CRESTVIEW — Any baseball coach will agree that you build a team with your defense in the middle of the diamond.
Bulldog coach Tim Gillis has one less thing to worry about with three-year starters Dakota Dean at shortstop and Tyler Henderson in centerfield anchoring Crestview's defense.
“It’s kind of a Catch 22,” Gillis said. “I’m really happy with this year, but when you look too far into the future, you don’t like that as much. They’ve been great in multiple sports (baseball and football) for multiple years.
"They are looked upon as leaders by their teammates and basically as they go, we will go. They set a high standard and it gives everybody something to shoot for in what they’ve done and what they’ve accomplished. And I think they are going to be fine all year."
Dean and Henderson aren’t the only veterans solidifying the middle of the diamond for Crestview.
Catcher Austin Armstrong is a two-year starter back for his junior season. Hunter Willis, a returning Jack-Of-All-Trades, will start the season at second base and will fill in for Armstrong behind the plate.
“He’s (Armstrong) done a real good job of handling pitchers over the last couple of years and we are expecting a big year out of him,” Gillis said. “Hunter Willis will be the backup there and he filled in there very admirably when Austin had his appendectomy right there toward the end of the year.
“Hunter is just a gutsy kid that does everything he is asked. He’s a great team guy and we’ve got a lot of those (kinds) of players that do what you ask them and that’s what it takes to be successful.”
Freshman Corey Armstrong, who is recovering from a knee injury, will share time with Willis at second base.
Seth Thomason is a two-year starter at first base and Dennis Gibbons has plenty of experience at third base, where Justin Abdo will see some playing time too.
The Bulldog outfield is talented and deep.
Hendersonwill be flanked by Tate Sweatt in left and Jimmy Croussore in right. Roman Donofro, Justin Rebholz and Hunter Sullivan all are expected to battle for playing time in the outfield as well.
Donofro and Davis Champion, who recently signed scholarships with Jefferson Davis Community College in Brewton, Ala., will anchor the Crestview pitching staff.
Junior pitcher Matt Gillis, the son of coach Tim Gillis, gives the Bulldogs the left-handed pitcher they haven’t had in several seasons. Corey Armstrong will be counted on for to provide some depth on the mound as well.
Tim Gillis is glad to have a lefty he can call on when needed.
“It’s going to be nice to go maybe lefty on lefty matchup from time to time and be able to do that where we haven’t had that luxury in the past,” Tim Gillis said. “It’s a big deal just to have that flexibility as a coach. When you don’t have that flexibility it makes it tough matchupwise, when you are facing a left-handed dominant team, and we do that from time-to-time.
“When you don’t have that left-hander with the ability (to get people out) you can have some problems. It’s good to be able to have it for the matchup situations and we will see how that plays out through the year.”
Tim Gillis thinks the strength of the Bulldogs will be their ability to swing the bat with guys like Dean, Thomason, Henderson and Sweatt leading the way. He also likes the speed of the team and thinks the Bulldogs can create some problems on the base paths.
It should be another interesting season in an always tough District 2-6A. Making things even more interesting this year is the fact that Choctawhatchee, Fort Walton Beach and Niceville all have new coaches. Crestview and Mosley are the only two teams in the district with the same head coach as last year, but Tim Gillis expects another fight to the finish as teams scramble for the playoffs.
“The team that kind of survives and withstands all the pressure at the end is going to be one of the two that gets to represent our district in the playoffs,” Tim Gillis said. “That’s our goal, we want to get into the playoffs and see if we can make some noise.”
Randy Dickson is the Crestview News Bulletin’s sports editor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet him @BigRandle, or call 682-6524