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Is Farragut High School baseball finally rebuilding its ranks instead of just reloading its guns? Varsity head coach Tommy Pharr, with back-to-back Class AAA state titles in 2003 and 2004, top five national rankings both of those seasons and three times state runner-up in his first eight seasons at FHS, admits 2006 is a unique challenge.

"It's probably the fewest returning starters that we've had in a good while," Pharr said, adding that the senior trio of catcher Ty Nelson, first baseman David Reynolds and left-fielder Chip Eskew are the only returning starters, although junior shortstop Barton Ivy was a part-time starter at second base last season.

On the mound, senior southpaw and 2005 staff ace Rob Catapano brings lots of talent and experience — including state tournament victories — as the No. 1 starter.

"We're kinda a mix, we've got a few guys back that played last year, three or four guys, and then we've got a lot of younger guys and some unproven guys," Pharr said. "In a lot of ways we're a young club, just from a lack of experience. But I think we've got a chance to be O-K. It's just going to be a process of getting better through the year and seeing how things work out.

"I think it's going to be exciting from the fact that we're probably not picked to be the best team in our district [4-AAA]," Pharr added. "I think we've got a chance to be good, we've just got to keep working. ... From a talent standpoint, we're probably not the number one team in the district."

As for strengths based on scrimmage performances, "I feel like we're going to be a pretty defensive defensive club," Pharr said. "And we've pitched pretty well."

On the other hand, "One of the big question marks for us is going to be offensively," Pharr said. "The first four hitters in our lineup graduated last year [two of them, shortstop Tony Delmonico and third-baseman Cody Brown, are starter for the nation's No. 5-ranked University of Tennessee Volunteers]. "Probably trying to find an identity is one of the biggest things for us."

Though many inexperienced arms play follow the leader behind Catapano, Pharr said pitching depth is a team strength. "We've got a lot of guys. Obviously Rob is very good, and then we've got a lot that fall right in behind him that aren't, from a velocity standpoint, what he is. But we've got pitchers that give us a chance to win. ... A lot of guys who will give us a chance to stay in ballgames."

Pharr said his No. 2 starter is likely senior Lawson Cheek, with No. 3 being sophomore Matt Ramsey, adding that Cheek "has good command of three pitches" despite not being a hard thrower; and Ramsey "has a good arm" and is a "very competitive kid" who pitched valuable innings last season.

Seniors Tyler Duke and Bryan Powell will also be in the starting rotation mix. Senior Michael Joseph will put the fires out as the team closer. "And we've got some sophomores and some freshman that will probably end up pitching for us some," Pharr said.

The FHS skipper said Catapano has improved his change-up, in addition to having an effective fastball and curve ball on top of his newest pitch, a slider. "Probably the biggest thing is he's confident, plays with confidence and he gets after it," Pharr said.

Among top newcomers is freshman Kurt Powell, who is starting at second base. "In scrimmages he's been batting in the lead-off spot for us," Pharr said. "He's a talented player, advanced for a freshman. I think he's going to be a good one for us."

Senior Sam Judkins, who's been out with an ankle injury for about three weeks but who Pharr said is expected back soon, will be in the mix at second base.

Pharr said Ivy "has done a really good job in the scrimmages defensively" at shortstop, "and he's swinging the bat well for us, too."

Third base is between juniors James Hebbeler and Perry Griffin, who’s been out with a back injury the past two weeks but who is expected back soon. Freshman Cade Stallings "is in the mix," Pharr said.

Catapano will play center field when not pitching, with Ramsey sliding over when Catapano is pitching. Sophomore Zach Allen is slated for right field.

Designated hitter Ryan Bentley, a senior, "has really hit the ball well," Pharr said.

The FHS skipper said his likely batting order early in the season will be Kurt Powell leading off, followed by Catapano, Eskew, Nelson and Reynolds. "After that is just fluctuates," Pharr said.

As for team leadership, "David Reynolds is an especially good leader," Pharr said. "Our guys, I think, respect him."

Eskew, one of the team's leading hitters from last season, said he thinks the 2006 Ads "Should be alright, I think our pitching's going to be there. ... We're a lot faster than we have been. We're going to try and hit the ball around, move runners that way."


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