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Future bright for division-champion Gators

[5/2/04]Jordan Henry knows he and his team could have played better.

Fielding mistakes and poor hitting led to an early exit from the playoffs for the Vicksburg Gators. VHS lost in three games to St. Martin, and in each of the losses fielding mistakes played a huge role.

While the seniors won’t have a chance to make up for the loss, Henry and the rest of the returning players have all summer to work on improving.

“All of us will probably never forget this game,” Henry said Monday after the Gators lost to St. Martin in the final game of the series, 9-1. “We’re all going to look back and say that we’re going to come out here and do better than this.

“We’re going to know next year what it’s going to take to win that third game or second game in the playoffs in the first round and move on.”

Now that the pain of the playoff exit is gone, nothing but optimism remains in the Gators’ fieldhouse.

“We’re real excited about the future around here,” VHS coach Jamie Creel said. “We look forward to the things that we’re going to be able to do in the future, and hopefully the future’s going to be bright around here.”

And the Gators have a lot to build on.

This year’s team lost many of its top players from the previous year including all four infield spots and still finished 18-11 and won the Division 6-5A championship.

“If you’d have told me we’d have been as successful as we were this year, I’d have probably been surprised,” Creel said. “I think the kids did great, and we got a lot of things accomplished. And we did it with young kids, so it’s nothing but positives coming from that.”

Only three of the Gators’ regular starters James Jackson, Sean McGowan and Hampton Calvin were seniors, meaning Vicksburg will be getting most of its players back next year.

Losing Jackson, the team’s top pitcher and hitter, will hurt, but Vicksburg is returning two good starting pitchers in John Hendrix and Steven Price. Hendrix finished at 8-2 with a 2.98 ERA in a team-high 54 innings, and Price logged in 27 2/3 innings with a 2-1 record and a 2.27 ERA.

The Gators also plan on adding pair of new faces to the staff.

“Our pitching is going to be good,” Creel said. “Sean Gibbs will work back to the hill next year. We’re also going to have a freshman coming up that’s going to be a real good pitcher for us in Stanton Price.

“We look forward to having him around. That’s Steven’s brother, and he’s a good left-handed pitcher.”

Vicksburg will work on improving its hitting the biggest weak spot this season. The Gators hit .266 as a team with only seven home runs all year.

Jackson led the team with a .368 average and 27 RBIs, and only three other players Henry (.338), Price (.318) and Calvin (.301) hit above .300.

“I can’t give any explanations for why hitting never came around this year. It was amazing,” Creel said. “We just didn’t hit this year. It’s unfortunate, but I guess some years are like that. It’s the first year we’ve ever had like that.”

To help them improve, Creel is implementing a strict weight-training program to bulk up the players and increase their bat speed and strength.

“We’ll see the advantages of getting on the weights,” Henry said. “You might not think that that helps, but that’s got a lot to do with going up there and hitting, and just everything that you do on the field.”

Creel expects a more mature squad to hit the field next season, and the expectations will be high.

“These kids are hungry,” he said. “They’re ready to go, ready to get in here and lift weights and hit the ball. They recognize what mistakes they made, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to overcome those mistakes.

“It’s going to be an interesting year next year.”