E.A. Sports Today

Dress rehearsal

Monsters drop final exhibition game with Columbus, but appear to be ready for their season opener Friday

Wednesday’s SBL games
Alpharetta 7, Atlanta Crackers 3
Gwinnett 10, Atlanta Blues 5
Waleska 12, Gainesville 11
Columbus 5, Choccolocco Monsters 1 (exhib.)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

OXFORD – As far as final dress rehearsals go, the Choccolocco Monsters saw everything they needed to see and are about as ready for their season opener as can be expected with about a week of practice, four exhibition games and a couple pieces still outstanding.

The Monsters dropped their last preseason exhibition game and first in front of home fans at Choccolocco Park Wednesday night when they lost to the Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots, 5-1.

The Monsters used five pitchers in the nine-inning game that was the closest to the real thing as they’ve done this preseason – the Hoots used nine – and made wholesale substitutions to give everyone available a look. If their Sunbelt Baseball League regular season started Thursday instead of Friday night against the Hoots, they would be comfortable.

“We’re close, we’re close,” Monsters manager Steve Gillispie said. “Roles are being defined, but that’s not necessarily what we did tonight. We’ve still got three or four pieces of the lineup that haven’t joined us yet.

“I thought our at-bats were pretty good tonight. We didn’t break any bats; they did. We just didn’t get enough hits bunched together. Pitching was really pretty solid. Austin was just a little amped up.”

Monsters starter Austin Goode got a little excited pitching on the Signature Field mound for the first time since high school (Alexandria) and had trouble finding the plate. He walked seven in his two innings and four of them scored as the Hoots opened a 5-0 lead.

He gave up two hits in three innings of the Monsters’ first exhibition game in Columbus Saturday and gave up only two hits Wednesday, but they were big ones. Jesse Donohoe had a two-run single in the first and Conner O’Neal drilled a three-run homer in the second.

“When I told him he was going to start he got a big grin on his face and said it had been about five years since he’d been out here,” Gillispie said. “It’s not unlike Garrett Telaga the other night or some of the hitters. The swings are a little big, there’s something a little more there and they’re not in control like they normally would be.

“The other night Austin was pretty good. I don’t think he gave up anything. Sometimes when it’s been a while you’ll see that second outing isn’t as crisp as the first. That recovery time you’re not used to that and that’s what we’re trying to build up. But his pitch count still wasn’t super high. It was not the kind of outing he would want to have, but I think he’s on track to get into a role.”

The Monsters outhit their visitors 6-4. Brant Deerman drove in their only run in the fifth inning. He drove a run home in Sunday’s exhibition win, too.

The team still has about a half-dozen players to report, including first commitment Brennan McCullough (Oxford/Murray State). Another player is at the Division III World Series in Cedar Rapids and a third is at the NCAA Regionals in Knoxville. When they all get back, the Monsters believe they’ll have something special.

“Right now we’re just trying to all get to know each other and learn how to play together,” catcher Jake Spivey said. “The opening day team I think will be really good and I think we’ll keep climbing each game. The more this team plays together, they’re just going to get better. I think we can win the championship.”

The Monsters and Hoots open their Sunbelt Baseball League regular season schedule Friday at The Big House. Brock Hill will draw the start for the Monsters opposite Clay Weatherly. Hill finished the Sunday’s exhibition game, throwing two shutout innings, giving up two hits and striking out three.

“That’s kind of the role he’s always played,” Gillispie said. “Even at South Alabama with the redshirt, that was what he was kind of groomed to do. I think what I saw the other day was a pretty good four-pitch mix and I think that’s a plus.”

The game drew about 500, which is just under what team officials figure the Monsters need to draw every night to have a successful business venture.

The night gave team management a chance to put its operations through its Choccolocco Park paces under game-day conditions. There were a few glitches, but nothing that can’t be fixed.

“I think we’re probably about 10 days behind where we should be … and it’ll probably takes us about another two, three weeks to get where we really want to be,” general manager Scott Brand said, “but it seems like that happens with every new team and every opening opportunity.

“The important thing tonight is what did we forget and that’s why you have exhibition games. I can tell you we had a lot of people reach out to the team at the game tonight, so we think the outfield fence (advertising) signs will be a little bit more fuller the next time you show up. A lot of people want to get involved.”

The Monsters have big plans to get the community involved. The original Choccolocco Monster will be on hand Friday to throw out the ceremonial first pitch and the kid-friendly mascot also will be introduced.

They also have an Atlanta Braves Night planned with the Braves mascot, drumline and T-shirt tossing girls. Other promotions in the works include Fireworks Night, Military Appreciation Night and a Hometown Heroes Night.

Sunbelt Baseball League standings

Alpharetta Aviators11.500
Waleska Wild Things11.500
Gainesville GolDiggers02.0001
Brookhaven Bucks101.000
Atlanta Blues11.5000.5
Atlanta Crackers11.5000.5
Gwinnett Astros101.000
Choccolocco Monsters00.0000.5
Columbus Chatt-a-Hoots00.0000.5

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