North Oconee High School’s baseball team was three wins from the first state championship in the program’s history when last season ended.
The Titans have a returning core that could give them the opportunity to do the same thing and potentially improve upon their showing last season.
According head coach Jay Lasley half of the Titans’ starters will be returners from the team that fell in game three of the Class 4A semifinals.Despite the familiar, Lasley is preaching early on that things will be different. What may have been successful in 2019 won’t necessarily be successful in 2020. Last season’s Titans learned that lesson.
Lasley felt for much of the first half of the 2019 season the Titans were trying to be the team of 2018.
It didn’t work. The 2019 Titans found their identity and advanced further than the 2018 had the year prior.
“We keep trying to remind the guys that even though we return a lot of the same guys, we’re not last year’s team,” Lasley said. “We’ve got to find our own identity. Last year’s team went through that. They tried to be the 2018 team. We had to find out who we were. We keep reminding them that we have to be the 2020 team and then find our identity offensively, pitching and in the dugout.”
Offensively, the Titans will look and have to approach things differently. Dom Hughes, who had home run power and speed to steal bases, is no longer at the top of the lineup.
Garrett Paxson, who accumulated quite a few late or game winning hits in his time in high school is no longer on campus. Rylan Laird who also provided some home run pop is gone as is Kyle Sherrer who acted as a combo of all three.
Lasley feels the potential for a successful offense is there, but it will need to be done a different way than it has been the last two seasons.
“I think we have a chance to be successful, but I think we’ll be different,” Lasley said. “I think we can run a little bit better than we could last year. I think we’re a little faster athletically. That’s one of the things we’re going to try to take advantage of versus last year.”
On the pitching front, the Titans will again draw the envy of other high schools. The Titans have had Kumar Rocker, who was the top college prospect in the country in 2018. The last two years the Titans have seen the emergence of two more future college hurlers.
Senior Will Pearson and junior Bubba Chandler, who are both committed to playing baseball at the University of Georgia, will be asked to be leaders of the team as a whole as well as holding down the pitching rotation even more now that they’ve stepped into the upperclassmen category.
Both players also play in the middle of the diamond as infielders for the Titans and will be asked to play big roles in the battling order.
Lasley has asked for consistency, not more from Pearson, Chandler and fellow returners Bennett Toci and Woody Barks.
“The big thing we want from those guys is to be consistent,” Lasley said. “Don’t try to do more, just be consistent. Just go about your business in the way we expect it to be done. Bubba has been on the varsity since he was a freshman. Will has been on the varsity since he was a freshman. Woody Barks has been playing varsity since he was a sophomore. Bennett Toci has been playing varsity ball since he was a sophomore. When you add in those two guys that are two guys with multiple years of varsity experience. You want them to be consistent, set the tone in practice and in games and allow everybody else who is an inexperienced guy to get comfortable and settle into a role.”
The Titans open their season on Feb. 12 at Marist.