Last year the Buchholz baseball team won 18 games and was among the top 10 teams in the state in Class 6A.
The Bobcats (18-7-1) lost at eventual 6A state semifinalist Pace, 9-5, in the Region 1-6A quarterfinals.
However, gone from that team are a couple of key pitchers from a unit that had a 2.27 earned run average.
Reinhardt University signee Jackson Peters (2.02 ERA) led the staff with 13 appearances, followed by Lake Sumter State College signee Caden Kresak (3-0, 0.73 ERA), who threw a no-hitter last year vs. GHS, with 10.
Peters also batted .289, while Kresak (.284) led the team with 24 runs scored.
Other key graduations included Brett Blair, Cole Smithers, and Dario Astudillo.
The 2022 team is young, but talented.
Head coach Ron Brooks said he will have one of his youngest groups overall in his 12 years since he’s been at Buchholz.
“I am really excited for the challenge this team will bring,” he said. “We are a very young group who will get better through the year. We will have four freshmen who will contribute at the varsity level.”
The ‘Cats, who open up the season tonight at 7 p.m. at home against Lincoln (Tallahassee), are led behind the plate by UCF commit Noah Hayse, who batted .386 last year as a freshman.
Hayse will hit in the middle of the order along with Clemson commit Anthony Wilkie, a 6-foot-6 sophomore who was on the Bobcats’ varsity basketball team.
Wilkie, who was 2-0 with a 1.50 ERA, and senior Ty Robertson (Hillsborough Community College commit) will lead Buchholz on the mound. Wilkie had 24 strikeouts and only five walks in 23.1 innings pitched as a freshman, while Robertson (3-1, 3.21 ERA) had 21 Ks in 24 innings pitched.
They are joined by sophomore Austin Cardozo and a stable of young arms, including freshmen JJ Gardner and Wyatt Clarke.
“We will need leadership from junior infielders Alex Kastensmidt and Kyle Brewer, and sophomore Cooper Collins,” Brooks noted. “We will need our freshman and sophomores to grow up in a hurry, a really exciting time to be a Bobcat.”
The schedule is loaded.
The Bobcats will compete in Class 6A-District 2 this season, which includes Tallahassee schools Leon and Chiles, plus Class 6A state runner-up Fleming Island (Orange Park).
Chiles finished 22-8 last season with a 3-2 loss to Fleming Island in the 6A Region Final.
The Bobcats will host Chiles on March 5 and play at Fleming Island, which lost to Bloomingdale (Valrico) in last year’s 6A title game, on March 24.
Plus, Buchholz will play a pair of games against 4A state runner-up North Marion (Citra) and Forest (Ocala), which missed the playoffs after a loss to Chiles in the district semifinals but finished 18-9.
They also have road trips to 7A Bartram Trail (St. Johns) (22-6), which lost to eventual 7A state runner-up Spruce Creek (Port Orange), 1-0, in the regional quarterfinals, and Creekside (St. Johns), which moves up to 7A after losing at Fleming Island (Orange Park), 3-2, in last year’s 6A regional semifinals.
State playoff teams Bishop Kenny (Jacksonville), Bishop Verot (Fort Myers), and The Villages are also on the schedule, plus a home-and-home with rival Gainesville (April 14-15) and Columbia (Lake City) on April 19 and 22.
“Our schedule is really challenging and will require a lot of focus to get through,” Brooks said. “But with the young team we are excited to see them grow with the level of competition they will play.”
Tonight’s opponent, Lincoln, dropped down to Class 5A.
Last year, the Trojans (18-9) split the two-game series with the Bobcats but lost at Buchholz, 4-2, in the 6A-District 2 semifinals and missed the postseason.