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Hampton ready to get back to work on diamond

BY IVAN SANDERS
STAR SPORTS EDITOR
ivan.sanders@elizabethton.com
The weeks have now counted down to days and the days until hours until the 2021 prep high school baseball season will officially get underway with teams finally being able to play other opposition besides themselves with all scrimmages having been canceled as part of the COVID restructuring for the new baseball season.

One of those teams that are licking their chops is the Hampton Bulldogs who are ready to face pitching from another team to see just where they stand in the early going.

Head coach Nicholas Perkins is as ready as his team to take the field but had to take a moment to reflect upon the kids who lost their season last year to the pandemic.

“First, I just want to tip my cap to last year’s ball club. We had a really good team and would have had a really good season and we miss those young men tremendously,” Perkins said.

“As far as this year’s ball club, we really are excited. We think that we have a more athletic team. We are excited about our potential. We have some unanswered questions and some things to be determined but we are excited about our potential.”

In a pre-season that hasn’t allowed coaches the opportunities to put their team through the paces to establish a batting order or a pitching rotation, Perkins is particularly excited to see what his squad can do with the sticks in their hands behind a solid core of pitchers.

“Offensively, I think that we not only have the ability to hit the ball but drive the ball. I think that we always get quality innings on the mound here at Hampton from a multitude of pitchers led by senior Josh Owens.

“We feel like we should be versatile, we feel like we should be balanced, but again you have to play well and that’s the bottom line.”

There has been a conservative move to bring baseball up to meet the standards of the football and basketball programs at Hampton High. Perkins has been able to get the community and team involved to see such improvements as new outfield fence coverings and the ability to play baseball under the lights.

Perkins relates everything that has happened to that of becoming one or a family if you will.

“It’s very much been a collaborative effort, a team effort, and a community effort to build this baseball program. It’s not something that one person could do and I think everyone working together has made us grow closer and as we talk about being a baseball family and we can all take pride in this because we all have a hand in it,” Perkins added.

Perkins felt like every coach will be coming into a new season with the same disadvantage thanks to COVID.

“I think one of the biggest challenges is due to the COVID restrictions we are not allowed pre-season scrimmages against other schools,” Perkins stated. “Now, all coaches are trying to have intrasquad games and various things to make it game-like but I feel like maybe the unanswered questions come from lack of pre-season competition from other schools.

“There are not as many definite answers going into the season as there would be in regards to positions, pitching rotations, and that sort of thing.”

With an entire season washed out last year, many think that it may take a while for teams to get their game legs under them, possibly taking most of the season to get into the right playing shape.

However, Coach Perkins doesn’t see it that way.

“There are good baseball men in East Tennessee so I don’t think it’s going to take an entire baseball season,” Perkins said. “I think that these coaches will adapt quickly and put the ball club out there that they want.

“I think at first that many are going to go with a little trepidation and a little uncertainty at the beginning of the season.”

Perkins was asked how he felt the conference would play out in 2021.

“We are in a very good baseball conference. University High has been a juggernaut for several years now. North Greene is historically a very good baseball team and Unaka is the same way. Sullivan North has had a solid team both in AA and A,” Perkins commented.

“We must play very well in this conference. There are no just show up and win games.”

Lastly, the Bulldog skipper was asked if he could name a couple of leaders that he will be turning to in helping to take this team as far as it can go in the season.

“I hate to name names because I think we are going to have some depth in our batting order,” Perkins stated. “Colin Morgan transferred here from Cloudland High School and has some pop in his bat. Josh Owens is a four-year starter with over a .400 on-base percentage through his high school career.

“Morgan Lyons, Parker Henry, Caleb Royston, McKinley Kuhn – I could go on and on about the depth in our batting order.”

Hampton opens on Monday, March 15 at home on Scotty Bunton Field at 4 pm with a junior varsity game against the Providence Academy Knights followed by the varsity taking the field at 6:30 pm.

Mayor Patty Woodby will be throwing out the first pitch for the varsity contest.