January 23, 2020

2018 Heard County High School Baseball Preview

(Franklin, GA) — The Heard County Braves varsity baseball team will take the field for the first time this season this afternoon when head coach Trent Bianco and his guys travel to Central of Carrollton for the 2018 regular season opener.

The team will have a new look following the graduation of six talented and productive seniors that put together the best four-year run in the history of the program.

The six baseball seniors in the Class of 2017 (Trey Alford, Ethan Brant, Drew Hopkins, Auston Wilson, Lee Kay, and Logan Ward) reached the state playoffs in all four years with two Elite-8 appearances in 2015 and 2016 and another Sweet 16 appearance last year.

Sophomore Tray Owens (#15) on the mound during the preseason as Brave head coach Trent Bianco looks on. (Photo: Gary Jones)

Coach Bianco knows replacing that plethora of lost talent won’t be an easy task, but feels the goals of the team in 2018 will not be any different than usual with all eyes on a Region 5-AA Championship and another deep run at state.

The team will return several key pieces and one of those is senior slugger Bryan Jones who batted .344 in 2017 with three doubles, three homers and 17 RBI’s.

The versatile Jones will likely see action at several defensive positions including on the mound where he was unavailable last year due to arm surgery.

If Jones can rebound from his arm troubles he could prove a big benefit to the Braves pitching staff.

Another key returner will be sophomore third baseman and pitcher Tray Owens. Owens is projected to see lots of innings on the mound and Bianco believes he may be the team’s No. 1 starter.

Senior A.J. Head will return to his usual catching position behind the plate and will be the only Brave returning pitcher that logged significant innings last season.

Head had an impressive ERA of 2.37 in 2017 and could see innings as both a starter and reliever during his senior campaign.

Of all of the returning starters, Brave fans will be most ecstatic to see sophomore Caden Raines back at his second base position after being diagnosed with a rare disorder known as Stevens–Johnson syndrome last fall.

Raines has made a remarkable recovery and is expected to be 100% healthy although he will be required to wear long sleeves this year. Raines batted .278 in 16 games played in 2017 and could also see innings on the mound.

The all important shortstop position will again be manned by sophomore shortstop Dale Thornhill. Thornhill, one of the hardest working Braves during this off-season, started every game for the Braves last year while batting .361 with 19 RBI’s and 33 runs scored and is also expected to see time on the mound.

Senior Davey Raines has also put in some solid work in the off-season and is expected to be the primary first baseman for the Braves this season.

Returning outfielder Tanner Collins will be manning the right field spot on opening day and will be looking for another productive year at the plate following his impressive .354 average in 2017 with five doubles and 18 RBI’s.

Junior Collin Wright will be the starter in center field for the Braves and it will be interesting to see what kind of numbers he might put up while seeing significant plate appearances for the first time.

Sophomore Jake Harrod and freshman Leroy Marsh will vie for time in left field along with backup catcher Will Hammett who is still unavailable due to the ongoing basketball season. Harrod and Marsh along with upstart freshman Drew Cornelius may see some innings on the hill in relief.

As usual, Coach Bianco has scheduled some tough non-region match-ups to prepare his team for region play and the postseason.

Non region home games will include Bremen (2/16), Troup Co. (2/19), Chapel Hill and Shelby Co. (3/3), Brookstone (3/17), Handley (4/17), and Central (4/21).

Non-region road games include Central (today), Thomasville and Rockmart (at Rockmart – 2/24), Villa Rica (2/27), Bremen (3/6), Coosa (3/10), and Handley (3/13).

The Saturday doubleheader match-up with Rockmart and Thomasville on February 24 should be especially interesting as both are top level teams in Class AA and teams the Braves could meet up with again in the postseason playoff brackets.

The Region 5-AA schedule will begin on Tuesday, March 20 and will again feature the three game series format with a single game at one school on Tuesday’s followed up by a doubleheader at the other school on Friday.

The Braves will close out the region schedule at Callaway on Tuesday, April 10 and with a home doubleheader versus the rival Cavs on Friday, April 13.

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