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Saturday May 23rd, 2015 11:14PM

Baseball: Leadership helping two area teams handle distractions, expectations

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
GAINESVILLE -- There are a few certainties that come with every new season -- excitement and hope chief among them -- yet every area coach knows he can also expect something far less desirable: distractions.

Some teams experience fewer than others but every program must find a way to cope with issues that could take its collective thought process off the game itself. And it's how each team copes with distractions that often proves as important as on-field ability.

Two area baseball programs staring down the barrel of the 2014 campaign are already facing their fair share -- and yet Gainesville baseball coach Jeremy Kemp and North Hall baseball coach Trent Mongero are encouraged by the responses they have seen from their teams.

"We're really emphasizing just focusing on today, and not worrying about anything else," Kemp said. "The guys on the team have worked extremely hard this offseason, and they're acting like they don't want anything to derail them. They know what they want, and they haven't needed much motivation."

When professional baseball scouts are as regular a feature as batting practice, it could be easy for the Red Elephants and top MLB draft prospect Michael Gettys to take their eyes off the task at hand. Yet Kemp says that, from what he's seen, his players are taking the spotlight that comes along with rankings and national prominence in stride.

"We've had scouts out there watching Michael every day, but they don't even pay attention to it," said Kemp, whose team won the Region 8-AAAAA title last season and reached the Class AAAAA quarterfinals. "Michael's handling it as well, and that's good to see."

Of course there are far more routine distractions that could also prove stumbling blocks for Gainesville -- issues like replacing key seniors from a year ago and shoring up the pitching rotation. But, again, Kemp says his team is maintaining its focus on the process of improvement, not focusing on the questions.

"We're excited to see who steps up and fills some of the roles, because we do have a lot of questions," Kemp said. "The pitching rotation is wide open, and we have some guys who will be hitting in different situations to what they were facing last year."

The ability to deal with these type of distractions -- and all interferences -- often comes down to the leadership of each team's senior class, and Kemp says he has a good one.

"The leadership we've had from the senior class has been great," Kemp said of a group that includes Gettys, Sims Griffith, Chandler Newton and Drew Satterfield. "They remind me of the senior class we had in 2012 -- they keep things loose, but they are focused, and they've been nice to coach."

It's a sentiment that Mongero identifies with wholeheartedly.

And while many teams would dread the thought of rebuilding an entire pitching rotation from a state runner-up squad, the Trojans are looking forward to 2014.

"They realize they have numerous guys to replace, but they've worked extremely hard, and I'm excited about our potential," said Mongero, who led North Hall to its best season in program history in 2013, as the Trojans finished second in Class AAA.

In fact the success of last campaign has done much to build momentum with the Trojans -- even for those who did not get a chance to play last season.

"There's an energy and an expectation going on right now," Mongero said. "When players learn how to win like that and when junior varsity players see varsity players winning like that it raises the bar and improves the culture surrounding a team, both in season and out."

Certainly those players returning from last year's squad are determined to avoid a drop-off, regardless of how many arms must be replaced on the mound.

"I have one pitcher who I think had 10 innings last season, and the rest is pretty new," Mongero said. "But the seniors have shown tremendous leadership this offseason and are holding young players accountable. That's something that is incredible."

Andrew Smith, Stephen Murray and McCoy Savage have joined with juniors Lincoln Hewett, Corbin Lewallen Drew Coker and Micah Strickland to form a strong backbone that Mongero believes will have them competitive in what could be a brutal Region 7-AAA that includes preseason No. 1 Buford.

"We've got to come ready to play every night," Mongero said.

With the kind of leadership on display -- both at Gainesville and North Hall -- that should not be much of an issue.
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