MOULTRIE – Colquitt County High baseball officially enters the new era Monday under first-year head coach Matt Crews. The former Lowndes High assistant was hired to take the spot left open by the retiring GACA Hall of Famer Tony Kirkland after the 2019 season.
Since being able to work with the Packers starting in June, Crews said he learned so much about these players, what their strengths and weaknesses are, and basically developed important personal relationships. He quipped about how, at the age of 33, he is the oldest on his coaching staff. The other part of the job was assembling that staff, and he said he brought in assistants who share his high level of expectations and are not afraid to put these Packers to work.
The new pitching/catching coach is Philip Swindell, the hitting coach is Cameron Cain and the outfield/first-base box coach is Tyler Hembree. Crews’ main focus is with the infielders.
During the fall, Crews said they worked within the GHSA guidelines of four players to one coach at a time in 25- to 30-minute sessions. Much of the emphasis on the defensive side was the hands and feet of the infielders, reading the baseball off the bat in the outfield and developing a baseball IQ, trying to anticipate what happens in any given situation. As for the hitting, Crews said Cain got a look at everyone’s swing and made changes where it was needed. And Crews said Swindell spent hours watching the pitchers throw in the bullpen, made notes on what he saw, and made it known their goal is to put a whole bunch of 0s on the board.
In live action, the Packer pitching already scored high marks during last week’s scrimmage with Worth County. Crews said they allowed only four hits in seven innings.
“We have a strong corp of leadership,” said Crews. “We have some big offensive threats in Henry Daniels, JT Whatley and Nate Creech. And we have a lot of scrappy guys.”
That “scrappy” group is led by Lucas Tostenson, an outfielder who will bat leadoff. He brings a load of experience as the 2019 group was young, especially in position players. Tostenson hit .274 (20-for-73) last season. Right behind him in the order is infielder/pitcher Owen Taylor, a “spark plug” according to Crews. Taylor turned in a nine-pitch inning during the scrimmage play.
Whatley, the third baseman, drove in 20 runs on 28 hits, and the first baseman Daniels batted home 11 runs on 14 hits last spring. These are seniors who already signed to play with junior college teams.
On the mound, Packer pitching will be led by two juniors who had a combined 16 appearances as sophomores. Jeb Johnson found himself starting several key games, like the opening games of region doubleheaders, and won three times with a 2.60 earned run average. He was second on the team with 35 innings pitched. Left-hander Gavin Steptoe also picked up some starting experience and struck out 20 in 18 2/3 innings.
Crews said these pitchers can throw in the low 80s while showing good command and the ability to mix in quality second and third pitches. Jacob Walden is another hurler Crews will depend on for innings once he recovers from injury. Walden threw 17 innings in nine appearances last season. The coach said he feels he has relievers who can challenge hitters in Gary Hill Jr. and Case Cook.
Catching these pitchers is junior Henry Underwood. Crews said he stepped up his game behind the plate. His backup is Cole Whatley. A third member of the Whatley family, cousin Cannon, as a freshman in 2019 played extensively in the infield with 18 hits and 10 RBI.
“I like to challenge my players … my goal is not to pad stats,” said Crews about Colquitt County’s 2020 baseball schedule.
In the month of February alone, the Packers play Ola (Feb. 14 in Tifton), which played Loganville for the 5A state championship and finished 29-12; at Hillgrove, which played Parkview for the 7A championship and finished 32-10; Grayson, which lost to Hillgrove in the 7A semifinals and went 28-12; and Harrison, a 6A semifinalist that went 29-9. Then some schools from Ponte Vedra and Miami are coming to Moultrie for the Ga./Fla. Challenge.
Crews said this what they need to get ready for a Region 1-7A championship run and possible deep run in the 7A playoffs. He said playing these successful clubs will show them what they need to do. It all starts Monday on Ike Aultman Field at Jerry Croft Stadium with a 5 p.m. start against Cairo High.