Can Pigeon Forge win another state baseball title?
It’s usually not long after a state title that the whispers of a repeat begin.
Another title may not be such a stretch for the 2014 Pigeon Forge baseball team, though. The Tigers aren’t some Cinderella that waltzed to last year’s state championship behind a rare class of talent.
Pigeon Forge was a power before 2013 and it’s safe to say they remain a contender this season.
“It feels great, last year, but we’re still hungry,” said senior Max McCoig. “We still want to compete and we still want to do well. There’s a lot of expectations now after what we did last year. We expect to do well again.”
Expectations have been sky-high for the Tigers for years. Pigeon Forge had been to the state tournament four times before last year’s championship run — and reached the sectional round twice more — since 2005. Coach Mike Guinn has been a part of three state tournament runs. Guinn, winner of 183 games at the school, said he probably learned more from his teams that fell short than last year’s championship group.
“I think more than anything, what we’ve done in past years helped us last year be ready for what we faced,” Guinn said. “I learned the years before, just stay to your strengths, don’t try to change things up at all. Just do what you do best.”
That may be the recipe for a repeat. There’s plenty of experience still left in the Tigers dugout even after Pigeon Forge sent three players — Wil Crowe (South Carolina), Ben Breazeale (Wake Forest) and Drake Byrd (Belmont) — to Division I colleges. The Tigers return five starters and seven players who got significant playing time a year ago.
Guinn said this group is, understandably, very confident and has the potential to be very good defensively. He’s also happy with the way Pigeon Forge is swinging the bats against tough pitching in the preseason.
When it comes to the Tigers’ presence on the mound, Guinn said there would be several guys that could play big roles this season after Pigeon Forge lost its top two hurlers from last season.
That platoon of pitchers will include Koleman Roach, Josh Griffin, Thomas Simms and McCoig.
“It’s not about filling that gap,” McCoig said. “I feel like we don’t need somebody to throw 90, 95 miles per hour. We’re just worried about throwing strikes.”
Offensively, Guinn said Pigeon Forge may have some youth in its lineup but there’s also some athleticism. That could mean a little more aggressiveness on the base paths with guys like Jake and Josh Griffin, Scott LaFollette, Roach and Chase Effler.
“We have a lot of potential,” said catcher Jimmy Jones. “Very speedy, very fast team this year. We’re going to be able to play the type of baseball that we want to play.”
That’s not especially good news for the teams on the Tigers’ schedule, which Guinn called formidable. Pigeon Forge will play Sequoyah, which reached the sectional round last year as well as perennial AAA powers Farragut and Science Hill. The coach said the Tigers don’t want to be great in week 1, but in May, when a repeat could be very much in reach.
“Me and Koleman played summer ball together and we talked to each other about how we needed to move on,” Lafollette said. “It was our turn to set another legacy for 2014.”