The Eagles appear primed to make a serious run at a second consecutive title with most of the players back from last year’s Class AAAAAA champions, who beat north Fulton rival Roswell in the finals.
That’s not to say that it will be easy for Milton as coach Joey Ray said he acknowledges.
“It’s great to be the defending state champion, but it also means you have a target on your back,” Ray said. “We’ve been used to dealing with that the last couple of years –everybody’s wanted to beat us and that’s part of the deal. It becomes a challenge, because you spend your pre-region schedule trying to prepare kids to get better and you tell the kids that winning and losing is not that big of a deal and you’ve got every team in the land marking you on the calendar as the team they want to beat more than anybody.”
Milton was 2-3 going into the week as it played a challenging early-season schedule that included losses to Class AAAAAA contender Peachtree Ridge, defending AAAAA champion Redan and Alabama powerhouse Huntsville.
“There’s been some challenges,” Ray said. “But, overall, I’m pleased with the way we’ve started. We’re swinging the bats pretty well and defense has always been one of our biggest strengths and we’ve done a good job. It’s just finding more depth to move forward that’s going to be key.”
Pitching and defense were the big keys to Milton’s success last year and Ray said that this year will be no different.
“It’s kind of our philosophy here in terms of how we approach practices and games,” Ray said. “The kids love to hit. The kids are going to want to grab the bat and go hit, so it’s easy for them to focus on that. But, we stress pitching and defense and that’s what we need to focus on, what we need to work on. At the end of the day, that’s going to be our focus, realistically, in games – especially with the big field that we play at.
The Milton lineup features a number of senior players who have signed with NCAA Division I schools – pitcher/shortstop Dylan Cease (Vanderbilt), pitcher/right fielder Alex Schnell (Clemson), second baseman/pitcher Ryan Gridley (Mississippi State) and first baseman Jack Thompson (Georgia State).
Senior catcher Alec Miller and senior center fielder Dalton Ewing are also among the key players for the Eagles.
Before even thinking about another state title, Milton will have to navigate through a challenging Region 6AAAAAA schedule that includes state runner-up Roswell and semifinalist Walton.
“Year in and year out, that region is one of the best in the state,” Ray said. “You know when you’re in this region that you’re going to face not only some of the best players in the state, but some of the best coaches.”