With coach Kerby Marshall entering his second year with the program, the team returns most of its bats from a solid offense a year ago, and additional pitching depth, Paine is coming together.
The Lions won 30 games and reached the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference championship in 2012 before bowing out to Stillman, which won the championship for the fifth time in six years.
“It was a major process to go through without having a team of kids that I recruited,” Marshall said. “We had to learn how to work together to become a good team. I think it was a pretty good season, but it could have been a lot better. This year, we’re definitely going to make another run for it.”
Entering a new season, Paine is returning the majority of its offense, which carried the team to the championship after the pitching staff ran out of gas in the tournament.
Senior William Van Winkle returns as the conference leader in home runs a year ago with nine, while he also led the team in triples and batting average.
Leadoff hitter Jonathan Richey recorded 49 steals last year while playing good defense in right field. Marshall said scouts from the Padres and Cardinals have looked at Richey as he enters his junior year.
“I do eventually want to get picked up, but I don’t want to play thinking about it,” Richey said. “I just play hard every day and let the chips fall. It will come if it comes, so it’s not something I’m going to worry about.”
The pitching staff, which was in need of upgrades, has been given depth. Chris Hallett and Dalton Self will anchor the rotation, but several on the team said depth is the biggest key.
“We ran out of pitching last year,” Van Winkle said. “The difference is a ton more arms. I think we have five kids that can go the distance over five games. We didn’t have that last year.”
The obstacle to turning the corner and claiming a conference championship is likely to be Stillman again, Marshall said. Paine lost four games to Stillman between the regular season and conference tournament last season.
Paine will open the season Saturday at home against Tuskegee in a doubleheader that starts at noon.