Coming off a 19-28 season last year, Three Rivers is banking on versatility and its returning players to get the job done this season.
The Raiders have been outside for practice less than 10 times in preparation for the season. Most of their preparation time has been spent inside the Bess Activity Center or in the team’s clubhouse because of the weather, and that could make the opening game Saturday even tougher than it already would’ve been.
The Raiders will travel to Millington, Tennessee, to face John A. Logan and Dyersburg State Saturday afternoon. John A. Logan checked into the NJCAA preseason poll at No. 18.
In two weeks, the Raiders will already be playing their first region games of the season. With the headfirst dive it has to do, head coach Stacey Burkey and the players are focusing on trying to do the little things right to give themselves the best chance to win.
“Just have the body language and presence of controlling what they have control over,” Burkey said. “... We’re just looking for big effort, being good teammates, getting signals right, getting bunts down, going to the cut-off man, not trying to do too much and getting on and off the field with a good sprint.
“Some little things I think can affect the performance.”
With the versatility Burkey said his team has, being able to shift guys around in various positions on defense and not force anyone to constantly stay in the same spot, he thinks it could help the team stay fresh and keep them from wearing down, especially on the pitching staff.
“I don’t think we’re in a situation where we have to leave a guy out there because we don’t have anybody to go to in the bullpen that’s going to give us a chance,” Burkey said. “I think our bullpen is going to be strong enough to where we can do some matchup type things.”
With a deeper bullpen, the likelihood of overworking a pitcher will decrease and allow guys to stay fresh, and Burkey knows keeping a player’s pitch count down will allow him to get in a comfortable routine and throw every fifth day.
Sophomore right-handers Shelby Quiggins and River Hunt will get the nod in the starting pitcher slots Saturday. Quiggins will start the first game while Hunt gets the second.
Palmer Campbell will serve as the team’s lone left-handed pitcher. Burkey expects Campbell to make solid contributions at the plate, too.
“At the plate, we have a lot of hitters,” Campbell said. “We’ll be able to switch out a lot of guys. We’re just really looking forward to it.”
While the team brings in a dozen sophomores, there are 17 freshmen, including redshirts.
“We’re going to have a lot of youth in the infield and outfield. A lot of guys that can play first or third. A lot of dynamic guys and dual threats,” Tyler Clayton said.
Starting this week and for the year, the players are looking forward to going out and winning as many games as possible, starting with Saturday. The players echoed some of the same sentiments as Burkey, which is to start the season by doing the little things right in order to increase their chances of piling up wins to start the year.
“Hopefully, we’ll get a winning record over .500 and make sure we come out on top,” Clayton said.
Added Campbell, “We just want to win and get a top-four spot in the region and try to get to that region play and try to win it.”
The Raiders will face John A. Logan at 2 p.m. Saturday to start their season, and they’ll follow with a game against Dyersburg State.
Nate Fields - Daily American Republic