The Port St. Joe baseball team got the 2023 season off to a running start with two 5-inning scrimmage games against Wakulla Christian School on Thursday, February 16.
Originally planned for Friday, the contests were moved up to Thursday due to concerns that overnight rain might make the baseball field too wet for playing conditions.
“The goal tonight,” said head coach Ashley Summerlin, “is to just give everybody an opportunity. These are practice games, (and) we get to see them really compete.”
“The lineups are preset, (and) the pitching rotation is preset,” he said. “We want to see the kids get some at-bats and see them play in a game atmosphere.”
In the first game, Jentzen Olson pitched three scoreless innings before yielding to Hunter Hicks and Wills Norton for an inning each in a 3-0 St. Joe win.
In the second affair, the Saints took advantage of five Tiger Shark errors to go home with a 7-3 win and a split of the doubleheader.
With 21 players on this year’s varsity roster, Summerlin’s squad returns seven starters from last season’s district championship team, including “all of our pitchers from last year.”
Gone from last season are catcher Caden Pruitt and left fielder Dakota Quinn.
“We have two solid catchers this year,” said Summerlin, “in Jack Trochessett and CJ Conway. We’ll need both of them, and they both do certain things really well.”
“Left field is where we have a hole” with the loss of Quinn, he said. Although no player has much varsity experience at that position, “we have a lot of guys who can play. Wills Norton knows the game, CJ Thompson and Eli Harris can go out there and play, and Marcus Clayton played with us all summer.
“So we have guys, they just need some time and experience,” said Summerlin.
Last year, after starting the season 0-6, Summerlin’s nine surprised many people when they shocked Bozeman in the district title game, but “now, everybody knows what we’ve got coming back, and there are expectations,” he said.
“It’s easy to go out there and play when nobody expects you to do anything, but when they expect you to do something, we’ll have to see how (the players) react to that,” he added.
Summerlin said that he and his coaches have emphasized to this year’s players about handling those high expectations, a challenge that he called “the next step for this program.”
The Tiger Sharks can expect that Bozeman will again field a quality team, and Summerlin said that “Franklin County is a formidable opponent (because) they have a lot of their core players back.”
Summerlin also mentioned Wewa’s new coach, Bobby Hughes, “whom I respect a whole lot. He’s done a good job at other places that he’s been, so I know he’s going to do good things” with the Gators.
Regardless of the opponent, Summerlin said that “if you don’t come to play, you will lose. All we can do is focus on us, and if we’re worried about what everybody else is doing we’re just taking away from what we are doing as a team.”
There will be four assistant coaches working to keep the Tiger Sharks focused this year: Travis Burge, Tyler Worley, Chris Stockton, and Zac Jasinski.
Burge, the assistant head coach and pitching coach, has “been with me ever since I’ve been here,” said Summerlin. “He’s one of the best that I’ve ever seen in the 21 years that I’ve coached.”
Worley, head baseball coach at Wewa last season, “is heading up our JV, and he works with outfielders,” Summerlin said. “It’s good to have a former head coach working with the young guys. He knows what he’s doing.”
Stockton, a deputy in the Gulf County Sheriff’s Department, “pitched for me on my 2018 state championship team, (and) he actually won the state championship game,” Summerlin added. “He works with our young pitchers and assists with our catchers. We’re really happy to have him.”
Jasinski helps with the infielders and will assist Worley in JV games.
“Those three guys have taken over their roles and are really helping me out here,” Summerlin said. Here is the Port St. Joe 2023 roster, by grade:
Donovan Cumbie, Jordan Olson, Jabara Pearson, CJ Thompson, and Jack Trochessett (12th); Garrett Acree, Marcus Clayton, CJ Conway, Max Godwin, Owen Grantland, Hunter Hicks, Landrick Moore, Wills Norton, Jentzen Odom, Brady Olson, Cullen Partie, and Fisher Vandertulip (11th); Peyton Knox (10th); Corban Butts, Eli Harris, and Baylor Partie (9th).
Although winning is important to Summerlin, his coaching philosophy extends far beyond just wins and losses but emphasizes “the importance of sports in developing good citizens. We want our kids to go on and become good husbands, good fathers, and good neighbors,” he said.
“We want to win just like everybody else, because the fun is in the winning – but you’ve got to do it the right way.”
The regular season began with a home game against Liberty County on Tuesday, February 21, followed by a contest at Blountstown on Thursday, February 23.
The Tiger Sharks will host Godby on Friday, February 24, travel to Sneads on Tuesday, February 28, and play at Franklin County on Friday, March 3.