Fairmont Varsity Baseball has a grand slam of a start, as S.C. tournament victory leads to 4-0 record

Firebird+Varsity+Baseball+Coach+Kent+Drake+talks+to+his+team+before+they+start+practice+in+March.+During+spring+break%2C+the+team+traveled+to+South+Carolina%2C+where+the+boys+captured+the+2015+Forest+Acres+Classic+championship.

Photo: Jeff Allen

Firebird Varsity Baseball Coach Kent Drake talks to his team before they start practice in March. During spring break, the team traveled to South Carolina, where the boys captured the 2015 Forest Acres Classic championship.

The Fairmont Varsity Baseball team traveled to Columbia, South Carolina, over spring break to compete in the 2015 Forest Acres Classic. Not only did the Firebirds go undefeated to win the tourney, but Fairmont beat the host team and three-time defending South Carolina champion AC Flora in the championship game 10-9 in extra innings.

The Firebirds now find themselves 4-0 as the season starts to unfold. It’s clear to see that the Fairmont Baseball players aren’t messing around this season.

Fairmont Head Coach Kent Drake says he’s expecting this year’s team to improve on last year’s 14-14 record.

“Our expectations are a lot higher this year. We’ve got a lot of talented returning starters coming back,” Drake said. “A lot of younger kids with varsity experience are getting older and we’re going to be able to compete a lot better this year.”

Drake says their main strengths are going to be their pitching staff and experience, but there are a few weaknesses as with every team.

“Right now, we have a few unknowns in our lineup. Our outfield defense will be unproven; they will need to step up,” Drake said.

Two things Drake emphasized was the selflessness and fun-loving attitude of this year’s squad.

“I think this year we have a group of kids who are all in. They’ve bought into the things that we’re trying to do. They’re a bunch of kids with great, goofy personalities who are really fun to be around,” Drake said. “I can see this group being more about the collective than about the individual performance.”

Despite the average finish last year, the coach said he has no worries going into the new season even though he’s aware of the improvement needed.

“We still have a lot of ground to make up to compete for a league and district titles,” Drake said. “But we’re a lot closer than we have been in the last two years.”

From a player’s aspect, sophomore Tommy Bell is ready to take this year on.

“I’m really excited for this year’s team. We have a couple of seniors who could really take us far, a deep pitching rotation, and a young team,” Bell said.

The Firebird shortstop is coming off a stellar season in which he achieved both 1st Team All-GWOC Central and 2nd Team All-Area while batting .333 on 66 at-bats.

Bell speaks highly of his teammates.

“My teammates are great. We make each other better and it makes practice really fun,” he said. “I think this year’s going to be a blast being with these guys.”

According to Bell, the goals for this year’s Firebirds are clear.

“Of course we’re looking to get better. Of course our team goals for this year are to win the GWOC Central and then keep advancing on to Districts. That’s really where we want to be,” Bell said.

Bell said he thinks the Fairmont baseball team has a bright future.

“There’s a lot to expect in upcoming years, the next three years or so,” he said. “I think we could take it really far and and possibly win three or so District and GWOC Central championships.”

Senior pitcher Jaryd Murphy is confident that the increasing experience will take the team far.

“We were pretty young last year, and those guys got a lot of experience,” Murphy said.

Murphy is going to be a key piece to the Firebirds’ season, as he was last year when he averaged .256 with 14 RBIs. He was especially effective on the mound, leading the team in innings pitched with 47, wins with 4, and strikeouts with 46.

As a senior, Murphy is surely going to miss baseball season.

“I’ll miss the times we had in the dugouts, messing around in the locker room, and going out to play basketball,” Murphy said. “We do all kinds of things together; we don’t just hang out in baseball. I’ll definitely miss the brotherhood.”

He has been playing with some of these guys for years and has developed a great appreciation for his teammates.

“We have a blast. We’re all good kids,” Murphy said. “I mean nobody gets in trouble; we all look out for each other and when somebody’s down, we pick them up.”

Murphy is very optimistic and believes in his team’s talent this season.

“I think we’re good enough to make a deep tournament run. That’s a real expectation that I think we can definitely achieve,” Murphy said.

Murphy recognizes that the expectations for the baseball team are beginning to rise.

“Honestly, being at Fairmont, people don’t expect a lot of things from you. But I think all sports have turned around this year,” Murphy said. “It’s kind of on us to live up to those expectations and show people that Fairmont can be good at sports.”