Of all the baseball teams in the northwest Georgia area, few have higher expectations this season than the Gordon Lee Trojans.
After a 9-16 campaign two years ago, the Trojans went 24-9 last season and advanced to the second round of the state playoffs before bowing out to eventual state champion Providence Christian.
But with the GHSA holding separate state tournaments for public and private schools in Class A this spring, and with Gordon Lee returning all but one player from last year’s roster, many folks are anticipating a deep run and possibly even a state title for the Navy-and-White.
Head coach Mike Dunfee knows about the expectations, but he also knows that looking too far ahead is not the way to get there.
“Winning region and state championships are at the top of everyone’s list,” he said, “but our main goal is just to focus on taking it one day at a time, and one game at a time. This is a marathon, not a sprint, and a lot of things can happen between now and then.
“The community has been talking about (the expectations) and we know they are there, but we don’t want to buy into the hype. We want to stay humble and stay hungry. Sure, the potential is there, but right now we have to have tunnel vision and we just have to work on improving week by week.”
A total of 10 seniors will suit up for the Trojans this spring, most of whom have at least two years’ of starting experience under their belts.
Tanner Sexton will be back behind the plate and will likely hit the No. 3 spot in the batting order, while first baseman Bryce Bailey will bring size and power to the clean-up spot in the lineup.
A wrist injury sidelined Bay Wright for much of last season, but Wright is healthy ready to regain the form he showed as a sophomore. He can play a number of positions, but will most likely man either second or third base. Beside him, shortstop Cody Wilson is solid with the glove and is hoping to stay hot at the plate after finding his rhythm late last year.
Landon O’Neal will again see some innings on the mound and see some time at third base, while Hunter Daugherty has been a back-up catcher in past seasons, but is versatile enough to see time at virtually any spot on the field.
Outfielder Adam Vandiver can create havoc on the base out of the leadoff spot, while Branton Phillips, a designated hitter for much of last season, will also see some time in the outfield this time around. Phillips is another slugger at the plate and both players will be counted on heavily to help anchor the starting pitching staff.
Connor Coakley came through with some big hits last spring and he will be back to help round out the outfield, while utility man Daniel Brooks was a surprise on the mound and at the plate a year ago.
Pitcher/outfielder Ryan Amour and outfielder/shortstop Zack Cobb make up a small, but valuable junior class. Armour saw time on the mound last year, while Cobb is hoping to get back on the field after missing significant time the past two seasons with injuries.
Sophomore pitcher Conard Broome is coming off an outstanding freshman season that saw him quickly establish himself as one of the team’s aces. Jake Rogers also had a big freshman year at third base and on the mound, while the rest of the sophomores include catcher Logan Peterson, infielder Will Goodman, and pitcher/outfielder Sam Walker.
The final spot on the varsity roster belongs to freshman pitcher/outfielder Tucker Bradley, who has made a name for himself in recent years as one of the top travel ball players in the country for his age group.
“We’ve got a whole lot of kids that could be out there,” Dunfee said. “Now it’s just my job to figure who is going to be playing where.”
Dunfee’s coaching staff will also return intact from last season as Derek McDaniel, Wade Bradley, and Zach Barnes all return to the bench.
Gordon Lee is scheduled to take on Heritage in a scrimmage game today (on Friday, Feb. 15), and Dunfee says that with the power ranking system in place for Class A this season, it will be the only time his team will have a chance to work out all the kinks.
“That first game against LFO (on Thursday, Feb. 21) counts toward our points. Region games this season really only determine who wins the region, but every game we play will count toward whether or not we get into the state playoffs, so that’s a little different for all of us, especially me. We don’t have those non-region games anymore where we can play around with things.
“But the good thing is that we have a bunch of seniors that have been here and done that before. We have a lot of experience coming back, even some good playoff experience, and all of it helps.”