Finding tougness

Published 12:05 am Friday, January 24, 2014

The Saints will field a young bunch this year and head baseball coach Steve Helms said he's trying to find their mental and physical toughness. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

The Saints will field a young bunch this year and head baseball coach Steve Helms said he’s trying to find their mental and physical toughness. | Andrew Garner/Star-News

Fielding a young group of players is one of a few concerns LBWCC head baseball coach Steve Helms is dealing with as the Saints start their 2014 season next week.

This year, LBWCC will start seven freshmen with a predominant number playing on the pitcher’s mound.

Another concern for Helms is the mental and physical toughness the players are lacking at the moment.

“We’re struggling right now with the speed of the game,” the coach said. “Right now, we’re looking to create our own adversity a lot, early. Hopefully, we can grow and mature as the season goes.”

Last season, the Saints were a much tougher bunch, despite finishing in the loser’s bracket of the Alabama Community College Conference State Tournament in Ozark. LBWCC finished 38-14 in 2013.

“Last year, we had a tough team mentally that gave a lot of effort,” Helms said. “Right now, we don’t have that toughness, meaning we don’t have that effort. That’s my job to find what buttons I have to push to get that toughness out.

“That, right now, is what we’re trying to understand; is the tradition of the toughness and effort,” he said. “To be honest with you, we’re having a hard time with it, and I think that goes back to that we’re getting the kids who got a trophy in the little league.”

While there may be a lot of freshmen on the team this year, there isn’t a shortage of pitchers on the staff at 18.

“That’s way too many, but hopefully it’ll bring out competition itself,” Helms said. “You’ve got to be on top of your game to get out there.”

Three returning pitchers in Chance Calloway of Clanton, Brady Eldridge of Slocomb and Blaine Eads of Carbon Hill, all sophomores, will see playing time this year.

Helms said he doesn’t know where everybody else will fit on the field, yet.

Five local kids are playing for the Saints this season, and they include John Bess of Florala, Hunter Odom of Pleasant Home, Russell Moseley of Opp, Cody Marler of Red Level and Zach Ward of Andalusia.

Conference-wise, the Saints will compete in the ACCC South Division with Bishop State, Wallace-Dothan, Jeff Davis, Faulkner State, Alabama Southern and Enterprise State.

Helms said Jeff Davis will be good this season.

“I look for Jeff Davis to be very strong,” he said. “They’ve got everybody back. Faulkner State will be good.

“It’s going to be even keel,” he said. “For us, it’s how much we mature and adjust to the season.

Right now, the game mentally and physically is way to fast for us.”

It’s important that the players have “short-term memory” in a game that’s played at a slow pace, Helms said.

“You think it is (slow), but that guy running to the first base, (the infielder’s) got to read the right hop,” he said. “In the long haul, you’re playing 50-60 games, and you’ve got to play with fatigue. To me, this is a hard game because you fail all of the time. That’s what makes it mentally tough. You’re successful if you get three hits out of 10 at bat.

“Then, you can hit the ball hard and not get a hit and still beat yourself up,” he said. “It’s still a mental fatigue on it, and it’s what beats you in this game.”

The Saints start their 2014 campaign at home for a four-game slate that’s set to start at 10:30 a.m. next Fri., Jan. 31. LBWCC will play defending national champion Central Alabama in the first game, and then another at 3 p.m. On Saturday, the Saints play a doubleheader.