The Warriors were 8-17 overall, with a 4-10 mark in Region 5AAAAAA. Against other county teams, they fared a little better with a 4-3 record.
Yet, after graduating six players, Cherokee coach Jason McDaniel may be putting a better team on the field this season.
That isn’t to say that the loss of all-county pitchers Eli Dickens and Mason Ward won’t be felt. It’s simply the number of players returning, and the experience they bring with them, that could see Cherokee fighting for a state playoff spot by the end of the season.
Pitching is one area that McDaniel and his staff have had to develop in the offseason. In his 20 seasons coaching baseball — with this his ninth at Cherokee — McDaniel has rarely been without talent on the mound.
Among those slated to pitch for Cherokee are Aaron Veres, Brandon Ayers, Jacob Good, Ben Banas, Trevor Nevill, Troy Weaver and Al Stone.
Through its first five games, Cherokee is 2-3, with one of the losses by just a run against Sequoyah. In the other two defeats — a 17-8 loss to Mount Paran Christian and a 12-2 loss to West Forsyth — nothing seemed to go the Warriors’ way.
Against Mount Paran, Cherokee had numerous errors and several passed balls. Against West Forsyth, the Warriors committed seven errors and the pitching staff struggled throughout the game.
Among the other players returning for Cherokee are Logan Hornback and Austin Pharr. Hornback, a senior who has started since he was a sophomore, will reprise his role in the outfield. Pharr, a junior, plays in the infield.
Also returning are senior catcher T.J. Waterbor, senior infielder Dexter Padgett and Banas, a senior who also plays in the outfield. Ty Ervin has also become a staple in the lineup, along with Macen Bailey.
In addition to last year’s graduates, Cherokee will be playing without its former starting third baseman Spencer Ashley, who is focusing on quarterbacking the Warriors’ football team in preparation for his senior season next fall. Outfielder Ja’Davin Keith remains on the roster, but he could see his time limited after a medical condition came to light during basketball season.
Cherokee will have two more weeks to solidify its lineup and pitching rotation before the Region 5AAAAAA season begins March 17 against Wheeler.
The region has moved to a new scheduling format, in which teams will play consecutive games against the same opponent. For example, after the Warriors host Wheeler on March 17, they will travel to face the Wildcats in east Cobb two days later.
As for its next game, Cherokee will host River Ridge tonight.