By Mike Talbert
Rufus French is certainly the most visible name on the Amory baseball roster, and he is picked as one of the top pro prospects in the state.
French, also one of the top tight end prospects in nation in football, went out of his way to cite one of the reasons for finally signing with Ole Miss: that they would let him him play baseball. The right fielder has picked up on his .431 hitting pace of last season with four hits in Amory's first two games.
Yet Rufus French is not the main reason Amory is considered the top candidate to replace Pontotoc as the Division 1-3A Champion.
"They They have all their pitching back they should go far," Pontotoc coach Ben Patterson said.
And it is young pitching, four juniors, including two "aces," 6-foot-5 Brad Hamilton, who was 8-0 with a 2,53 ERA and Rusty Camp, whose fastball is in the high 80's helped him to an 8-4 record, 2.42 ERA and 89 strikeouts in 1989. The strikeouts are second in the school record book only to those of Brian Maxcy, who is with the Detroit Tiger organization.
The other two big arms are Chris Jones (3-4, 2.31, 26 strikeouts in 1995) and lefthander Robbyn Abedi, a newcomer to the team.
While coach Vince McLemore feels that his pitching and some solid hitting will give the Panthers a shot, "We aren't going to be like football (where the Panthers have gone 30 in two seasons). This is a much more competitive Division in baseball."
Defending Division 1-3A champion Pontotoc for one, which is reloading from a 23-9 that lost four of it's top starters, and heads s list of potential challengers.
McLemore also points at Ripley, New Albany, with pitcher Josh Foreman, and Saltillo. He said Corinth adds nothing but toughness to the picture, coming in from Class 4A last year. "They''ll be a solid fundamental team. It is a tough division," McLemore said.
McLemore rates Pontotoc as the biggest roadblock to the rest of the division.
Patterson admits, though very young, "this could be the most talented group I have ever had here, but we may be a year away."
The most interesting new face may be sophomore Kevin Bean, son of Terry Bean the two-handed pitcher on the 1980 Pontotoc squad.
"He can't throw two-handed, but he can throw just as hard as his father. He has some gas," Patterson said. "But he is just a young kid, so I imagine he will walk a lot of people."
Pontotoc will rely on a trio of returning starters as a base with centerfielder Evan Ray, catcher Grant Andrew and Myron Hereford, who was 7-2 last year and will be the No. 1 starter early. Hereford, can also hit. He had a .430 average and nine homers last season.
Ripley is hoping to join that mix with a pair of southpaws, Dorin Rogers (7-3) and Craig Flake (7-4). Shannon's Romaro Miller may be the dominant shortstop.