The Gainesville Leopards hosted their own invitational tournament over the weekend and after getting off to a sluggish start to their season, they have made big strides towards their preparation for district play in a couple weeks.
After a 17-0 demolishing of OD Wyatt earlier on Tuesday, Gainesville beat Lake Worth 10-9, downed City View 10-7 and won 8-7 over Howe followed by an 8-5 loss to Lebanon Trail to close out their tournament 3-1 and even their record at 4-4.
Head coach Shane Minks, who is entering his second year as head coach, said the productive week was a welcomed sight to see.
“Anytime you can finish the week 4-1, it’s a good week,” Minks said. “It didn’t finish the way we wanted to. We wanted to stay undefeated in the week, but we’re going to take 4-1 in the week. Against OD Wyatt, we struck the ball well and we were aggressive on the base paths and we took care of business.”
Compared to last season, Minks said this season has gone much smoother and that he likes how they battled back from a slow start.
“I think it started off a little bit choppy, but we’ve continued to grow,” Minks said. “This season is all about growth for us. We want to come to the park every day and be ready to play. 4-4 is better than we were at this time last year. I still think we left some wins out there. We need to continue to push forward.”
The Leopards lost a few seniors last season and will sport at young squad this season. One of their leaders on the team is junior pitcher Dylan Burnett, whose versatility will come in handy this season according to Minks.
“Dylan is a kid who is going to attack the strike zone,” Minks said. “He’s a competitor and he wants guys to swing. That’s what we love about him. He’s going to be able to compete and throw strikes and that’s all we ask our pitchers to do. He’s really worked on his bat this summer and he’s putting the ball in play. He had seven or eight RBIs in the tournament. Hopefully he can continue that through the season.”
Burnett said he is excited about the start of the season and that he has a lot of faith in his team when he’s on the mound.
“I feel like we’ve done pretty well,” Burnett said. “Gainesville’s never really been really big on baseball. We haven’t made it far, but I feel we’re really coming together. We have a lot of young guys that are going to have to step up, make those plays, get those hits and force those outs. I feel like we’ve done a pretty good job.”
With his fastball as his go-to pitch, Burnett said the trick to it is all about placement.
“If you leave one down the middle of the plate, there’s a good chance it will be taken deep, but if you pick your pitches and aim the ball correctly, it gets really hard to hit, especially with who the batter is,” Burnett said. “If we know they like to pull the baseball, we’ll try to throw away from them. If we know they’re good at hitting the outside pitch, we’ll throw inside.”
Burnett, along with Draike Sparks, Hunter Nichols, Devlyn Hall and Landon Prestage all made the all-tournament team over the weekend.
Minks said the team’s offense has begun to come around and he hopes its defense can continue to build.
“We’re going to be aggressive at the plate and stay within our approach,” Minks said. “On defense, we’re going to try to throw strikes and make the routine play. We’re getting better at that. Early in the year, we kicked the ball around a little bit, but slowly and surely, we’re making the routine play and when we do that, we’re pretty good.”
The next few weeks will be crucial to the team’s development as getting in plenty of games is important for the entire team.
Despite the change in alignment for next season, the Leopards still find themselves in one of the most difficult district’s in the state with the likes of state powerhouse Argyle along with perennial playoff teams Sanger, Krum, Decatur and Bridgeport.
“You have Argyle, who is the No. 1 in the state right now,” Minks said. “Decatur is a good ball club. Sanger, Krum and Bridgeport are all playoff teams. That’s something we look forward to every year. That’s something we talk about as a team. We get to play the best baseball in the state and we thrive on that. We like the challenge and feel like we can compete with those teams.”
Patrick Hayslip can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @PatrickHayslip