Habersham Central Raiders baseball is back on the map. But even with a 13-6 start and 3-1 in region play, coach Chris Akridge knows this team can still improve.
“It’s certainly been a success to this point,” says Akridge. “To come out and have a successful non-region [schedule] was huge for us, and to get the sweep over Apalachee to start the region 3-0 was big – still got a lot of work to do though.”
To put the season in perspective, at 13 wins, the Raiders are just one win shy of the combined win total of the 2014-16 seasons combined. It’s not been for lack of talent or effort, but as Akridge pointed out, we are finally seeing the fruit of the labor of hard work and dedication over the past few years.
“We have probably the most mentally tough team I’ve ever had as a head coach,” adds Akridge. “When you go through adversity and hard times, you either crumble or get tougher. I think our guys sticking together and working through that has contributed to the mental toughness of this group.”
Habersham, especially offensively, is having a mind-blowing year. The Raiders averaged 8.7 runs per game going into a three-game set with state powerhouse Gainesville. Seven times the boys have scored more than 10 runs, and plenty of other times they tallied nine.
“We’ve been putting in the hard work, and it’s starting to pay off. It’s the best feeling in the world!” -SR P/OF Cole Wilbanks
The Raiders, as of March 29, are hitting .335 as a team, led by Jarred Jones (.500 avg, 1 HR, 23 RBI, 20 R), Seth Blackburn (.404 avg, 13 RBI, 20 R), Hunter Ingle (.397 avg, 15 RBI, 20 R), Brandon Mitchell (.388 avg, 13 RBI, 24 R), Brice Austin (.367 avg, 8 RBI, 22 R) and Cole Wilbanks (.353 avg, 15 RBI, 13 R).
Top to bottom, the lineup has put up some eye-popping stats. The pitching has been led by Colby Jones (2-1; 2.71 ERA, 18 K), Dustin Sheffield (3-1; 2.39 ERA, 23 K), Wilbanks (4-1; 5.03 ERA, 131 K) and Jones (3-2; 5.40 ERA, 32 K). Mitchell has also contributed on the mound, notching a pair of saves.
The senior group has contributed greatly to the success of this season, as Akridge has called an “extremely tight and unselfish group”. There are seven seniors on the roster, but plenty of underclassmen who are key contributors as well, which bodes well for the future.
“Everybody is excited about going to the games, and it builds up a lot of excitement,” exclaims Wilbanks.
“It builds up a lot of confidence. We’ve been putting in the hard work, and it’s starting to pay off. It’s the best feeling in the world!”
The chemistry of the Raiders has played a large role in this 2017 success.
“We’ve played together since we were really young,” says Austin.
“It’s always a team win, it’s a total team effort.”
Even with the incredible start to the season, the Raiders are in the midst of their toughest six games on the schedule – three against powerhouse Gainesville (dropping the opening game 18-2) and three against nationally-ranked Winder-Barrow. Those games are sure to make Habersham better down the stretch, and they’re in a great position to grab a top-four region finish to get to the state playoffs.
“Our goal is to get to the playoffs – and we’ll see what happens after that,” says Wilbanks.
You can be sure the Raiders aren’t getting complacent or basking in their accomplishments just yet – they have bigger goals in mind.
“Even though we’ve done well, we certainly have room to improve,” says Akridge. “We’re just looking – and it sounds cliche – but we’re looking to get better every day.”