Home Local Sports SEASON PREVIEW: Hamlet junior team embarks on first summer campaign

SEASON PREVIEW: Hamlet junior team embarks on first summer campaign

Anthony Hailey, coaching first base Sunday, will serve as head coach of the Hamlet junior baseball team this summer. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

HAMLET — The expansion of the Hamlet American Legion baseball program will give local fans more opportunities to watch summertime baseball over the next month.

Making its debut this summer, the Hamlet junior baseball team will join the action for the first time since the program was revived in 2021.

Anthony Hailey will serve as the head coach of the junior team after coming off his first season as the head junior varsity coach at Richmond Senior High School. 

Hailey has been a member of the Hamlet coaching staff the past three summers. Assisting Hailey will be Bryce Dixon and Robert Smith.

“It means a lot to be the coach of the junior team, as this gives me an opportunity to reach the younger kids and start building that relationship with them before they get to the high school,” Hailey said. “This team will give players the opportunity to be a part of something special and make memories they will remember for years to come. 

“I have known most of these players since they were playing rec ball and now that I get the opportunity to coach them on a higher level, it allows for me to continue sharing the knowledge of the game and helping them refine their skills.”

The junior team has been practicing for the better part of a month now since tryouts were held. Since the program is new altogether, Hailey has, with the help of his assistants, been adamant about getting the team on the same page.

Team chemistry, coupled with varying levels of experience and talent, have been beneficial so far.

“We are slowly building team chemistry,” Hailey commented. “We have a good mixture of younger and older guys which I think gives the younger guys the opportunity to see how the speed of the game is supposed to be played and also pick the brains of the older players. 

“Our guys have been working hard over the past three weeks and we are excited to see how we stack up against the other junior teams in our area.”

Spearheading the junior 49ers will be two rising seniors from Richmond Senior High School — Conner Phifer, a left-handed pitcher and outfielder, and Jabari Douglas, who catches and plays third base and the outfield.

The tandem of utility players helped the Raider varsity team clinch second place in the conference standings this spring.

Other Raider baseball players will be rising juniors Colton Brown (pitcher/outfielder/second base) and Preston Fann (first and third base), both of whom played for Hailey on the Richmond junior varsity team this past season.

Also set to help the junior 49ers will be six rising sophomores who played JV baseball. They include pitcher/infielders Drew Gause (shortstop), Michael Osentowski (shortstop) and Chase Woody (first base).

Steve James, Hailey said, can pitch for Hamlet, as well as play the outfield or infield. Other Richmond players with JV experience include Keith Cummings, a catcher, and Tristan Chavis, who primarily plays third base.

A host of players fresh off successful middle school seasons from local programs are also filling out the roster for Post 49 this summer.

Those players are Brayden Baucom (outfielder/pitcher), Julius Bowden (outfielder), Cooper Gainey (infielder/outfielder/pitcher), Cameron Liles (infiedler/pitcher), Colton Nelson (catcher/infielder), Colson Smith (pitcher/outfielder), Noah Stubbs (infielder/pitcher) and Jaxton Watson (infielder).


Two players — Banx Sutherland and Hayden Woolard —  will compete in non-conference games only, rounding the roster out at 20 players.

Heading into the first week of the season, Hailey said Hamlet’s top four pitchers are currently James, Osentowski, Phifer and Stubbs.

“These guys have had some good bullpens,” Hailey said, “and during the intrasquad scrimmages have looked comfortable on the mound. I expect them to give us a lot of innings and keep us in a lot of ball games.”

As the season progresses, however, Post 49 will also use “several other players” and throw them in the mix this summer, too.

Offensively, Hailey believes the junior team will depend on a variety of players to help produce hits and runs. From what he’s seen during the preseason, Hailey expects the productive spots in the lineup going to Fann, Gause, Douglas, Phifer and Liles.

One player defensively on the infield Hailey expects big things from is Nelson, who Hailey said is one of the team’s younger players, but one who has a good knowledge of the game. Nelson will likely “play a big role at catcher,” second base and possibly pitch.

“Preston will also be a guy we will look to defensively to play an important role,” Hailey noted. “He will split time at first base and third. I’m also expecting Jaxton, who is a rising eighth grader who continues to work hard in practice and is improving every day, will get some playing time at first base this summer. 

“Steve is a rising 10th grader who is a versatile ball player and we are looking forward to him playing several positions for us, which include pitcher, outfield, and shortstop. Keith, who is a catcher, will play an important role when it comes to showing the younger catchers how to do the small things. I think his experience on JV at Richmond will allow for him to be a go-to person for the younger players. 

“Also, Conner and Jabari will bring a lot of experience from the varsity team at Richmond. These guys can play multiple positions such as outfield (both), first base (Phifer), third base (Douglas), and pitcher if needed. They can be those on-field coaches when needed late in games.”

When asked what will define a successful season for the Hamlet junior team, Hailey’s explanation was simple — for the program as a whole to get better by season’s end.

“This summer we are looking to first show these guys the significance of Hamlet Post 49 baseball,” Hailey shared. “Post 49 has a tradition of winning baseball and making deep runs in the playoffs. I think that it’s important to bring on a junior team so that they get to experience the level of competition outside of Richmond County which will only make them better baseball players. 

“I think just seeing them develop and improve their skills is a goal for us as coaches and a team. Of course, I want to win, but I want them to learn that in the game of baseball you are going to fail more than you succeed, but what’s most important is how you respond when you fail.”

Hailey added that he also believes a “successful season” for the junior team would be characterized by finishing in the top three spots of Hamlet’s conference going into the playoffs.

“I’m excited to get our season started at home and I am looking forward to the community coming out and supporting our junior team this summer,” Hailey closed.

The junior 49ers will open their season Wednesday at home against Randolph Post 45. First pitch is set for 7 p.m. at Memorial Park.

Below is the Hamlet Junior team’s complete 2024 schedule: