By Thomas Sellers Jr.
The Munford Cougars were a couple of breaks away from upsetting the Bartlett Panthers during last year’s Regional Tournament.
The fact the Cougars were even playing that Monday night surprised many baseball experts in the area because Munford entered 2015 with a new coach, young players and a few seniors removed from the winning traditions of Cougar Baseball.
Under Jake Garbuzinski, the 2015 Cougars took a step in the right direction, back to the days of the early 2000s when the Cougars were regular visitors to the State Tournament. And maybe the 2016 Cougars can help celebrate the 25th anniversary of the school’s only State Championship team with another appearance in Murfreesboro.
“It’s definitely a little of a change,” Garbuzinski said of the expectations. “The kids are more comfortable with me and I am more comfortable with them. We’ve got the materials and stuff we need in. We’ve got the right people in the right places.
“Last year was more fitting the pieces of the puzzle into place,” he added. “I was one of those pieces. So right now we’re trying to fit in a few smaller pieces to make the whole picture.”
Part of the 2016 picture includes experts now picking the Cougars to be one of the top teams in District 13-3A competing against the likes of Brighton, Hardin County and defending champs Dyer County.
“We’ve heard a lot of great things from other people about us,” Coach Garbo said. “But I have nothing but great things to say about some of the programs we’ll be facing.
“It’s great that we’re being picked and everything, but at the same time we have to come in everyday and work,” he continued. “At the same time Dyer County is the standard. They’ve won 9 times in a row. Until you beat them, they’re No. 1 until somebody knocks them off.”
Garbuzinski said every moment spent in the cage, on the mound and on the field is crucial in beating the likes of a Dyer County. During the preseason, the Skipper has scheduled the likes of area powerhouses Bartlett and Houston.
“March and April, we’ll play against some good Memphis teams,” he noted of the regular season schedule. “We open up with Germantown who won a championship 14 or 15 years ago. A well-known program. We play four non-district opponents while we’re in districts.
“We have a home and home with Arlington,” Garbuzinski added. “They won State a few years ago. We go to Houston, who loss in the final four last year. We have a home and home with Christian Brothers, who has won 10 State championships. We also have our very good six games in districts.”
To navigate the tough schedule, the Munford coaching staff will depend on arms like Dusty Baker, Jacob Sawyer, Austin Kaiser, Nick Johnson and Vanderbilt signee Joe Fulcher.
Fulcher set records in his junior campaign from the mound with 14 strikeouts at Millington and a no-hitter in the district tournament.
“He definitely had the potential to have great year,” Garbuzinski said of his ace. “In return will help us have a very good year. At the same time I’ve been very please with him keeping his head on. He’s got into the weight room and he hasn’t let any of this publicity get to his head. He is whole-heartedly ready to do what he needs to do. This year he can be our engine on getting things started off well for us.”
Garbo noted Baker will be a hidden gem for the Cougar staff and Sawyer is a very capable district pitcher who could outlast any opposing ace.
Young arms like Steven Kendrick will see time on the mound. Kendrick will also be feature behind the plate. Other key Cougars in the field of play and at the plate will be Cory Simmons, Gunner Vines and Garrett Baugh.
“I’ve taken some philosophies all my former coaches,” Garbuzinski said. “Those coaches instill in me that baseball has been around a long time. And they’ve done some things the right way. We’re trying to those as correct as possible.
“No. 1 goal for us each year is not to strike out,” he added. Just don’t strike out and put the ball into play. You can’t help your team in anyway by striking out. If we can keep our strikeouts downs, we’ll have a pretty good chance of scoring some runs this year.”
With solid pieces of the puzzle already in piece, Garbuzinski said the 2016 edition of the Munford Cougars have to be motivated to become a legendary team like the 1991 State champions.
“We’ve got some goals this year,” he said. “We want to win district so that can set us up to be able to host our Region games.
“I whole-heartily think any team, us, Brighton, Dyer County, Christian Brothers, every year the good teams start with the same goal of wanting to get to Murfreesboro to compete for a State championship,” Garbo concluded. “If you don’t want to do that, I think you’re not working hard enough. We’ve put in the time and effort. It’s going to be a daily grind for us. But I think we’re up for the task.”