Close victories give Holtville series win over ECHS

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald

Hunter Martin allowed just one hit in the final four innings Holtville’s first win over Elmore County on Friday.

After two straight busy postseasons, both Holtville baseball and softball teams saw a lot of production walk across the graduation stage last May. No one could blame either program if the goals and expectations were a little lower entering this season but the Bulldogs are having none of that and want to go even further with their new groups.

“We want to go all the way,” Holtville baseball coach Torey Baird said. “That is everyone’s goal. We like to make deep runs and just because you don’t win state doesn’t mean it’s a bad season but that’s our goal. The work and intensity has to be at a level they have never done before.”

Baird has led the Bulldogs to three playoff series wins in two seasons and they are hoping to build off that success despite graduating major pieces, including 2019 Alabama Sports Writers Association Class 4A Pitcher of the Year Drew Nobles.

Holtville has several returning faces along with some new players who will fill in on the mound. Braxton Buck is competing for the No. 1 spot in the rotation while Hunter Martin, Mikey Forney and Payton Coburn return as top relief arms.

“You don’t replace someone like Drew,” Baird said. “That just doesn’t happen but you have to find some guys to step up. We don’t have that one dominant guy but we feel like we have a group that can get it done. We have a lot more guys we can rely on.”

Newcomers Tanner Potts and Garrett Ingram are expected to see some time on the mound along with Todd Wilson and Randy Davis. The returning players combined for 68 of Holtville’s 205 innings pitched last season.

While the pitching may take some time to figure out, Holtville is going to rely on its strength at the plate. Forney, a utility player, led the team with a .410 batting average and 45 runs scored as a freshman in 2019 but Baird said Forney knows he has to improve even more as he is on opposing teams’ radars now.

“One of the hardest things to do is to have back-to-back seasons hitting .400, especially as a freshman and sophomore,” Baird said. “Everyone will be more careful with him at the plate now.”

Martin led Holtville with 15 extra-base hits last season and will return to start at third base. Brady White, Drey Barrett and Sam Silas are among the players competing for starting roles in the middle of the infield while Brendan Carney, Todd Wilson and Payton Coburn are expected to see plenty of time in the outfield.

Holtville’s softball team is also being forced to replace a majority of its production. The Bulldogs made a run to the state tournament behind five seniors in the starting lineup, including 4A Hitter of the Year KK Dismukes.

“When you lose a lot of your leaders, you just have to create new ones,” Holtville softball coach Kaelin Dawson said. “We have had a lot of girls step up and they are speaking out during practice. The expectations are still the same and everyone knows that.”

Bella Farmer and Brooke Cooper will lead the offense but Holtville will need to find production beyond that duo. The Bulldogs have to replace six of their top eight hitters but Dawson is confident in the group of young players filling those roles.

Riley Dismukes and Reagan Thorn got some playing time last season and are expected to be starters in the outfield while middle schoolers Taylor Price, Ava Farmer and Bailea Boone will compete for other starting jobs.

Cooper will take the No. 1 spot in the circle but Dawson will look for Price and Kennedy Bradshaw to pick up plenty of innings when the Bulldogs need them.

“It’s going to be a challenge but if we can manage our staff and keep that pitch county down, we’re going to be okay,” Dawson said. “They have shown tremendous growth and I am excited to see them get better.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.