Vikings welcome five others for invitational

Published 12:00 am Thursday, April 1, 2004

VIDALIA, La. &045; Behind the right field fence of Alex Box Stadium in Baton Rouge sits a billboard any Fortune 500 company would be envious to have.

However, as advertisements line the warning track fence, the only thing being pitched on the so-called Intimidator is LSU’s dominance of the college baseball world and the occasional home run ball.

Announcements of five College World Series titles and numerous regional and Southeastern Conference championships grace the deep purple and golden calf.

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Similarly, throughout the grounds of Vidalia High’s baseball field hang not-so-little reminders of the Vikings’ preeminence in Louisiana’s Class 2A.

The backstop proclaims Vidalia’s 1996 state championship year with a list of coaches and players, according to classification.

Nestled up to that is a sign for the runner-up finish in 2002; last season’s runner-up banner rests above the concession stand; and adjacent to the press box is a list of former Viking standouts, including Josh Hoffpauir, who is with the Seattle Mariners’ organization, and current Southern Miss players Jarrett Hoffpauir and Barry Bowden.

Memory lane is always paved. Johnny Lee Hoffpauir’s teams have always been competitive, and he’s open maybe some history can rub off on a 7-3 team heading into today’s 6 p.m. tilt with Bridge Creek, Okla., on the first day of the Vidalia Invitational.

&uot;We’ve got a little tradition going on here,&uot; said Hoffpauir, a two-time Class 2A coach of the year. &uot;One thing I do know is that these kids are gonna play hard. Whether the pitching or hitting is there, I do know they’re gonna go out and work hard.&uot;

Hoffpauir sends Tony Hawkins to the mound against the Bobcats, who are coached by from Huntington and Natchez High head coach Sonny Clay.

Clay brought Bridge Creek here for the first time last season and quickly realized the youth of his team.

While only two seniors are in the 2004 starting lineup, Clay feels last year’s humbling experiment (Bridge Creek dropped games to Vidalia and Winnsboro, La., last year) in Vidalia taught his kids a lot about what it takes to be successful.

&uot;Coach Hoffpauir has a program with a lot of tradition,&uot; said Clay, who coached at Huntington from 1992-96 and Natchez from 1997-99 before taking over Bridge Creek. &uot;We got better as the year went along, and during the offseason the kids worked harder than ever before. I think coming down here spurned them on to do that.&uot;

The round-robin tourney features four other teams besides Vidalia and Bridge Creek, including another familiar face in Greg Harris, who brings his Camden-Fairview, Ark., team to the Invitational for the second consecutive year.

Harris coached at Adams County Christian School from 1994-99, leading the Rebels to a 28-win season in 1996. His Cardinals open against Bridge Creek at 3:30 p.m. Friday.

&uot;It offers an opportunity for out of state teams to come in here and play,&uot; Hoffpauir said. &uot;Both coaches have been in this area, so that gives them a chance to visit with friends.&uot;

Cathedral, which went undefeated in the Vidalia Tournament last weekend, plays its only game of the Invitational against Mangham, La., at 5:30 p.m. Friday.

Vidalia closes out Friday’s action against Minden, La., at 7:30 p.m.

But first is Clay and Bridge Creek, which will throw junior Michael Goldsmith, who accounts for the lone Bobcat victory in three games.

Like Hawkins, Clay said Goldsmith is a control guy, who can get his No. 1 rising between 83 and 85 miles per hour.

&uot;Tony won’t overpower you, but he’s got great control of his pitches,&uot; Hoffpauir said. &uot;(Freshman) Lance (Moore) is the same way. They pitch ahead in the count and won’t beat themselves.&uot;

The Vikings skipper said, despite Moore’s polished showing in Saturday’s 10-0 capper of Avoyelles, Mac Ware and Brett Hinson will start against Minden and Camden-Fairview, respectively.

Ware said the Vidalia coaching staff has worked with him this week on controlling the trajectory of his curveball via tinkering with his release point.

Instead of coming over the top, Hoffpauir and his staff are stationing Ware and Hinson’s arms at a &uot;1 o’clock&uot; position, hopefully eliminating those &uot;59-foot curves,&uot; Hoffpauir said.

&uot;Mac and Brett go deep into the count, and for them to be good, especially with as good of stuff as they have, they must learn how to pitch ahead,&uot; he said. &uot;If that happens, they’ll be effective.&uot;

Ware said the assistance he received this week should help him to do a better job of keeping hitters off-balanced and guessing at the plate.

He’s one of those players who understand what it means to be a part of Viking tradition; to don the black-and-blue caps and shirts; to intimidate every opponent with your self-assuredness.

&uot;Since I’ve been here, we’ve always won a lot of game and lost very few,&uot; Ware said. &uot;We want to keep it going, so our names can be up (on the fence). If we play together, we’ll do fine.&uot;