Three years into a rebuilding project at Campbell County High School, coach Brad Collette may have his best baseball team yet.
Pitching depth and senior leadership hold the key to the season for the Cougars, who finished 11-18 a year ago in a tough Class AAA district.
Twins Andy and David Hickman, both seniors, are at the top of what could be a seven-man rotation for Campbell County.
“This is the best pitching staff since I’ve been here,” Collette said.
“And we finally have a group of seniors that will be with us for four years.”
A half dozen starters are back for the 2012 team. That includes the Hickman brothers, senior first baseman/pitcher Aaron Chapman, senior shortstop Chris Hutson, junior catcher Bo Farris, senior left fielder Lee Sharp and sophomore second baseman Nick Bailey.
Hutson and Farris return at their positions, while the rest of the spots in the infield are still up for grabs.
“We’ve got some pretty good competition going on at three or four different positions,” Collette said.
The coach may mix-and-match his line up daily based on the opposing team.
Going into Monday’s season and home opener against Williamsburg, Ky., the Cougars’ starting lineup looks something like this:
•Either sophomore Joseph Williams or Chapman will play first base.
•Hutson will be at second base.
•Bailey will man the hot corner at third.
•Farris will catch for starting pitcher Andy Hickman.
Campbell County got a couple of transfers during the offseason — Hunter Scott from Louisiana and Tucker Cain from Crossville — both of which play shortstop.
The pitching rotation may include all of the following: the Hickman brothers, Scott, Chapman, senior Landon Brackett and freshmen Andrew Evans and Tate McGhee.
The weak link on defense may the outfield, where Sharp is the lone returnee from last season.
Campbell County went 2-5 against a pre-season scrimmage schedule featuring Gatlinburg-Pittman, Union County, Christian Academy of Knoxville, Bearden and Sevier County.
The Cougars were competitive in losses to CAK and Bearden.
“We’re talking about two state tournament teams right there,” Collette said.
“We started a different lineup in every scrimmage. Early in the season, hitting is always going to be tough. So we’ve got to rely on our pitching to pull us through.”
During the past two seasons, the Cougars have been competitive in the opening round of the district tournament. That includes a 1-0 loss to Karns last May.
“The later in the season, the better we’ll be,” Collette said.
“I think we could finish anywhere from fifth to the top of the district during the regular season. There’s no reason that we can’t be in the middle of the pack.”