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North baseball looks to newcomers in 2012

File PhotoNorth Gwinnett's Jordan Brown.

File PhotoNorth Gwinnett's Jordan Brown.

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File PhotoNorth Gwinnett senior Seth Bancroft

It seems odd to imagine a high school baseball team with 10 seniors on its roster as being young.

Yet that is how North Gwinnett coach Frank Vashaw describes the 2012 edition of the Bulldogs, who begin their season Friday against defending Class A state runner-up Providence Christian at McDaniel Field.

But as strange as that description seems, Vashaw has a strong case for it.

"We're going to be a younger team as far as experience is concerned," said Vashaw, who enters his seventh season as the Bulldogs' coach after having taken all six his previous teams to the Class AAAAA state playoffs. "One thing we have to overcome is that many of our kids are in the spotlight for the first time. But we've had that every year, it seems like. So, we don't make excuses."

Indeed, the Bulldogs have found a way to be successful despite having to plug in new starters before, and Vashaw is hopeful they can do it again by building around a solid nucleus of players they do have returning from last year's 17-15 campaign that included a trip to the second round of the playoffs.

Chief among those returners are shortstop Ryan Hagan (.301, 3 HR, 17 RBIs last year) and outfielders Alex Kimble (.385, 14 RBIs) and Cole Willoughby (.289, 2 HR, 23 RBIs).

But while that core gives the Bulldogs some pop in the lineup, there is another weapon from newcomers like freshman second baseman J.D. Dutka and others that Vashaw believes could be the team's biggest strength.

"For the first time since I've been here, up and down the lineup, we have a lot of team speed," Vashaw said. "We've never really been a team that's run crazy (before), but I think we can put pressure on people if we can hit the ball on the ground and maybe steal some bases."

As with the batting order, North's pitching staff will need several individuals contribute who have not been asked to do so much before.

Junior right-hander Jordan Brown (5-4, 3.43 ERA, 63 IP) is the only returning regular member of the starting rotation, and the reserve post on the North basketball team may not be available for several weeks if the Bulldogs make a deep run into the Class AAAAAA state tournament.

Still, Vashaw has plenty of hope for several other arms like senior right-hander Danny Parry and lefties Tucker Baca, a sophomore, and Stephen Hauser, a junior.

"We feel like we have more depth (on the pitching staff) than ever before," Vashaw said. "We do have options."

Those options should help the Bulldogs remain competitive in always rugged Region 7-AAAAA, which figures to be a tough as ever with contenders such as defending champion Mill Creek, plus other playoff teams that return several starters like Duluth and Peachtree Ridge.

But Vashaw remains confident that North can remain in the mix.

"If we can get over some growing pains, we have some depth," Vashaw said.