Montevallo baseball rounding into form

Published 11:01 am Monday, April 11, 2016

By BAKER ELLIS / Sports Editor

MONTEVALLO – Before Trey Simpson came to Montevallo six years ago, the baseball team had not fared well. Stagnant and underperforming, Simpson was tasked with bringing new blood to the Bulldogs’ baseball diamond. After going .500 in his first year at the helm, Montevallo made an appearance in the state semifinals the following season, and has averaged roughly 22 wins in each year since. The 2016 Montevallo team looks to keep pace with the previous teams under Simpson’s reign, and was 15-8 as of April 7 and 3-0 in area play. With a roster that is finally fully healthy and cohesive for the first time all year, this Montevallo team is one to keep an eye on as the playoffs rapidly approach.

What this team has in spades, according to Simpson, is pitching. Jonathon Pintarro, Zack Thompson, Jaret Yancey, Nick Thompson and Justin Pickett, along with Zac Oden, have all seen time on the mound, and each has the ability to command a game.

“Our bread and butter has been pitching,” Simpson said. “We’re very fortunate with a school our size to have the number of arms we have. This group has been pitching since the eighth grade. We might not be as athletic as we’ve been in the past, but we have about six guys who can give us a chance to win on any given day on the mound.”

Zack Thompson has been “lights out” on the mound this year, according to Simpson, and was carrying a 1.59 ERA through 42 innings of work. His younger brother Nick has also put up solid numbers, and was 4-0 on the mound through April 7 with a 1.8 ERA of his own. Pintarro, who has also been a .430 hitter this year, is just now returning to his true form on the mound after rehab from shoulder surgery, and provides yet another solid option from the mound, as does Yancey.

Pickett serves as the resident closer for this Bulldog team, and his submarine-style pitching technique has been “super effective” this year. Oden is the fifth-man in the starting pitching rotation, spending most of his time in the outfield, but is capable of “mowing you down” from the mound, and is something of an ace-in-the-hole for this Bulldog team, utilized at opportune times.

There can’t be a conversation about this Montevallo team however without giving full credit to the kid responsible for catching all of these pitchers. Hunter Nabors, who started as an eighth grader on the team that made an appearance in the state semifinals, is the senior anchor for this Bulldog team. He is a commit to Itawamba Community College, and is hitting .400 this season. Nabors batted .450 last year as a junior, which was the second-highest batting average in the county, and was named the Co-First Team All-Shelby County catcher a year ago as well, along with Pelham stud Hunter Stovall, who is now playing at Mississippi State.

While the pitching and catching has been solid this year for the Bulldogs, it has still taken time to get the roster fully together. Montevallo started the year without a number of important pieces, and has been playing catch-up over the last month and a half.

“We started the year without our one, two and three hitters,” Simpson said. “We had somewhat of a slow start, but have gone on a little run. That’s just been key over the last month, getting healthy and getting on the same page.”

A natural byproduct of the smaller school environment is that, usually, a large number of kids will play multiple sports. Yancey, along with Ahmad Edwards and Jamal Figueroa, the hitters at the top of the Bulldog lineup, got a late jump this spring because all three were on the basketball team that made an appearance in the 4A Sweet Sixteen. It has taken a while for the full Bulldog roster to get on the same page, but now that that has finally happened, it will be exciting to see what this team can do.

In regards to expectations for the remainder of the season, Simpson is understandably cagey. He just wants to see his team play to its full potential, and believes the rest will fall into place.

“We just want to play to our potential,” Simpson maintained. “If we do that the rest is going to take care of itself. We’re not going to get caught up too much in the opponent. We expect, year in and year out, to make the playoffs. There’s no secret to it, you’ve got to outwork everyone else, and we have a good group that doesn’t mind to work.”