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BASEBALL PREVIEW: Lambert returns pieces for another title run
Lambert Preview 021515 web
Lambert returning starters Eric Furphy (from left), Tucker Maxwell, Seth Beer, Jeremy Johnson and JD Dutka are just part of the reason the Longhorns are ranked No. 1 in most preseason national polls. - photo by Micah Green

Lambert interim baseball coach Drew Ferrer leaned against the first-base dugout railing as the sun set on Longhorns practice last Wednesday, leisurely watching as players took batting practice and shagged fly balls while others hit in Lambert’s new, covered batting cages and took turns doing speed work on an adjacent softball field.

Though none of that may sound out of the ordinary, it’s easy to see why former coach Jamie Corr was so beloved by his players—and why Ferrer doesn’t see fit to change what worked so well last year.

 The whole operation gives off an almost professional vibe. No running as punishment, no yelling; just show up, do your work, finish 36-2 and No. 1 in the country, rinse, repeat.

Lambert’s breadth and depth of talent that returns from last season’s Class AAAAAA state championship roster is, in a word, staggering.

 The Longhorns lost shortstop Trey Logan, a Georgia signee. No worries—Georgia Southern signee Eric Furphy slides over from second base to take Logan’s spot, and Presbyterian signee Nick Guimbarda inherits Furphy’s gig. Sophomore Josh McAllister’s bat is still a work in progress, but Ferrer said he has the best infield hands on the team.

Ian Kimbrell (.460, 29 RBIs) returns as a defensively-solid first baseman, and when regular third baseman JD Dutka (.360, five home runs, 34 RBIs) pitches, Chris Cummings fills in without missing a beat.

Outfielder Darius Foster, a sophomore transfer from California who already holds an offer from Duke, won’t even start for the Longhorns most days. Foster will play, sure—Lambert assistant coach Brooks Youngblood said the sophomore gets on base and runs exceptionally well—but the Longhorns already have left fielder Jeremy Johnson (signed with Auburn), Georgia commit Tucker Maxwell in center, and Clemson commit Seth Beer in right.

Catcher Will Dunavant, a one-time Wofford signee, doesn’t start at his preferred position—he’s blocked by Georgia Tech commit Kyle McCann.

For all the success Lambert enjoyed last year, the Longhorns didn’t fully know what they were capable of until the USA Baseball Classic in Memphis, Tenn., in early April, where they went 4-0.

 “It took a little time to gel last year because they were young, but things should come together quicker this year,” Ferrer said. “They’re comfortable because they know they’ve done it before, and now, with a lot of juniors and seniors, they feel like they should be doing that again.”

Perhaps the biggest loss for Lambert was Dylan Biumi, who went 11-1 in 2014 with a 1.15 ERA (10 runs in 60 2/3 innings) and 52 strikeouts to earn Forsyth County Co-Pitcher of the Year honors. He’s at Western Carolina now. Biumi was the Longhorns’ ace and, when Lambert needed someone to hold on to a 2-1 lead in the final inning of the Class AAAAAA championship series, Biumi was there to get the final three outs.

That leaves Beer (6-0, 0.53 ERA) and Dutka (11-1 last year) and a rotating cast—senior Matt Vonderschmidt, junior Turner Scruggs, senior Thomas Reddin, among others—to handle pitching duties.

Beer, an Under Armour All-American and the No. 12-ranked player nationally in the Class of 2016, according to Perfect Game USA, split time last year between the mound and right field, where he hit a team-high .589 with 10 home runs and 56 RBIs.

 The sprawling homes behind and down the hill from the right-field fence at Lambert, 307 feet from home plate to foul pole, wouldn’t be in danger of flying baseballs from most high schoolers.

 Most high schoolers, however, don’t have light tower power. Beer closed Wednesday’s practice by drilling a metal floodlight tower behind said right field fence—halfway up, no less—with his second-to-last swing. Youngblood joked with Beer that they would take a nature walk through the woods to collect his batting practice dingers.

Beer smiled and went about his business—not the first time he’d done that.

With its first state championship in the bag and a No. 1 preseason ranking from USA Today and Maxpreps, is there more pressure than ever on Lambert? Sure—and don’t let anyone tell you different. But the Longhorns have been there before.  

“It’s neat for the kids to get attention like that, and it’s a compliment to what they did last year, but they’ve come in here thinking that it’s a completely new year,” Ferrer said. “Jeremy and some of these seniors that have been around have done a good job of keeping everybody grounded. They’re very hungry to do something neat again.”