JT Brazzel

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald JT Brazzel is expected to be Edgewood’s starting third baseman.

Edgewood has had a strong history of success on the baseball field but it has gotten further removed from that over the last few years. The Wildcats have not won a state title since 2016 and they are coming off their third consecutive season with a losing record.

Coach Justin Jones was hired in the offseason and he has already seen a lot of positive changes. Jones brought a new level of excitement and the team responded with high expectations for his first season.

“All the boys want to go all the way and I believe we have a good shot,” Jones said. “We have a lot of young talent mixed in with some leadership and older talent. We have enough to rotate everyone in and make it work.”

Jones said everyone has been buying in to his coaching philosophies. The Wildcats have put their focus on hitting and Jones has worked a lot of new drills into the mix that have already produced results.

Edgewood hit just .264 as a team with an on-base plus slugging percentage of .718 so the Wildcats have plenty of room for improvement. Jones has already seen players take big strides, specifically first baseman Cade Bazzell who was the top power bat last season and led the Wildcats with 28 RBIs.

“He’s going to be in the heart of the lineup again and I think he’s going to get better,” Jones said. “He’s the guy that you see come up to the plate and you know what’s coming. He’s looking for something to hit and hit hard. He’s not up there for base hits. He’s up there to drive in runs.”

The Wildcats hope to provide Bazzell with some extra at-bats with runners on base. Luke Sisson returns after leading the team with a .389 batting average last season while returning starters Mitchell Boyd, Drez Crawford and Alex Johnson are all expected to contribute near the top of the order.

Edgewood was hit by the injury bug last season with JT Brazell and KJ Hollenquest seeing their seasons cut short but they are both expected to play a big role this year. Jones hopes both can help provide some extra power.

While hitting has been a focus for the Wildcats, they still have some questions to answer on the mound. Although Jones is still searching for an ace, he is confident in the group of guys he has on the pitching staff.

“We have a really good rotation to start the season and that makes my job easier,” Jones said. “We don’t have to rotate the same one or two guys. We feel like we have an arsenal of guys to bring in.”

Johnson, who was a top pitcher last season, is dealing with a shoulder injury but should return some time by midseason. Kam Burleson pitched the most innings pitched last year and should compete for the No. 1 spot. But with Burleson still playing basketball, Edgewood may have limited options to begin.

Sisson is also expected to contribute on the mound and may be the most reliable arm early. He is hoping to improve after finishing with a 5.65 ERA in 26 innings last season.

“He has been working really hard up there,” Jones said. “I think he’s in for a good season. He is getting a good feel for all of his pitches.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.