By Thomas Sellers Jr.
As of the second week of March, the Dyersburg State Eagles are ranked No. 3 in the NJCAA standings.
One big reason for the Eagles’ rise across the nation is former Brighton Cardinals like Kolton Childress, Bentley Jones and freshman LaDarius “Dee” Williams.
Dyersburg’s gains are Brighton’s key departures. Entering the 2017 season, the Brighton Cardinals are the defending District 13-3A regular-season champs.
Williams was a key bat, dependable glove and power source for that run in 2016. Now Brighton Head Coach Mike Wickersham has to replace all those contributions.
“All of our pitchers are coming back except we loss D. Williams which is a big loss,” he said. “All the pitchers we have, have already started for us on the varsity level. They’ve already had a substantial amount of innings in a varsity game. Which is a plus.”
The unusually warm weather in late February and early March has helped the Cardinals in the transition of not having Williams in the batting order.
“Usually this time of the year the pitchers are ahead of the hitters because of the weather,” Coach Wick said. “But because of the weather we’ve been having it’s been nice. I’ve actually been able to watch our hitters catch up to our pitchers because they’ve been outside enough to catch some reps.”
As his players work toward the start of the season, Wickersham was mapping out the path to success in 2017 reflecting on the early end of 2016.
Although the Cardinals were the top birds in the league throughout March and April, the month of May belonged to Dyer County and Munford.
“Our season boils down to two games,” Wickersham noted. “If we can win those two games in May, we’re in good shape. We can get to that Regional game and have a chance. It’s about how much you can prepare now for those two games. You try to prepare for them in April.
“Our one and two was actually our one and three last year,” he continues. “We’re in really good shape. Matthew Jacome is our No. 1. He’s been our No. 1 actually since he was a sophomore. He’s going to sign with Murray. He’ll pitch Monday nights. Brett Wilkins, who was actually our No. 3 last season will be our No. 2.”
Wickersham said other key arms for the Cardinals will be Eli Davis (Arkansas State commit), TJ Klutts (CBU commit) and sophomore Daniel Baskins. With the new pitch-count rule in Tennessee, senior sidewinder Bryson Morgan will use his unique delivery some throughout 2017.
“We have to have four good starters with the type of schedule we have,” Wickersham said. “Then we have to mix everybody else in.”
While Williams helped out Cardinal pitchers last season with run support by hitting nearly 10 home runs, the 2017 offense will feature 8 returning bats what will manufacture runs.
Klutts will likely be the leadoff hitter for the Cardinals. Then look for Davis and Dalton Rushing to be next up in the first inning. The power source or RBI opportunists will be Matthew Smith, Garrett Dawson and Will Dunlap.
Then other key bats will be Cole Wilkins, Jacome and Brent Howard.
That lineup was considered upstarts last season surprising the experts after being picked to finish fourth.
“I don’t think there will be any surprises this year,” Wickersham said. “I’ve been trying to tell my guys that. With everybody predicting you to win, when before it was ‘Will the Cardinals be there in the end?’ We were messing people up.
“Now some of the guys we’ll play, it will make their year if they beat us,” he added. “We do have a target on us. We finished first last year but ended up finishing third in the playoffs because all of these teams are so good.”
Wickersham said the Dyer County defeat left a bitter taste in his team’s mouth and is proof a baseball season is more than March and April.
“They need to know that they have to work for something,” he said. “It’s not going to be our letters of intent, our signings or verbal commits that’s going to give us our wins. Yes we’ve got some good ballplayers and some fine young men.
“But they really have to work hard,” Wickersham concluded. “We play for May. And May is totally different. You can go 0-6 in our district and be No. 1 in the end. All four teams in our league are special in my book.”