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FDA stressing defense

Fort Dale Academy right-hander Skylar McKeown will help anchor the Eagles’ pitching staff. (File Photo)

Defense. Defense. Defense.

That’s the message Fort Dale Academy head baseball coach Josh Beverly is preaching to his team.

It’s not a new message, but it may carry more weight this year given the National Federation of State High School Associations’ (NFHS) rule change regarding bats. Beginning this season, all non-wood bats must meet the Batted Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standard. Simply put, composite bats must act more like wooden bats.

“Pitching and defense are key,” Beverly said. “With the way the bats are toned down this year, you have got to be able to play defense if you’re going to win games. The bats aren’t as lively, so you aren’t going to walk out there and knock a lot of balls over the fence. Runs are going to be tougher to come by, so you’ve got to limit the number of runs you give up.”

Beverly believes his squad has the gloves and the arms on the mound to do just that.

The Eagles return hard-throwing right-hander Skylar McKeown, who has already inked of letter of intent to play at Central Alabama Community College. He is expected to be Fort Dale’s No. 1 starter.

“He’s got a good arm,” Beverly said. “He’s hitting upper 80s with his fastball. He had a good year last year, and he’s gotten even better.”

Cade Tillery, Charlie Scofield and Chip Taylor will round out the Eagles’ top-four hurlers.

“All of those guys have some experience pitching on the varsity level, and that’s a plus for us,” Beverly said.

Fort Dale’s pitchers will have to adjust to throwing to a different catcher, however. Chase Whiddon, who started for the Eagles last season as a freshman, is out for the season after having surgery. Brandon Matthews will move from second base to catcher to fill the void.

“Chase was a very good defensive catcher,” Beverly said. “We’ll miss him, but Brandon is doing a good job for us. With Chase out we’ll have to do a little more shuffling of our lineup depending on who is pitching, but I think we’re going to be OK. I feel like we can have a good team. It’s just going to come down to making plays on defense.”

Fort Dale will open its season Tuesday when its plays host to Crenshaw Christian Academy at Beeland Park.

The game is scheduled to begin at 2:30 p.m.