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Best may be yet to come for Bobcats
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Friday, May 24, 2019

Best may be yet to come for Bobcats

Phil Campbell’s first trip to the baseball state semifinals since 2006 didn’t go well, with the Bobcats bowing out to Piedmont in a one-sided sweep, 5-0 and 14-1.

But that sour ending did nothing to diminish what was a breakthrough season for head coach Jonathan Raper and company; nor did it change the fact that, as good as Phil Campbell was in 2019, the best may be yet to come.

In one sense, the Bobcats arrived ahead of schedule this season. They were tasked with replacing five senior starters—including UNA signee Peyton Thomas—from the 2018 team that won 25 games. There was proven talent coming back on the mound, but the everyday lineup had more than a few holes to fill.

Consider those questions answered.

Russellville transfer Luke Barnwell took over as the starting shortstop and raked all year in the leadoff spot, batting .356 with a .491 OBP and 15 extra-base hits while ranking third in the entire state with 60 runs scored. Barnwell is just one member of a sophomore class that formed the core of what turned out to be a prolific offensive attack—one that produced a .340 team batting average and 9.5 runs per game.

That class of rising juniors also includes third baseman Austen Baker (.345 average with a .470 OBP and 13 extra-base hits), infielder Ridge Raper (.367 average with a .484 OBP and 13 extra-base hits) and speedy outfielder Trey Leindecker (.302 average with 11 extra-base hits and 42 runs scored). Factor in rising senior catcher Rilan Garrison (team-best .409 average with a .578 OBP and 42 RBIs) and slick-fielding second baseman Mason Swinney (.392 average as a freshman in 2019 with a .527 OBP), and Phil Campbell should have no fewer than six everyday starters returning next season.

They’ll be loaded on the mound as well, with Raper (8-1 with a 2.47 ERA and a county-best 77 strikeouts in 51.1 innings) leading a deep staff that should also feature Barnwell (3-1 with a 1.70 ERA in 33 innings), Baker (1-2 with a 1.44 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 33.2 innings), Swinney (2-0 with just one earned run allowed and 32 strikeouts in 15.1 innings) and rising junior Brett Saint (5-3 with a 3.82 ERA and two complete games).

Without a doubt, senior starters Nate Owens, Cole Motes and Ty Leindecker will all be missed. But the bottom line remains: The Bobcats had more to replace and less coming back this past year, and they went 33-10 and came up one step shy of Montgomery.

They may well take that last step in 2020.

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