The Bethlehem Christian Academy baseball team got only six games in last spring in its first year under Michael DeSantis before the season was cut short due to the coronavirus pandemic. But, even then, DeSantis said he saw the momentum in the program building toward a strong culture.

That will continue to be the focus in year two of the DeSantis era as the Knights get set to open the 2021 season with a doubleheader at Jackson County on Friday, Feb. 19.

“Things have been going well, and our guys have been getting after it,” during the offseason and preseason preparations, DeSantis said. “Since I got here, we’ve had a lot of young guys who are hungry to be coached and want to be held accountable and hold each other accountable, and they’ve really responded to our coaching staff. We’ve got a ton of young kids who are going to play this year — a bunch of sophomores and maybe a few freshmen — so I truly think the sky’s the limit for the program.”

Of the 23 players in the high school program this spring, many of whom will bounce back and forth between varsity and junior-varsity, only six of those are juniors and seniors. Senior infielder Ethan Guthas will be a returning starter, and the Knights also bring back talented juniors Trevor Slaick behind the plate and Ty Whiting in the outfield. The overall strength of the program right now, DeSantis said, may be in the sophomore class, where pitcher/first baseman Bryce Peppers, pitcher/outfielder Connor Hilton and infielder Mattox Harden are all key players returning.

Along with Peppers and Hilton, Slaick and junior Parker Torres will add depth to the pitching staff, while DeSantis said freshman Cody Craft should see some time on the mound and in the lineup as well.

“Our offense should be able to put up runs; I think our success is going to depend on making good pitches and not making errors on defense,” DeSantis said. “We’re not going to have guys throwing 90-plus, so we’ve got to do a good job of spotting the ball and letting the defense play behind us. We want to play sound, team baseball with bunting and executing everything well.

“I think we truly have a solid defense and good hitters; it comes down to pitching.”

The Knights should get a good gauge of where they’re at early on with the Jackson County doubleheader, a trip to perennial power Piedmont Academy and a trip to Phenix City, Alabama, for the “Borders Wars” tournament that they take part in annually. BCA will compete in GISA Region 4-AAA, which includes John Milledge Academy (the 2019 Class AAA runner-up) and Westfield (a 2019 AAA semifinalist, which eliminated the Knights in the first round that year).

“I think we can be competitive in region play, and those non-region games should help us,” DeSantis said. “I like to play powerhouses and stronger programs. We’re trying to build that culture of pushing ourselves and the mentality of ‘To be the best you’ve got to beat the best.’

“We’re trying to build something special here with the baseball team and across all the programs at BCA. Our junior-high baseball program is exploding, and we’re developing a strong pipeline. We’re keeping kids here, and we’ve got kids wanting to come here because they see what we’re building.”

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