• 70°

New faces take the field for Pats

When coach Barry Dean looks down the bench at his Wallace-State Patriots this baseball season, he won’t see very many familiar faces.

Dean, in his second season with the Pats, comes into the 2004 campaign with 14 players, 13 of which are freshman.

“Except for (sophomore) Eric Wilkinson and (redshirt freshman) Whitt Jones, it is about like starting from scratch,” the Wallace coach said.

“I started out with 23 players counting walk-ons, now it’s down to 14 and some of the walk-ons have earned scholarships.”

In rebuilding the Wallace program, coach Dean hasn’t made things easy on himself or the team.

The coach believes in hard work and overcoming challenges so he built a few extra ones into the schedule this season.

“I believe in playing tough teams,” he said.

Last season’s cupcake early season schedule is gone and instead, the Pats started off with Wallace-Hanceville, a top 10 team in the country.

“We’re playing a very ambitious schedule,” Dean said.

Last season’s team, inherited by Dean a month before the season, played an easy schedule and started off with pretty record.

Then they hit conference play and went 4-20 the rest of the way.

Dean thinks a tougher first half will make the second one more competitive.

“It’s hard to tell until you put them out there in a game on the college level,” Dean said. “I’m expecting us to do better than last year.

We have less room for error than some teams, but I think we are capable of going .500.”

If the Pats are going to be successful, much of the responsibility will fall on Wilkinson.

The outfielder/pitcher is the only sophomore on a team of freshman.

“The toughest thing is starting new,” Dean said. “It’s hard to have leadership.

These young guys don’t have the sophomores to lead them through it.”

Wilkinson, who will join his brother next year at Montevallo, will be a triple threat, in the field, on the mound and at the plate.

“He’s my number three hitter, he runs well,” Dean said. “He throws in the upper 80’s, he has a very good arm.

He’s a good athlete and he’s up for the Academic All-American team.”

Dean has players from across Alabama, and one from Dallas County.

Freshman James Jones is the lone hometown boy left on Dean’s squad.

“I was very fortunate to have an athlete and a person of his quality this close to Selma,” Dean said.

Whatever the season holds for Wallce, the coach is eager to see how his guys perform and get better.

“I’m looking forward to seeing them compete against these quality teams,” the coach said. “I’ve gotten some good support from the people in Selma.

The hay’s in the barn and it’s time to see how my guys respond.”

The Pats begin play Sunday at Hanceville.