The Bob Jones baseball team heads into the 2017 season with high expectations despite having just three starters returning from a team that finished runner-up to Sparkman in the area and a first round playoff spot of a year ago. The Class 7A, Area 8 Patriots will be looking for its 12 seniors, most of whom played junior varsity last season, to take the bull by the horns and yippee ki-yay take the area title.
“We put many of these guys on junior varsity last year to obtain a lot of reps and work them to the varsity this season,” said Jared Smith head coach of Bob Jones. “We hope it pays off. We have an older team, but inexperienced at the varsity level.”
The Patriots should be a pitching-heavy squad led by senior and Auburn commit Ford Luttrell who hopes to be 100-percent after undergoing a new type of elbow surgery midway through the season in 2016. If Luttrell returns to top form he should hit the 90-mph-plus zone and show the talent he possessed prior to his injury. He’s also expected to lead the team at the plate while also playing centerfield.
“I like the pressure put on me and people relying on me as that makes me perform better as an athlete,” said the 6-foot, 185-pound right handed pitcher for the Patriots. “I didn’t pitch as much as I hoped for last year due to my injury, but I did step up in batting (30 hits, 7 doubles, 2 homers, .270 avg.) as I felt like I needed to do something to help our team.”
The pitching staff is deeper than a year ago. Along with Ford, the Pats will have, among others, Ryan Kirby (3-2, 3.73 ERA) and Coleton Barnes (4-4, 1.97 ERA, 33 Ks). Between the three pitching leads, they started just a dozen games during last season’s 30-17 record and a second place finish in Area 8.
“Our pitching staff last year had a lot of injuries while this year we have about eight really good pitchers as they all have a lot of potential,” said Barnes, Sr., 5-11, 170. “We have lots of young talent and throughout the season our experience will show.”
“In the area, everything goes through Sparkman and until somebody knocks them off they will be the team to beat,” said Smith.
There’s a lot of talent to be replaced from a year ago, and that means heavy pressure on those returning, especially Luttrell who is being looked at as a leader on the mound and at the plate. Luttrell said, “We’re working on the hitting aspect of our team, but I think we’ll be really strong in pitching. We have a lot of young guys, but having them come up to the varsity I’m sure will have no trouble adjusting and it will all work out.”
The 2017 season schedule includes the Birmingham-Huntsville Challenge and a spot in the Gulf Coast Classic in Gulf Shores.