Season Preview: Rebels look to dominate with young stars

Published 11:07 am Friday, February 2, 2024

Chambers Academy’s baseball team finished second in the region last season after falling to Abbeville Christian Academy in a three-game series. This season, the team is solely focused on winning their region and gaining the top seed heading into the playoffs. 

“We haven’t won our area in about seven years,” Chambers Academy coach Dillon NeSmith said. “We’ve had some really good baseball teams. Every year that we’ve gotten put out, the one seed has been in the state championship or won the state championship. That’s been kind of a milestone for us.” 

The Rebels will be in 2A Region 1 Area 1 alongside Lakeside and Abbeville Christian Academy. Abbeville will be the team to beat after consecutive state championship appearances. 

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Chambers Academy will have several key players to replace this season. Braxton Yerta started all four years for the Rebels as a shortstop, and he is currently playing college baseball. AJ Barnes led the team in home runs, batting average and runs batted in last season. Barnes is currently playing at Wallace State Community College. Buster Coker will also be a major player to replace this season. 

“That leaves some spots open,” NeSmith said. 

“I’m excited about this team. This is probably the most sophomore-heavy team that I’ve ever had. I think we’ve got eight sophomores that are all really good baseball players.” 

Senior Kyle Hand will be expected to be one of the team’s main leaders this season. Hand is a third-year starter for Chambers Academy. Junior Luke Tarver will also be a key leader in the infield. 

“We’ve got multiple leaders on this team,” Hand said. 

“I think we’ll all compete together and work together as a team to have a good run.” 

Pitching 

Kyle Hand will serve as the team’s ace this season. Hand is the most experienced pitcher on the roster. Hand tries to make it easy on his defense by mixing things up with each hitter. 

“My mentality when I’m on the mound is to strike out as many people as I can and make my defense do [less] work,” Hand said. “I like to challenge hitters with some offspeed and mix in a fastball every now and then. Just try to keep them off balance.” 

The rotation around Hand will begin to take shape as the season progresses. Lefty Grant Jones will play a factor in the rotation. Sam Smith, Hayden Hendrix, Landon Hand and Drew Sheppard will all eat innings at some point, either as a starter or in the bullpen. 

“They kind of form into their own roles,” NeSmith said. “We’ll start the hot hand on the bump.” 

Every pitcher in the rotation and in the bullpen will play other roles either in the infield or in the outfield. 

Catcher

Sophomore Eli Whorton is set to be the starter at catcher this season. Tarver was the starter last season, but he is making the move to the infield. Tarver can fill in at catcher as needed. 

First Base

First base is one of the more competitive positions heading into the regular season with multiple younger guys vying for the starting spot. 

Sophomore Grey Hayley and Johnathan Caulfield are both competing for the starting job, but the decision will likely come down to more than just their ability to play the position. Hayley is one of the better power hitters on the team. 

“They’re both pretty solid in the field,” NeSmith said. 

“It’s probably going to come down to who can swing it better.” 

Infield 

Kole Baker will start at second base for the Rebels. Baker is set to have a key leadership role this season as one of the few seniors on the team. Baker is one of the better fielders on the team and one of the most experienced infielders. 

Sophomore Payton Yerta will take over at shortstop this season after the position was locked down by his brother, Braxton, for the past four seasons. Yerta started at second base last season but played shortstop when Braxton pitched. 

Yerta was one of the team’s best hitters last season as a freshman

“That was some good experience for him,” NeSmith said. “He’s just mechanically sound, and he’s a great kid.” 

Tarver is moving from catcher to third base this season, and Eli Pritchard can fill in at times for Tarver. 

Outfield 

Kyle Hand is the most experienced starter in the outfield, and he will play center field when he is not pitching. Hand is also set to bat lead-off. 

Drew Sheppard, Sam Smith and Landon Hand will also play in the outfield, but there is room for other players to fill in as the season goes on. 

“I want us to be a complete team,” NeSmith said. “Our motto has been team-first. I really want the guys to buy into that.” 

The season is rapidly approaching for Chambers Academy as the Rebels open their season at home against Springwood on Feb. 20.