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Cliff Williams / The Outlook Central Alabama Community College's Jake Outlaw, a Dadeville graduate, has a hot bat heading into the start of the season, which begins Friday. He is expected to start in the outfield.

A handful of starters are returning for Central Alabama Community College’s baseball team, and they’ll be complemented well by the incoming freshmen. That’s made for high expectations for the Trojans, who begin the season Friday at home against Gordon College.

“From the fall, they’ve all gelled together well and they’re working really hard,” CACC coach Larry Thomas said. “They had a really good fall and I like the way they played and how they transitioned from high school to college. The older guys really took the reins, so I think we’ll be solid. We should definitely compete in the conference.”

A pair of locals return in Cal Burton (Reeltown) and Bradley Stewart (Benjamin Russell), who will split time at second base. Catchers Louis Olivieri and Brian Lindsey also return as does first baseman Chris Gillette.

Nathan Curtis is one of the few returning pitchers, and he’ll be joined by several youngsters. Carter Gannaway and Nick Owen both should see a lot of time in the starting rotation.

Pitching was a point of contention for last year’s Trojans as they finished with a team ERA of 6.022 and walked 245 batters in 54 games. But Thomas is looking for a vast improvement in that area.

“Andrew Gates is another guy who will definitely be solid,” Thomas said. “James Adcock and Jacob Rudolph should also get some time. It’s a mix of younger guys and older guys, and I think we have a lot of depth pitching. I liked the way they handled themselves this fall, so we’ll see.

“We’ll be a pitch-to-contact type of team. That’s the way we teach it. We want our pitchers to get ahead and if you get a chance to put guys away, that’s great, but let your defense do the work.”

And the best part for the Trojans’ pitching staff is Thomas feels the defense is going to be extremely strong.

“Defense should be one of our best attributes this year,” he said.

Some others who will take up starting roles are Tristan Keith at third base, Kimbell Nappier in the outfield and Jakob Zito at catcher. Jake Outlaw (Dadeville) will likely start in left or centerfield. Outlaw was a bigtime hitter for the Tigers in high school and Thomas is hoping he can carry that over into college ball.

“He struggled a little bit in the fall but he finished strong at the end,” Thomas said. “I could see him starting in the outfield. It’s just a matter of getting his feet wet because it’s always different when going from high school to college. His defense was really good this fall. His bat was hot and cold, but right now — and I don’t want to jinx him — but he’s really hot.”

Although it’s going to be about building team chemistry for the Trojans, Thomas feels like they should be able to compete with anybody in the conference. There is a lot to replace from last year, especially offensively, but if CACC can build a good defense and keep runners off the bases, it should go far this season.

“I think the conference this year is pretty even,” Thomas said. “Everybody lost a lot of key players, including us, but everyone kind of reloaded. Usually you find out about halfway through who’s running away with it, but from all the talk, I think it’ll be pretty even.”

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

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