To call the 2012 baseball season a unique one for Oakwood Christian High School would be an understatement.
With only a handful of high school age players on the roster, head coach Kraig Givens combined the high school and middle school players into one team last year, meaning sophomores were playing alongside seventh graders.
And while the age difference was a hurdle to overcome, Givens said his team handled things remarkably well.
“Obviously, there’s huge difference between ninth and tenth-graders and sixth and seventh-graders, so we had to deal with some of that,” he said. “I was able to split practice sometimes between the younger and older kids, depending on what we were doing, but when we combined, the older kids were a big help. It really helped the younger kids more than anything because they had guys to look up to at their positions.”
Givens said that respect was the glue that kept everything together, and it will continue to be a factor as the Eagles will once again field a combined team for their seven high school games this spring.
“A lot of the older kids look back at where they were when they were in middle school and say, ‘wow, these guys are really good for their age’,” he explained. “There’s a lot of respect for them already because of how athletic they are and how much they already know about the game.”
Oakwood will have just four high school players in uniform this season, led by junior Kalen Williams, the team’s elder statesman.
A solid athlete that has played basketball and runs cross country for the Eagles, Williams is one of the club’s more experienced baseball players. He will be the team’s No. 1 pitcher and spend time in the middle of the infield when not on the hill.
Sophomore Richmond Wrinkle will be the No. 2 pitcher on the staff. He will play third base when not pitching and could see some innings behind the plate this season. Fellow sophomore Josh Stone is a corner infielder and could see innings on the mound in middle relief.
The final high school player is freshman Dylan Lanham, who saw extensive action as an eighth grader last season. Lanham will also pitch and fill in on the infield.
Eighth grader Matthew McDonough will again pitch and play outfield for the Eagles, while classmate Austin Greco will also play in the outfield. New to the team this season, Greco has previous baseball experience.
Among the seventh graders, J.J. Lanham will man second base and could play some in the outfield, while Noah Wright will see the bulk of his playing time in the outfield.
The sixth grader contingent includes first baseman/outfielder Garrison Baggett, catcher/outfielder Cory Taylor, and utility man Phillip Davis.
Fifth grader Michael Minnick will also see some playing time as an outfielder with the high school team. Minnick is one of a number of talented fifth graders that will help make up a separate middle school team for Oakwood this season.
“We have a strong group in the fifth grade,” said Givens, who will be assisted on the bench by Alan Taylor. “There’s lots of talent there that we’re excited about going forward.”
Givens added that defense would likely be his team’s strong suit, but that getting more consistent in other areas, especially on the mound, will be the key to his team’s success.
“As long as we do what we’re supposed to do on the mound and at the plate, I’m looking forward to seeing how we do against our schedule,” he said. “I think we have a chance to win a few games this season, and I think the older kids see the potential we have. I think they believe there’s a chance to win every time we step out onto the ball field.
“We’re still going to be young, but that one extra year of experience is going to help. They know who does what now, what do expect, and how to play together as a team.”
The Eagles will open the season on March 12 at Rhea County (Tenn.) Christian.