“Redemption” is the short answer that Lakewood Leopards head baseball coach Jay Faircloth gave when asked to describe his team’s approach to the upcoming season.
The Leopards suffered a tough 2016 season that was plagued with injuries. The result was a 5-14 record that kept Lakewood out of postseason contention. The 2017 Leopards, however, have their eyes set on putting last year behind them as they open up regular season play.
“Missing the playoffs stung, especially given that we’d made them the previous two seasons,” admitted Faircloth. “Last year just didn’t go the way we planned so we have a lot to prove. We were better than what our record showed.”
In addition to the injuries that haunted the 2016 season, the Leopards lost multiple games in the last couple of innings and struggled to find conistency to fill the gaps of the missing injured players.
“That’s just the way it was,” Faircloth conceded.
However, the Leopards have both veteran and young talent entering the 2017 season. Players like senior Zach Tanner are returning to help the team improve from a year ago and be more competitive in the Carolina 1A Conference, which Faircloth says is one of his biggest goals. He stressed that he is sure every player on his team will make an impact in the upcoming season, and feels that the Leopards have what it takes to win the conference.
“This year’s team will feature returning players from last year, but we’re doing some new things and have basically started fresh. Players are playing different positions, our practices are running differently and our attitude is different. There’s some old faces, but it’s like a whole new team,” commented Faircloth. “My opinion on the conference is that it’s wide open. The new pitch rule could possibly change the whole thing. I don’t think it’s a one or two dominant team conference anymore. This rule could make it competitive for every team in it.”
The new pitch rule that Faircloth is referencing went into effect in December. Under the new rule, the maximum number of pitches allowed in a single day for a pitcher will be 105. In addition, there are mandatory rest days required based on the number of pitches a pitcher throws in a game. If a pitcher throws 76 or more pitches in a day, four calendar days of rest are required before pitching again. If a pitcher throws 61-75 pitches, the pitcher must rest three calendar days. For 46-60 pitches, a pitcher must rest two calendar days; and one calendar day of rest is required for 31-45 pitches. Less than 31 pitches does not require any rest.
“I think it evens the playing field somewhat,” Faircloth added, regarding the rule change.
Faircloth also said that he himself has changed since last season, pointing to spiritual growth as his biggest personal acheivement.
“I have changed, not just in athletics, but spiritually,” the coach attested.
In his first team meeting, Faircloth posted a passage from Matthew 17:20, which reads, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”
He says he did this to let his players know that he believes in them and that he knows, despite the odds, his team can make a run and potentially win the conference. Faircloth knows that his Leopards team is eager to prove themselves and are looking forward to opening up regular season play when they travel to take on rival Midway on Friday.
Reach Sports Editor Daron Barefoot at [email protected]