Brent Hall sees lots of potential in his 2014 baseball team. The question remains will the Houston Tigers reach it?

Hall has spent much of the preseason pumping up a group of players that have yet to enjoy a winning season. With last year’s 8-10 mark, the Tigers have failed to reach .500 for three straight seasons. They are the only losing seasons in Hall’s 16-year career.

But with five all-conference players returning, seven seniors on the roster and a trio of sophomores who played varsity last year, Hall believes this team is capable of winning a majority of its games.

“Are we going to excel and be as good as I think we can be? I’m trying to get them to believe they are as good as they are,” Hall said. “Every time we step on the field, I feel like we’re the better team. We need to play like it.”

Hall said his team didn’t play that way in Saturday’s preseason jamboree. The Tigers were passive at the plate and often battling two-strike counts.

“I think our mental capacity could be the only thing that holds us back,” Hall said. “I don’t want to put pressure on them. I want them to try to understand how confident I am in their abilities and what I think they can do out there.”

HHS returns its entire starting infield that features all-conference picks Kolby Walker (first base), Trevor Merckling (second), Devin Coulter (short) and Tanner Cantrell (third). Austin Keeney and Whitley Welch are battling for duties behind the plate. Ethan Kelley and Braden Kuhn provide infield depth off the bench.

The outfield is anchored by Aaron Cantrell, an all-conference selection. Quinton Alston returns in left field. Nathan Poynter, Stetson Welch and Cole Hooper are all candidates for the outfield. Freshman Kyle Wilson will play a backup role.

Coulter and Aaron Cantrell anchor the Houston pitching rotation. Coulter was 7-1 with a 2.36 ERA last year and Aaron Cantrell, who throws between 82-85 mph, signed in January with Crowder College –– one of the top junior college programs in the country.

“I’m very comfortable with either one of those guys on the mound,” Hall said.

Alston, Poynter, Kelley and Stetson Welch form the rest of the pitching staff.

Offensively, the Tigers are led by junior Tanner Cantrell, who batted .471 last year with eight doubles and 20 RBIs en route to all-state honors.

Coulter returns as the leadoff hitter. Walker and Aaron Cantrell could bat second or fifth in the lineup. Whitley Welch will hit cleanup. Merckling is expected to bat sixth and Alston will bat seventh. The bottom of the lineup will be filled out by the starting outfielders.

The Tigers open the season Monday against Salem. Houston plays again Tuesday against Mountain Grove and Thursday, March 27, versus Cuba. All games begin at 4 p.m. in Houston.

“I know they have the talent, ability and potential to win,” Hall said. “They just need to play like it.”

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