Oak Ridge is no stranger to success.
The War Eagles have made the postseason in seven straight seasons and have advanced at least one round in five of those appearances.
In 2021, Oak Ridge will lean on a pretty inexperienced group at the varsity level. The War Eagles, like everyone else, saw last season cut short by the coronavirus pandemic. The varsity season wasn’t the only loss, and as a result, there will be some fresh faces on the field this spring.
The wintry week of weather that preceded the regular season’s start knocked out a week’s worth of scrimmages, making coach JJ Peirce’s roster decisions tougher.
“We have a group of about 25 or 26 guys who have a legit shot of being on varsity,” Peirce said in a recent phone interview. “We were going to use scrimmages as our gauge. This is one the first years we’ve gone into scrimmages and didn’t already have our team set. We have about 10 guys right there on the bubble of the varsity and JV. Without the scrimmages, we haven’t gotten to see it. The guys have responded well and fought and have made our job pretty tough so far, as far as picking what team they’re going with.”
Jett Feltman, a pitcher, first baseman and designated hitter, is one of just two returning with significant varsity experience. Feltman’s older brother Durbin is a 2016 Oak Ridge graduate and currently in the Boston Red Sox’s spring training camp.
Kyler Howard, an infielder, is the other War Eagle that returns with experience.
The number of open spots on varsity has led to plenty of battles for playing time among the teammates. The positions on the field are limited, however, so some tough decisions will have to be made.
“They’ve fought hard and did it together and every one of them deserves to be on varsity, no doubt about it, but we don’t need 15 guys sitting on the bench that are going to be playing for us next year,” Peirce said. “We have to give them somewhere to play.”
After scrimmages were wiped out, the window for decision making was pushed back. Early in the season, Peirce expects many different iterations of the team to take the field.
“We’ll have guys coming up and coming down not necessarily because they’re performing or not performing, but just so we can see how they face varsity pitching and handle defense and pressure situations,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of guys up and down and our roster probably won’t be set until after district starts.”
The War Eagles will play three rounds of District 13-6A play with College Park, Conroe, Grand Oaks, The Woodlands and Willis. It’s a smaller group than the nine-team 15-6A from the past two years, but still a challenge.
“Last year’s district was brutal and I think this year’s district is going to be brutal, too,” Peirce said. “You’ve got everyone excited about just Conroe schools and adding Willis, and Willis has been good every year, too. We’ve seen all the kids from Grand Oaks and all of them are legit. It’s going to be a dogfight again.”
With the shortened season of 2020 fresh in their minds, eagerness abounds to get going with 2021.
“I just think high school baseball is a little different than other forms of baseball and they see that,” Peirce said. “They saw what the kids went through last year and they don’t want to leave it out there. My kids have been awesome and it’s been an absolute blessing to coach them this year. They’re fired up and ready to go.”