By Gene Phelps/NEMS Daily Journal
TUPELO – Tupelo 49ers coaches Kirk Presley and McKinley Holland believe they have assembled a competitive American Legion baseball team.
However, check with them in about a month for a final judgement.
“Really, we have no idea what to expect,” Presley said. “We like this team. We have a good mix of young players and experienced players, but it’s going to take about 15 to 20 games to come together and figure out who we are as a team.”
The 49ers open their season at 2 p.m. today with a doubleheader at Mantachie. They return to action on Wednesday at Corinth and play next weekend in the Pontotoc Round Robin.
The annual 49ers Invitational is scheduled for July 5-8 and the American Legion State Tournament is scheduled to be played July 27-30 in Tupelo.
Five of this summer’s 49ers – Tupelo’s Ben Aldridge, Connor Carothers, Brayden Owen and Dylan Vuncannon, along with Saltillo’s Anthony Mallard – return from last season’s team that reached the finals of the American Legion World Series.
Last year’s team won state and regional championships before making a title run in Shelby, N.C.
Presley knew last season’s team was talented, even though they didn’t show him a lot during the regular season.
“I can’t say we were on fire during the season, but we got hot in the state tournament,” he said. “Everybody got hot. We hit well and our pitching staff kept us in every game.
“Things kind of fell our way.”
This year’s 18-man roster has 14 players who have pitched and three catchers. Having plenty of arms is crucial when a team could play as many as 40 games in seven weeks.
“You play a doubleheader during the week, then four or five games on a weekend,” Presley said. “It takes a lot of arms.”
The 49ers started practice this week.
“It’s been a crazy time with graduation and senior trips,” the coach noted. “There hasn’t been a lot of practice time. We’ll practice as we go.”
In the region, Tupelo will compete against teams from Mantachie, Pontotoc and Corinth. Hattiesburg and Pascagoula also have teams competing this season.
“It’s still a high level of baseball,” said Presley, who pitched for the 49ers before becoming a No. 1 draft choice of the New York Mets. “I think it helps prepare guys for the next level – college or another year of high school.”