By Joshua Price/Sports Editor
Gaston finished the 2011 baseball season with a 14-12 record before falling to the Ragland Purple Devils in the playoffs in a 3-game showdown.
Derrick Sewell took over Gaston’s baseball program after the resignation of veteran coach Mike Lamb last fall. Lamb accumulated a 66-47 record in five seasons as the Bulldog coach.
Gaston competes in Class 1A, Area 11, which consists of Coosa Christian, Ragland, Appalachian and St. Bernard Prep. The Bulldogs are defending area champs.
Sewell is the “new kid on the block” and enters his first year as a head coach. With a new coach, naturally, comes a new program.
“This is my first year coaching in this area, but from what I hear the area is pretty tough,” Sewell said. “I know we have won the area the last three seasons, but that does not guarantee us anything this year. The boys have got to buy into the program, work hard, and just simply get after it.”
Gaston will be without the services of hurler Cody Currul – the most influential casualty the Bulldogs suffered from graduation.
“It’s hard to replace a guy like Cody,” Sewell said. “I didn’t have the pleasure of coaching him, but when you’re that good word gets around and his numbers don’t lie. However, I think we still have a very solid staff.”
Due to the amount of innings thrown last year, Sewell anticipates the pitching staff will be young but effective. He said the Bulldogs will use a four-man rotation on the mound, headed by sophomore Allen Davidson.
“We are expecting a lot out of Allen. He had a little arm trouble during the off-season but has recovered well and has looked strong during preseason practice.”
Davidson is projected to be the number one man in the pitching rotation, followed by junior Destin Pollard, Sean Love and Jordan McCartney, respectively.
Sewell said if a fifth slot in the rotation is necessary, Jesse Brittain, Gabe Crain and Zack Barber will get the tap. The skipper said the bullpen will be vital in finishing close games.
“We will rely heavily on Joey McClellan and Andy Lawson in relief roles along with some newcomers who have showed great potential in the fall and recent practices.”
Sewell said the returning players will have to step up and show leadership both on and off the field.
“We’re counting on our lone senior, Sean Love, to have a big year for us. Sean has a lot of varsity experience and I expect him to be a gamer. We’ll also rely on junior, Jordan McCartney. Jordan is another one of those guys with a lot of varsity experience and we expect him, along with Sean, to be the leaders of this team.”
Sewell expects Barber will have a great year not only on the mound, but also at shortstop.
“Zack is another one of those young guys we are counting on to do big things this season. He’s got the potential to be one of the better shortstops in our area. We expect a lot out him offensively, too.”
Sewell does not think the new mandated bats, which are weaker than in recent years, will have any effect on the Bulldogs’ offensive approach.
“The new bats really shouldn’t change our mentality or philosophy as a team. We weren’t the type to just get up there and knock them out of the park anyways. We will do what we do offensively, and use whatever bat the state mandates – those are things you can’t control, and we won’t dwell on stuff like that around here.”
Sewell looks forward to the season, which will be his first as a head coach.
“I’m a rookie,” Sewell said jokingly, “This will be my inaugural season as a head coach anywhere. I understand the long tradition of success here at Gaston, and I hope to continue that success and provide a lot more for the years to come. I’m excited that Gaston is the place where I get to begin my career.”
The Bulldogs open the season on Feb. 25, when they host a doubleheader with Pleasant Valley.