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Tigers eager to turn the page on frustrating finish to 2017

Richard Maggerise doesn’t like to dwell on the past, and he doesn’t want his Red Bay baseball players to spend too much time looking in the rearview either.

Considering what’s behind them, it’s probably for the best.

The Tigers entered the final day of area play last April one win away from clinching an area championship and earning the right to host a first-round playoff series. An error-laden 2-1 loss to Lamar County in the first game of a doubleheader ended those hopes, but Red Bay still had a shot to qualify for the postseason by winning game two.

Then-sophomore right-hander Kolby Bragwell was brilliant on the mound in the nightcap, tossing seven shutout innings, but Lamar County put up a five-spot in the top of the eighth and won 5-0. A day that had begun with the Tigers hoping to be at home in the first round of the playoffs ended with them heading home for good.

As next Monday’s 2018 season opener at Hamilton rapidly approaches, Maggerise wants his players living in the here and now.

“We haven’t spoken this year at length about what happened on that last day,” he said. “As a coach, I want our guys to focus on what we can control. What happened last year, we don’t want to dwell on it. What we want is for this team to take those lessons learned and apply them to this season.”

The Tigers are moving on, full speed ahead, and job No. 1 for Maggerise and company is replacing the production and leadership provided on the mound last year by veteran lefties Chandler Allen and Landen Burgett, who combined for 10 of the team’s 14 wins and 134 strikeouts in 93.1 innings.

“It’s hard to replace two pitchers like Landen and Chandler,” Maggerise said. “They both played significant roles on our team for the past four years. But I’m excited to see this year’s group compete. Some of our more known pitchers are gone, but I believe this year’s staff will do a tremendous job of letting the defense work behind them and competing on every single pitch.”

Bragwell, whose 2017 highlights included 12 strikeouts in six no-hit innings against Colbert County on March 2 in addition to his late-season gem against Lamar County, is back to lead a staff that also includes seniors Hayden Murray and Skylar Brazil, left-hander Chase Allen and Alex Burroughs.

“This year we have good depth,” said Maggerise, whose team finished 14-17 last season after going 19-19 and making the playoffs in 2016. “Kolby is back to anchor the rotation, and I like the guys we have behind him.”

Bragwell made nine appearances (including six starts) last season, striking out 30 batters and allowing 26 hits in 32.1 innings. Murray, who posted a 2.33 ERA and a 24-to-6 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 24.1 innings last year, pitched primarily in relief, but his one start resulted in a complete game shutout. Brazil, another right-hander, threw 22.2 innings across eight appearances last season, including three starts and one complete game.

Allen and Burroughs got their feet wet at the varsity level last season, making seven appearances and working 17 total innings between them.

Offensively, Red Bay must replace the veteran bats of Chandler Allen, Burgett, Kaleb Burroughs and Blake Hester. Bragwell, who led the team last season with a .375 average, 33 hits and 26 RBIs, will play third base when he’s not on the mound. Murray, who finished second on the team a year ago in average (.333), hits (32) and runs scored (23), returns at shortstop and gives the Tigers an extremely productive left side of the infield to lean on.

“I can’t say enough good things about both of those young men,” Maggerise said of Bragwell and Murray, who also combined for 24 stolen bases last season in 27 attempts. “Rain or shine, they are two of the hardest-working players I’ve had. We’re counting on both of them to help carry a lineup that will have to rely more on small ball and not as much on extra-base hits.”

Brazil, who reached base at a .400 clip last year and stole 15 bases in 16 attempts, will play first base, with Chase Allen also in the mix. Alex Burroughs is a second baseman, and Colbie King figures to see time at both second and in the outfield. Kaleb Bragwell can catch and play short, and Kaleb Sims is also in the mix behind the plate.

Fleet-footed senior Max Bullen will anchor the outfield in left after batting .278 last season with a .404 OBP, 18 runs scored and 23 steals in 25 tries. Fellow senior Luke Rooker mans center field, and junior Cade McKinney will handle the right-field job after making a big impact last season (19 stolen bases in 22 attempts, with 12 runs scored) as a runner.

Red Bay will open its season next Monday at Hamilton, with a jayvee game scheduled for 3:30 p.m. and a varsity game to follow. The Tigers will open their home schedule next Tuesday, February 20 against Hackleburg and then host Sheffield on Thursday, February 22. They will visit Mississippi rival Belmont next Friday, February 23 and then travel to Northside on Saturday the 24th. Area play is set to begin March 20 at home against Phil Campbell.

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