Hurt teammate motivates ACCS

Published 12:01am Saturday, February 16, 2013

NATCHEZ — Brandon Ross wore Tyler Buckles’ No. 31 jersey during football season, since Buckles couldn’t be on the field with him.

Now, Ross will once again take the field without his best friend, this time on the baseball diamond, as Adams County Christian School begins its season Monday.

Buckles fractured his C4 and C5 vertebrae, bruised his spine and suffered a concussion in the first game of football season last fall. After planning on playing baseball in the spring, Buckles recently had a T-11 vertebrae fracture after being in a car wreck two weeks ago.

“It hurts me,” Ross said. “It really gets to me. I always wish I could give him my junior year for his senior year. It motivated me to do my best in football, and that will be double for baseball, because it’s mine and his sport.”

Adams County Christian School catcher Brandon Ross tosses with a teammate during practice Wednesday. (Michael Kerekes \ The Natchez Democrat)

Rebels head coach Hunter McKeivier said losing Buckles, a senior, is a significant loss, especially since the team is looking to replace seven seniors from last year’s team.

“Tyler is still a huge part of our makeup,” McKeivier said. “For a great kid, that’s rotten luck.”

Senior outfielder Cody Rhinehart said Buckles’ injury is a “bad loss” for the team.

“It kind of sucks,” Rhinehart said. “I didn’t get to play with him in football and baseball, and I’ve always played for him. It’s just weird.”

Ross said Buckles’ spirits are good despite not being able to play any sports his senior year.

“He has a lot of friends that have his back,” Ross said. “That’s lightened his spirit a lot. He’s not taking it as bad as he could, because we’ve helped him out a lot.”

After losing seven seniors, McKeivier said it’s going to be tough replacing both their production and experience.

“It’s hard to replace that good of a group, but that’s the job of high school athletics,” McKeivier said. “You have to prepare the next group, and that’s what we do every single day.”

But expectations are still high for this year’s Rebel squad, McKeivier insisted.

“Every year the expectations are to compete for a district championship and to continue in the playoffs,” he said.

Rhinehart said he’s not making any predictions on what kind of season this younger group of Rebels will have.

“We just have to play to our capabilities and see what happens,” Rhinehart said.

Only Rhinehart, Ross and Trinity Episcopal transfer Trey Fleming have varsity experience, McKeivier said.

“The rest will be new at the high school level,” McKeivier said. “We have a lot of sophomores and underclassmen playing, as well as a couple of kids that hadn’t played in a couple of years that will be key contributors.”

That group includes Dylan Galbreath, Luke Thomas, Taylor Buckles and Caleb Watts, McKeivier said.

Pitching-wise, Thomas, Tyler Wilson and Wade Simpson — all left-handed — will make up the Rebels’ rotation.

“The biggest challenge will be a lack of experience in game-type situations and knowing your responsibilities on every single play, whether it’s backing up home plate or your fielding responsibilities on a slow roller,” McKeivier said.

McKeivier also said it will be interesting to watch how his all-lefty rotation fares against batters.

“It is a unique side to see the ball coming out of your hand, but in this day and age of baseball, you’re starting to see a lot more left-handers,” McKeivier said. “It can be and it can’t be (an advantage).”

Ross, a catcher, said he understands his responsibilities in helping develop the team’s young pitching talent.

“I’ll call time out, go out there and calm them down if I see them struggling,” Ross said. “I’ll tell them not to worry about throwing strikes and to just throw. If you throw like you’re capable of, you will throw strikes.”

ACCS played in two scrimmages at Brookhaven Academy Thursday and Friday. The Rebels begin their regular season Monday when they host Amite School Center.