Scotland's jayvee team left Junior Legion baseball for the Central Carolina League last summer, and the varsity team has made the move and will play its first Central Carolina League game at Hoke County on Monday at 7 p.m. American Legion baseball has withered and gone away in this part of the state; the Area 2-West League that Scotland's Post 50 team had competed in for years is operating with just four teams this season.
The new league is more like high-school baseball. Games are seven innings and teams play with the actual players they'll be using the following spring instead of graduating seniors and rising college sophomores, as was allowed in American Legion ball.
Scotland will have an experienced coaching staff, with Tommy Britt serving as head coach. He will be assisted by Jamie Coleman, pitching coach for the SHS varsity team, and Joe Critcher.
Critcher, a state championship-winning coach at Hoke County in the early 90s, was the head coach of the Scotland Post 50 American Legion team from 2002 through 2008; his record during those years was 110-60, and his teams won Area 2-West regular season titles for four straight years (2003-06), Area 2-West playoff titles in 2004, 2005 and 2007, and the Area 2 championship in 2005.
Britt talked about the transition from Legion baseball to the Central Carolina League.
"The transition will be seven innings instead of nine," said Britt. "Basically, about anything goes. It's like a developmental league. You still play to win, you still have playoffs, but it develops your program for the future.
"I think you can hit 10, there's no re-entry rule. There's free substitution. It's different. A guy out of Fuquay-Varina, Tom Hayes, got in organized about three years ago.
"It started with about 12 teams, and now I think they have 68. It's real big in the central/eastern part of North Carolina."
There are eight teams in Scotland's division, and 14 regular-season games will be played before the postseason begins. The top two teams from each division make the playoffs.
With the frequency of games and hectic summer schedules of players, the American Legion teams wouldn't practice as much as Scotland High School teams would. This year's summer team is doing much the same, practicing frequently up until the start of the season.
"We're practicing. We practiced four times last week and three this week," said Britt. "Once we start playing, we're going to play, we won't practice. It will be Monday though Thursday, three days a week. On Friday, Saturday and Sunday, it gives those guys a chance to play with their travel teams."
Much like the American Legion teams, playing time will be split more evenly with Scotland's Central Carolina League team.
"We're going to play to win," said Britt. "Lineups will be different: we're going to split time, try to develop some kids and see what we have now and what we have coming up."
Scotland has to replace the production of its departed seniors. Four of those players — pitcher Ryan Pierce, catcher Ryan Walker, first baseman Phillip Williams and right fielder Travis Walters — are playing on Hoke County's American Legion team this summer, although they have been working out with the Scotland team during its practices.
Walker was a First-Team All Cape Fear Region performer this season, and working behind the plate in his place this summer will be John Yarborough, Trae Phillips and Matt Radford.
"We feel like we've got a pretty good staff coming back with some pretty strong arms next year," said Britt. "We've got to find two catchers who will be able to handle those guys on the mound.
"Those three will be catching and developing over the summer to become better."
Taking Pierce's spot in the pitching rotation will be Damian Burr. Francis "Marlboro" Lloyd slides into the No. 3 spot in the Scotland rotation.
Alex Fricke, a first baseman off the Scotland jayvee team, could see some time in right field, where Walters roamed this spring. Scotland has several options in replacing Phillip Williams at first; Curt Britt can play there when he is not on the mound, and Fricke and Sam Smith will also play first.