clear
Monday August 31st, 2015 9:23AM

Hot start: West Hall baseball only hoping to get hotter in Rennspies' second year

By Morgan Lee Sports Editor
OAKWOOD -- Dustin Rennspies saw this coming.

He saw it building over the summer and throughout the fall -- and now he just wants to keep it going.

In his second season with West Hall baseball, Rennspies had little doubt his team would improve -- and now the Spartans are making believers out of the rest of northeast Georgia.

After winning 11 games in 2013, West Hall is already off to a 4-0 start to 2014. And with its top two pitchers and five position players back from last campaign, it's a safe bet that the unit will only continue to improve.

But Rennspies says his team's charge into this spring goes far beyond simple experience.

"Those guys have gotten in the weight room; they've listened and they've worked," Rennspies said. "They have bought into what it takes to be successful."

Now that they have tasted success, Rennspies expects it to whet their collective appetites.

"Winning's addictive, and it doesn't take much to make you start wanting more and more," Rennspies said. "The thing is we have to continue to get better and learn how to deal with success now."

The kind of success Rennspies and the Spartans are aiming for won't come easy.

"I expect us to challenge for a state playoff spot," Rennspies said.

That will be hard enough in Region 7-AAA, which contains one of the preseason favorites in all of Class AAA in Buford, as well as 2013 Class AAA runner-up North Hall.

"We're going to have to come ready to play every night," Rennspies said. "You've got Buford, which is loaded, North Hall, which is extremely well-coached -- I don't care how many pitchers they graduated -- White County has several players back and a difference-maker on the mound in Spencer (Adams); Dawson County returns a lot of strong players; East Hall has six-seven starters back; Banks County has a dominant pitcher; Fannin County has two guys that can bring it... It's a tough region."

Add to that the fact that Rennspies is trying to rebuild a program that has not visited the state playoffs in some time -- "I think the last time was in 2002," Rennspies said -- and it's clear that West Hall faces some challenges ahead.

Yet Rennspies is more than encouraged by what he's seen from his squad.

"There's no doubt we've taken the next step as far as coaching and within the program," Rennspies said. "We're still working on it though. It's hard to sell expectation automatically, but when the kids and their parents do buy in you have a chance for long-term success. And that's what has happened here."

Rennspies witnessed that buy-in firsthand this summer, as players crowded into offseason workouts and began to take develop leadership roles.

"We've got a collection of five-seven guys that have become leaders on this team, and it's not just the seniors. The guys understand that they've all had two years under me now, and they're all pretty much in the same place," Rennspies said. "The leaders we have are keeping everyone going in the same direction, and everyone feels like they have some ownership of the program now."

That includes players like senior pitcher/shortstop Zach English -- who knows a thing or two about turning around programs under second-year coaches after quarterbacking Spartans football to the 2013 playoffs in their first state appearance since 2002 -- under second-year head coach Tony Lotti.

"Winning's contagious, and it's done a lot for Zach," Rennspies said. "I really only have two football players on the team, but the success they had did something for the school as a whole."

Senior catcher Lincoln Stubbs, outfielder Cameron Johnson and pitcher/outfielder Michael Cronic have also played key roles and will continue to be cornerstones for the Spartans.

"They're a tight-knit bunch, and they have built that bond," Rennspies said. "The whole team has that tightness, and the guys are friends off the field."

Over the coming weeks, Rennspies hopes that unity will ally with his players' versatility to help battle for 7-AAA. Though the coach also wants to see more consistency.

"Right now our strength changes from night to night; some nights we're capable of pitching great, some nights we really hit the ball well; some nights it's our defense," Rennspies said. "We haven't really been crisp in all three phases in one game yet though."

Now that the bitter weather of the past few weeks is fading, however, Rennspies believes his team can begin to find a more constant groove.

"We lost eight-nine full days practice time (due to winter weather), and it's showing a little bit early; we're not as crisp as we'd like to be," Rennspies said. "Now that we're playing regularly though that will get a more balanced team out there."

The region challenges will start soon, as the 7-AAA schedule gets underway March 10 (Monday) at Dawson County.

"I think we can be pretty good, with that core leadership pushing us," Rennspies said. "But they're going to be tested, and they know that. They're going to have to understand it's a marathon and to stay the course and not panic if something does go wrong.

"At some point in this region we're probably going to lose a game; it's how we react to it that will be critical."

Right now, however, the Spartans are taking the opportunity to enjoy some of the fruits of their offseason labors -- even if they know the heaviest labors may be right around the corner.
© Copyright 2015 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
2014 Top 10: Looking back at the top sports stories of the year
It was another year for the record books in 2014, mostly for the right reasons -- state championships, new challenges and new stars taking their turn to shine. But there were also plenty of big stories that reminded us that sports -- like life -- isn
11:55PM ( 7 months ago )
NASCAR K&N Pro Series schedules set for 2015
DAYTONA BEACH, FL - NASCAR announced recently the 2015 schedules for its top developmental regional touring series, the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East and NASCAR K&N Pro Series West.
2:00PM ( 7 months ago )
Lanierland boys final: Johnson makes history with win over Red Elephants <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Ever the aggressor on the court, Johnson
8:55AM ( 8 months ago )
Sports
Lanierland boys semifinals: Unbeatens Johnson, Red Elephants roll into finals
Both Gainesville and Johnson powered their way into the Lanierland Tournament finals on Monday. The two undefeated teams will meet Tuesday for the title at 8:30 p.m. at Chestatee.
10:01AM ( 8 months ago )
Lanierland girls semifinals: GHS, Lady Falcons advance to finals <b> (VIDEO) </b>
Flowery Branch and Gainesville each took impressive wins Monday to advance to the Lanierland Tournament finals...
10:00AM ( 8 months ago )
Girls basketball: Lady Tigers advance to Pickens Holiday finals
The Dawson County girls basketball advanced to the finals of the Pickens Holiday Classic after an 81-54 win over Riverwood Monday.
11:48PM ( 8 months ago )
High School Sports
5 things: What we learned from Week 1 of high school football
Here’s a look at five things we learned from week 1 of the high school football season...
5:17PM ( 7 hours from now )
Carter's cancer rekindles memories of 1980 Olympic boycott
Thirty-five years after his hopes for a gold medal were dashed by Jimmy Carter's boycott of the Moscow Olympics, Craig Beardsley is at peace.
10:53PM ( 10 hours ago )
Braves' woes continue in 'demoralizing' 20-6 loss to Yankees
A Braves team that was at .500 through 84 games has since been in a downward slide that gained speed with three straight losses to the Yankees.
10:50PM ( 10 hours ago )
Turner Field US flag at half-staff, players' families deal with grief after fan dies in fall
ATLANTA (AP) — The U.S. flag flew at half-staff at Turner Field on Sunday, one day after a fan died following his fall from the upper deck into the lower-level stands during a game between the Atlanta...
7:26PM ( 13 hours ago )
Jones cruises to Truck win in Canada, takes points lead
Two weeks ago in the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course, Alex Tagliani got turned out of the lead by Regan Smith and lost his shot at a win.
By Stephanie Wallcraft-NASCAR Wire Service
6:17PM ( 15 hours ago )