Time to play ball
Last year’s ending left a sour taste in the mouths of the Tigers.
Columbia’s regional semifinal loss to Oakleaf was not the way the season was supposed to end.
It’s provided motivation for a team that’s expecting big things in 2016.
The Tigers struggled at times last year before getting hot right before the district tournament. They took home the district crown and won a playoff game before getting bounced in the second round.
Everybody in the clubhouse expects to go further this season.
“I think they got a little bad taste in their mouth (with) the way we lost (to Oakleaf), and I think they now know what it is to have a taste of success. Now they want it,” Columbia head coach Heath Phillips said. “Last year we were shaky through the year as a .500 team. We’d play good one game, bad the next game. Good, bad, good, bad. To be a consistent, good team, you can’t have off days. We’ve got to come out here every day, go 1-0. That’s our goal. If that happens, we’ll be successful.”
A strong pitching staff will once again be the backbone for Columbia.
Senior starters Tyler Myrick, Harrison Shubert and Nic Tyre all return to the rotation, while senior Jordan Culp and junior transfer Josh Boyette will also pitch this season.
“Pitching and defense will be a major, major key to us, just like it was last year,” Phillips said. “We’re very deep on the mound. We’ve got all our arms returning that we had last year, and every one of them has gotten better, which is a good sign.”
The additions of Culp and Boyette to the rotation should be very beneficial to Columbia as both are lefties. Last year’s rotation of just Myrick, Shubert and Tyre were all righties.
Phillips now has a plethora of options for the mound depending on who is on the schedule.
“There’s going to be games where the matchup plays favor to a lefty more than a righty, so I’ve got two lefties and a strong bullpen this year,” Phillips said. “It was good last year, but we’ve made strides. I’m very, very excited about this pitching staff as well as every aspect of the game where we’ve gotten better at. I think people will see a whole different team this year.”
Columbia is extremely experienced with 13 seniors and seven juniors on the current roster. Phillips is also hoping for more offense from his squad this year, which struggled at times last season to score runs.
Brock Edge, Kaleb Thomas, Jake Thomas and Myrick will be expected to hold down the middle of the order. Outfielder Chris Beasley has also transferred to Columbia.
“They’ve all been working hard in the cage and when we do live stuff out here (in practice), so it’s something to be excited about, for sure,” Phillips said.
The FHSAA changed the number of classifications in baseball this season from six to nine. Columbia moves into Class 7A after being in 6A a season ago.
Joining Columbia in District 3-7A are mainstays from last year’s district — Gainesville and Middleburg and new addition Vanguard. Columbia says goodbye to Oakleaf and Orange Park.
“I don’t know much about Ocala Vanguard, but usually Ocala teams are pretty strong,” Phillips said. “We know the Middleburg, we know the Gainesville, they know us … all these kids play together in the summertime, so they all know each other now, and it’s going to be an exciting district. Hopefully, of course, we come on top. That’s what the goal is, but it should be fun.