WEST UNION -- Doddridge County returns an experienced team to the diamond this season. The Bulldogs have 10 players, who started or had significant playing time, to lead a squad that should be tough on defense and solid on the mound.
"Our level of experience should be a strong point," Doddridge coach Dave Mires said. "I see a lot of maturity in our juniors who played a lot last year, and our seniors are good leaders. We have a lot of competition for positions."
The Bulldogs will look to their three seniors, Rick Gray, Jody Griffin and David Hoskinson, for leadership on the field.
Hoskinson, a four-year starter, will be the starter at catcher. He'll be backed up by junior Darren Swisher.
Doddridge appears to be solid in the infield with junior Tim Bailey splitting time with junior Gareth Templeton at first base. Second base is manned by junior Chris Gum. Gum was named as an all-state honorable mention selection last season when he hit .463.
The shortstop position will be fielded by all-state special honorable mention junior Benjo McKinney, a .487 hitter in 1999. Juniors Fred Davis and Lucas Phillips will battle for playing time at third base. Juniors Brent Kimble and Chris Mitchell and freshmen Eric Bee and Aaron Smith will also see playing time in the infield.
"I think our defense should be a strength, especially up the middle," Mires said. "Our pitching should be strong, and we should be able to hit."
The outfield is led by Gray, who batted .451 last season and will patrol center field. Matt Bartlett (Jr.) and Josh Davis (So.) will platoon in left field, while the duo of Adam Cross (Jr.) and Swisher will man right field.
Juniors Zach Kelley and Chad Register, sophomore Mark Boyce and freshman Josh Lipscomb add depth in the outfield.
Griffin, the No. 1 starter, went 4-4 and struck out 48 batters in 46 innings last year and will anchor the rotation. Joining Griffin in the rotation will be juniors Bailey, Bartlett and Phillips. Gum, McKinney and Davis will get work as relievers and Hoskinson will step into the closer role in the bullpen.
"Jody (Griffin) has pitched since he was a freshman. He's going to throw strikes and give us a good seven innings," Mires said. "Tim Bailey has really improved, and at the end of the year, he really started to come on strong.
"Bartlett throws as hard as anybody out there. He just needs to be consistent. This is Lucas Phillips' first year playing high school ball, but he's looked pretty good in the gym."
The Bulldogs are hoping to make a strong run at the state tournament this season after being knocked out last season in sectional play. Mires, though, believes it's not going to be an easy road with Notre Dame and Gilmer County in their sectional.
"I think we have a talented team, we just have to perform on the field," Mires said. "Gilmer and Notre Dame are always tough, and they're in our section, and then you go up into the mountains after that. We have one of the tougher sections and regionals in the state in single-A."
Doddridge County opens the season at home against Calhoun County on Wednesday. Game time is 4:30 p.m.