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Portal baseball comes back with experience

    First year head baseball coach Tendai Haggins has a lot to look forward to for his baseball Panthers in 2007.
    Returning a lot of experience - with every starter having at least a year of play under their belt – Portal looks to build on the success it had last season. They were knocked out of the state playoffs in the second round in 2006, so coach Haggins hopes to pick up where his team left off.
    “We are just looking forward to getting back to where we were last year,” said Haggins. “That is our goal – make it back to where we were last year and get back into the state playoffs.”
    The team will return a lot of leadership, with six seniors taking the diamond for PHS in 2007, but one huge gap will be noticeable in the outfield and at the plate when the season begins. Suffering a season-ending injury in the 2006 football season, senior Clayton Williams will miss much of the ’07 baseball campaign.
    “Hopefully (Clayton) will come back maybe halfway through or the last third of the season,” Haggins said. “When it gets to be crunch time, hopefully we can get him back at 85-90 percent, and get him on the field, because we are defiantly going to miss him in the beginning.”
    The season will begin at a tournament at Southeast Bulloch, with catcher Tagg Lanier hoping to return to the plate as the squad’s leading hitter. He led the team in batting average and home runs last season. The Panthers also look forward to the return of No. 1 pitcher Brandon Mock, who can also fill the gaps in infield and outfield when he is not on the mound.
    Region play in 3-A is always tough, and Haggins has no problem looking ahead. Bryan County returns eight seniors to their squad, and Calvary Baptist, ECI and Savannah Country Day are always tough.
    “Hopefully, if we can play some small-ball, play solid defensively, and like I told the kids – we are going to have to score seven or eight runs-per-game,” said Haggins, “cut our errors down and take away a few big plays with our speed, be aggressive early and hopefully we’ll be right in the thick of things – top three or four in the region.”
    At the SEB tournament that starts the season, Haggins knows that most of the teams competing are in Class AA, but he is not worried.
    “It is always a competitive tournament over there,” said Haggins. “Most (schools invited) bring a AA team, and we play A ball, but to be the best, you have to beat the best, so we need to get our feet wet early, find out where we stack up with those guys and hopefully it will get us ready for region play.

Matt Yogus can be reached at (912) 489-9404.

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