| By Myra Bean
The South Panola Tiger baseball team is just as determined as ever to slice out a chunk of the respect of North 1-5A baseball as the other three DeSoto teams in the district.
The Tiger diamond team expects a good fight on the field and is not about to back down in this newly started season.
South Panola started the season off right with an 11-5 win over Cleveland Tuesday night. (See story on C2 for details.)
Fourth year head coach Patrick Robey has a solid field of seniors who have been with him since he got to South Panola and who he expects to lead the team.
Robey sat down in a preseason interview to talk about this year’s team and the upcoming season, district and non-district. He is very upbeat about the potential of this team as some players this year have blossomed in their potential as they had to step into the shoes of some others who graduated.
Robey also talked about the players who have been leaders in their junior year and how much influence they have on the team this year.
One of his main seniors on the team is Josh Boren, third year starter at first base. Boren hit a grand slam in the game against Cleveland.
"He’s got a big bat," Robey said of Boren. "We will depend on Josh to swing the bat. If he can play solid defense, that’s a plus. He is definitely an offensive guy"
The other is center fielder Jonathon Flint.
"Jonathon Flint is our anchor," Robey said. "He is basically the captain for our outfield: runs well, second year as starter, hit over .300 last year. We expect him to hit over .300 again this year.
"Jonathon doesn’t make a lot of mistakes out there," Robey added. "He does make some. He is very solid defensively"
Other starters in the outfield include Kyle Crofford in left field, Heath Bolton and Barrett Johnson in right, depending on who is pitching. Crofford can also play center when Flint is on the mound, according to Robey.
Pitching is always a main concern and it is no less at South Panola.
All of the previously mentioned outfielders pitch: Johnson, Crofford, Flint and Bolton. Also in that list Robey included sophomore Colton Ales and freshman David Renfroe, who got the win Tuesday night.
"We feel like we will score runs but we have to have some guys on the mound who will keep us in the game and give us a chance to win," Robey said.
The Tigers retained all the major pitchers from last year with the exception of graduate Walt Love.
"With that in mind, it’s a good thing," Robey said. "They are all a little stronger, physically and mentally"
The infielders include Renfroe, at third base.
"There is no question about it," Robey said. "I feel real secure with David over there. He’s a freshman. He is really mature mentally and physically"
At shortstop is Jameson Rodgers, a four-year starter. If Rodgers is on the mound, Tyler Benson can play shortstop, Robey said.
"Tyler is kind of a utility guy who can fill the hole at second or third if we need him there," Robey said.
At second base is senior Lance Hendrix.
"He (Lance) is a guy who has just been waiting in the wings," Robey said. "If you are looking for a kid who has great character, a great work ethic, determination and always does what you ask, Lance is that guy. He played very little for three years. He has been very patient and very determined and he’s going to play second and he’s going to do a great job"
Backing up Boren at first base will be freshman Ethan Bright. Robey said Bright has shown them he can play first base at the high school level.
"As young as he is, he can swing the bat well," Robey said. "I look for him to be in the lineup a lot"
At catcher are junior Mitchell Houston and senior Bud Barthold.
"They push each other," Robey said. "They have a good working relationship. It is fun but it is also a job. If you have someone pushing for your spot, it is a little motivation. They compliment each other well"
The teams of Horn Lake, Southaven and Olive Branch, along with South Panola make up the district. Teams will meet each other twice during the season.
In the preseason polls, Olive Branch was ranked No. 3 with a new coach, Bo Reynolds, at the helm.
"Everybody in our district is solid," he said. "We just have to go out and execute"
Robey said those teams have always had a couple of good pitchers which goes back to the beginning of their programs.
"There are not that many good arms on those teams as there have been in the years past," Robey said. "That is a positive for us. If I had to say if one team was stronger than another, it would be Olive Branch. They probably have more experienced pitchers than anyone else in the district"
Robey said Southaven has one dominant pitcher who is already fielding offers from Florida, Memphis and other division one schools.
"But he can’t throw every game," Robey said. "Just like our best guy can’t throw every game either.
"We like our chances," Robey added. "It will be a dogfight from game one, but our guys are prepared"
The coaching staff puts the players in pressure situations in practice so they can handle them when they come up in the games, according to Robey.
On the coaching staff is Chim Stogner, who is in his second year from Petal; Drew McGehee, a student volunteer from Ole Miss; Brad Lightsey, first year, former Tiger; and Amir Hunt, first year math teacher at South Panola.
"Drew helps as much as he can on a volunteer basis," Robey said. "He’s certainly a good student of the game and knows the game. The kids respond to him well"
Lightsey attended Delta State and was named to the All-American team. He and Robey received the same baseball training.
"Brad is a super young man with a great mind for the game," Robey said. "He is a great guy for me to have because I can just turn the pitching staff over to him"
Hunt has basically taken over the junior high program and is the outfield coach for the high school, Robey said.
"The kids like him," Robey added. "He is real energetic"
Robey was bursting with excitement about this year’s team and its potential.
"It’s a fun team," he said. "The kids know what is expected of them. They keep you on your toes"