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Water Valley baseball begins Jeb Lee era

Longtime Water Valley baseball coach Kary Bridges is now on the coast, having accepted a job at St. Martin High School in the same capacity. That has provided Jeb Lee an opportunity he has been waiting for.

Lee, who moved up after being Bridges’ assistant coach, will enter his first season as the Blue Devils’ head coach this weekend as their season got underway with two games in the New Albany Classic on Saturday.

Water Valley is coming off a season where they claimed the Region 2-3A title and advanced to the second round of the 3A playoffs before getting eliminated by Nettleton. This season could be a challenging one for Lee as he has a team that does not include one senior on the roster. There are three juniors anchored by Ty Varner and Gavin Darby, who have experience, but then two sophomores and eight freshmen follow. Ninth-grader Blayne Clark is the only underclassman with any playing experience prior to this season.

“I’m going to rely heavily on my three returning starters,” Lee said. “We’re really in a situation where even though we’re young, I can’t sit here and say we’re going to rely on one guy. It’s going to take a group effort to get where we want to be.”

Even with such a young roster, Lee feels confident that he has the numbers to where he will not require many players to pull double duty each night by playing in the junior varsity game then turning around and playing in the varsity game.

On the mound, Lee has six players he could put on the mound and feel good about giving them the ball. Darby is going to be the Blue Devils’ No. 1 arm this season. As a sophomore, Darby made five appearances with a 1-2 record and a 6.05 earned run average. Darby was also voted by his teammates to wear No. 2, a number that had been previously retired in honor of former Water Valley player Jason Langdon, who was injured during a game several years ago. Lee wanted to take it out of retirement and let the team vote for a player to wear it, much like Ole Miss votes on who will wear No. 38 in football.

“The great thing in that was it wasn’t just unanimous,” Lee said. “I had two or three other guys that could have easily won that as well. We’ve got a great team that’s full of good kids that’s capable of being a leader. … (Darby) has sort of solidified himself as being, I guess if I had to pick one guy, he’s the leader of our team. He’s earned that through a lot of hard work and respect in that locker room.”

Knowing their future

In Region 2-3A this season, there are only two other teams playing baseball along with the Blue Devils in Charleston and Independence, which means Water Valley has already earned a postseason berth. Holly Springs and Marks Palmer are skipping the baseball season. Most teams use region games to fight for a playoff spot, but with the Blue Devils already knowing they will be a No. 3 seed at worst, Lee’s mindset has changed before the first pitch is even thrown.

“It’s changed my mentality in you make sure that’s when you’re ready,” Lee said. “I’m getting ready for the end of April, first of May instead of the end of February. Obviously you want to win your division games and be that 1 or 2 seed. But at the same time, the most important thing is getting into the playoffs. We’re already there. Now I don’t have to worry so much about getting in.”