Road to KIT crown could go through Fulton again

Road to KIT crown could go through Fulton again
The road to the KIT League championship could again go through Fulton in 2008. The Railroaders, who claimed the league’s regular season championship a year ago before dropping a best-of-three series to Union City for the postseason crown, are expected to field a team capable of competing for the circuit’s top honor again this summer. And the battle between UC and Fulton, which intensified during the postseason due to a scheduling conflict that forced all three postseason games to be played at Lohaus Field, may become even more heated thanks to sibling rivalry. Greyhounds’ manager Jonathan Estes, who spent two seasons in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league system, will have to eyeball his younger brother David, who succeeds Brian Hicks as the Railroaders’ manager. The younger Estes was an assistant coach on last year’s Fulton’s squad, which posted a 32-18 mark en route to the league’s regular season crown. He is also an assistant to his older brother Jonathan at Harris-Stowe University in St. Louis. Furthermore, the Railroaders will have a pair of familiar faces returning to the dugout — both of whom are all too privy to the bitter battles from the team’s ’07 season. For starters, South Fulton native Corey White is penciled in to return as an anchor for the Fulton pitching staff. White, who has a fastball that tops out in the mid-90s, posted a 6-4 record, a team-high 51 strikeouts and an earned run average of 3.78 last season. Meanwhile, Cory Hodskins will step back up to the plate as an utility infielder/outfielder for Fulton. Last season, Hodskins excelled in the Orange-and-Brown with a .375 batting average and an on-base percentage over .500. Otherwise, the league has new faces galore and even a new place. The Marion (Ky.) Bobcats replace the Sikeston Bulls in the league and begin their foray into Kitty League play Friday night at Owensboro. Fans may believe they are seeing double when Marion takes the field. The twin brother duo of Miles and Mark Hartsfield — both of whom play at UT Martin — will hit the diamond as utility players. At UTM this past spring, the pair posted similar numbers with Mark a .302 hitter with four home runs and 18 runs batted in and Miles batting .300 with three roundtrippers and 29 ribbies. However, the difference may be Miles’ glove as he posted the second best defensive fielding percentage for the Skyhawks with just five errors in 236 chances. Owensboro, the league’s 2006 champion, should be in the circuit’s title mix with a pair of players on the team’s roster with local ties. Jackson State Community College’s Haskel Fink and Khayyan Norfolk — a Henning native — are each looking to strike it rich with the Oilers and help the team improve on its 25-23 mark from a year ago. The Tradewater Pirates, who posted a 25-25 record in their inaugural season in the KIT league a year ago, will be without the managerial services of long-time skipper Bob Mantooth. Mantooth, who had been the Pirates’ manager since their start-up in 1999, resigned his position following the completion of the 2007 season. In December, it was announced that Kurt Elben, an assistant coach at Muhlenberg College in Allentown, Penn., would succeed Mantooth on the Tradewater bench. At the bottom of the league’s depth chart could be the Farmington Firebirds, who dwelled in the circuit’s cellar last year with a mark of 17-32. Still, team officials and community members may just be happy to have the team return for another season. After the completion of last season, it appeared the team was on the brink of becoming defunct. However, the Bilbrey family stepped in and bought the team. Coincidentally, a member of that clan will be the Firebirds’ field manager. C.J. Bilbrey, who has family ties to three of the team’s owners, has been announced as the new Farmington manager with Jim Smetzer and C.J. Zeller assisting the rookie skipper. Sports reporter Kenneth Coker can be contacted by e-mail at kcoker@ucmessenger.com.

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