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File / The Outlook Central Coosa's Donta Daniel will take up a starting spot in center field when he's not on the mound this season.

Over the past several years, Central Coosa’s baseball team has been climbing a ladder. When Cougar coach Dave Stover took over the program, he had to build from the ground up.

Now, he truly believes he has the team to push the Cougars over the edge and advance to the playoffs.

“One of the things that we’re stepping up this year is finally getting to those kids that I started out with when they were younger,” Stover said. “Without any kind of little league, I had to teach the basics. Now, I have a solid nine. Usually there’s some gap between your top players but now I have a solid nine ball-playing students. They really understand the game.”

Central Coosa will be top heavy with seniors and several of them are multiple-sport athletes.

Ryan Payne, Dawson Duncan and Donta Daniel will be in the starting pitching rotation and Steven Hardy will also see quite a bit of time on the mound.

“(Steven) is really a utility player,” Stover said. “He’ll probably play short stop when Ryan is pitching and he’s also a left fielder. I can really put him anywhere.”

Carson Cardwell is another utility player and he’ll rotate between outfield and second base along with Evan Murray. Taking up the third-base spot will be Bryer Murchison, who will also pitch some.

When he’s not pitching, Duncan will be a starting first baseman and he’ll be backed by Landon Meadows when he is on the mound. Daniel will play in centerfield when he isn’t pitching, and he’ll be joined in the outfield by a combination of Cardwell, Ry Gilbert and Jacob Pruitt.

Pruitt is a junior but has never played baseball before, and Stover said both Pruitt and Gilbert have been standouts during the preseason despite their inexperience.

“The defense looks good so far,” Stover said. “I think we’re going to have a good season. I’m very confident with this group as long as they can put bats on the ball.”

Although the weather hasn’t been cooperative, the Cougars still feel confident in their hitting. Duncan has shown some power throughout the preseason and Payne seems to find a way to put the ball in play.

“Donta Daniel and Steven Hardy are also being really aggressive at the plate,” Stover said. “It makes a big difference when they feel like they can hit anything that comes at them, and this year I’ve got some really skilled players.

In addition to Duncan, Payne and Daniel, Meadows, Noel Eubanks and Murchison are the Cougars’ six seniors and they’ll be expected to take on big leadership roles.

“They’ve already demonstrated that,” Stover said. “Between Ryan and Dawson and Landon Meadows, they’ve really been stepping up and even some of our younger guys, like Steven Hardy, are taking on those roles. Donta is just a role model for these guys; he’s a great kid.”

Fayetteville, Reeltown and Thorsby will join Central Coosa in Class 2A Area 7, and although the Cougars haven’t won an area game since 2017, Stover remains confident he has the group to finally get over the postseason drought this year.

“With the talent we have this year, I really think we’re going to compete and there’s a good chance we could win it,” Stover said. “(All the other teams) lost quite a few, and I basically kept everybody. If we keep our heads in the game, there’s no reason we can’t beat anybody.”

Coosa was slated to start the season this week but had to reschedule because Lanett was still in the boys basketball postseason. Its first game is now scheduled for Tuesday at home against Billingsley.

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers, Inc.