On Jan. 27, the so-called boys’ of summer will open practice for the 2017 high school baseball season.
District 10-3A competitors this year, the Van Alstyne Panthers and Howe Bulldogs have some similar problems to work through for the 2017 campaign.
The experience factor at the top of the team is very dissimilar.
Jimmy Haynes at Van Alstyne begins his 15th year as head coach of the Panthers. Howe’s Heath Grant will be in year one as head man of the Bulldogs. Regardless of experience, both will be looking for pitchers as they begin the new season.
Van Alstyne, after its state tournament run in 2016, lost Tuesday-Friday guys, Will Jones and Bryce Curtius to graduation. The Panthers also saw four other pitchers complete their eligibility last year.
Twelve seniors will be remembered for their participation in the 2016 state championship game, but that experience will be hard to replace. Finding pitching and working out the logistics of dealing with a new pitch-count ruling will be the first priorities for coach Haynes.
“We’re pretty much starting from scratch with our pitching staff,” Haynes said. “Coach Hardcastle and I will be looking at that from the start on Jan. 27. I’ve always been conscious of the work load of my pitchers and the new rule will not pose any hardship from that standpoint. … We will have to find someone to be the official counter for home games, and that may pose a problem, especially in our tournament.”
One facet of the new pitch court rule requires a non-student to fulfill that position for home games.
The Panthers open the season with their annual trip to Pottsboro to compete in the Cardinal Classic.
Another tournament, the GCEC-Panther Classic will be played on March 2-4, then it’s right into District 10-3A play for the Panthers as they travel to Lone Oak.
Another regular tournament stop for Van Alstyne baseball has been the Whitesboro tournament. That event will be played March 9-10, then district play resumes.
On the Panthers’ first open date, March 21, they will host Pottsboro in a non-district game.
On March 24, Howe will visit the Panthers for the first of two league games between these old rivals. Van Alstyne travels to Howe on April 18.
“Foremost, I think it (the pitch count rule) is great that we have a rule that will help ensure player safety,” Grant said. “Having a rule that will make sure that these kids aren’t doing something that is physically harmful is encouraging.”
Grant, like coach Haynes, thinks that coaches for the most part limited pitches anyway.
“I believe most coaches already follow the new restrictions 99 percent of the time,” Grant said. “My biggest concern is finding unbiased people to keep the pitch totals.”
Howe will have four scrimmages, the first on Feb. 2, to get the Bulldogs ready for the 2017 season.
On Feb. 21, North Hopkins will travel to Howe to open the regular season.
Tournaments in Weimar, Lindsay and Calera, Oklahoma, are on the schedule and District 10-3A play begins on March 7 in Commerce.