s the way we’re attacking it.”
Murray, whose team went 20-8 last year, has his job cut out for him after losing seven seniors off last year’s state-runner up team, which was swept by Westfield in the GISA Class AAA title series. With five returning seniors and nine juniors, Murray relishes the challenge of crafting another winner.
“That’s the fun part about this,” he said.
The seniors — Lindsey Short, Gil Gillespie, Hunter Brettel, Chris Michas and Tyler Cook — provide a solid core. Short will provide a big frame and a big bat in the middle of the order and will pitch and play some third base. Gillespie is a three-year starter at catcher and has caught some of the best pitchers in school history the last few years. He knows talent and sees it in many new faces that will get a chance this year.
“It won’t be as much of a rebuilding year as people think,” Gillespie said. “Yeah, we lose (six) starters, but we have so many juniors that will step up.”
Brettel, who will play some first base and also catch, said he believes the added competition all over the field can’t do anything but help.
“Nobody knows what position (they might play),” Brettel said. “It’s kind of crazy, but it’s fun.”
Gillespie, who will be one of the anchors on the Knights’ deep pitching staff, agreed.
“A lot of our positions we’ve had to compete,” he said. “It’s definitely a good thing.”
Oddly enough, Murray believes the Knights’ pitching will be a strength even after losing all three starters, including GISA Class AAA and Albany Herald Ray Knight Player of the Year Chris Moates.
“The depth of the pitching staff could be the strength of the ball club,” Murray said. “Anytime you lose (Rhett) Cooper, Moates and (Banks) Kinslow, who have pitched so many innings for us, (you’ve got a lot of) these young kids who have been competing on the B-team. We have eight or nine guys we feel like we can put out there.”
Potential starters and relievers include juniors Coleman Butler, Westin King, Austin Murphy, Davis Hines, sophomore Matthew Fox and freshman Johnny Croley.
“We’re not going to have one huge starter on the mound like Moates,” Gillespie said. “Everybody’s going to have to step up.”
Junior Harris Webb, one of the most patient batters in the lineup, has added some pop to his bat, according to Murray, and will return at shortstop. Second and third base are up for grabs early with football standout Kh’Ron McClain, Butler and Short all vying for spots at those positions.
Junior Sam Shellhaas, who had a few big hits in the playoffs last year, steps into an outfield that was vacated by departing seniors, but several players will get a shot at the open spots.
It’s early March and these Knights are still a work in progress, but that’s all part of process to building another winner.
“The kids are prancing around ready to play,” Murray said. “It’s just a fun place to be right now.”
Deerfield opens the year against two teams it eliminated in the playoffs last season, beginning today with Bulloch Academy at 11 a.m. and then Tattnall Square at 4 p.m. The Knights home opener will be Tuesday against Terrell Academy at 4:30 p.m.