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|Hoffpauir, Ozburn lead All-Parish|
A new district, new classification and replacing seven starters had Vidalia High head baseball coach Johnny Lee Hoffpauir wondering how his team could compete for a straight district championship.
But when the smoke cleared by the end of the 2008 season, their the Vikings stood, tied with Marksville for the Class 3-3A championship.
Vidalia finished 16-7 on the season, falling to Iowa in the first round of the playoffs.
"There were a lot of questions going in and a lot of people did not expect us to compete in district," Hoffpauir said. But by the time the season ended, I was very well pleased with the progress this team made from the beginning to the end. This team made as much progress as any team I have ever had."
Hoffpauir, whose first win in 2009 will give him 450 career wins (449-192, all at Vidalia High), led Vidalia to its 13th straight district championship.
"This was a great group to work with," Hoffpauir said. "This was one of the best hitting teams I have had (.357 batting average). Our defense was shaky, but I knew that coming in. Mason was the only infield starter returning. But we got through it and persevered. They battled every game."
Hoffpauir, whose lost his mother, MaMae during the season, and had seven games cancelled because of weather or the other team backing out, said it was the strangest season he has had since resurrecting the Vidalia baseball program in 1979.
"There were some tough times," he said. "But the players, parents and fans really helped me get through it. We've always had a family atmosphere with Vidalia baseball."
Hoffpauir has never been a fan of the single elimination playoff system, but was even more upset when the state went to allowing the coaches to seed the playoff teams. Vidalia was seeded No. 17 despite its record and winning district. The top 16 teams hosted a first-round game, meaning Vidalia had to travel four hours to Iowa for its playoff opener.
"There are 11 districts in 3A and two district champions did not get a home game in the first round - us and North DeSoto," Hoffpauir said. "Class 3A is about 90 percent south Louisiana teams. And the coaches in the south use a buddy system. I was definitely not happy with the old playoff system, and I'm even more unhappy with the new system."
Ozburn led the Vikings with 35 hits and 12 doubles, hitting .455 with a .727 slugging percentage. He was also 8-3 on the mound for the Vikings, striking out 57 and walking 22.
zburn had a 5.65 earned run average.
"I struggled a little in the beginning," Ozburn said. "But then everything started coming around and I was playing with more confidence."
"When you have the tag of 'Rookie' as a freshman, that's big praise," Hoffpauir said of Ozburn. "He's a special player and he's only going to get better. I have high expectations for him in his final two years. He was a big part of our success."
Ozburn said he felt more comfortable this year than last year, his first under Hoffpauir.
"I heard a lot of stories about playing for Coach Hoffpauir," Ozburn said with a laugh. "This year was a lot more fun than last year because I knew what to expect. But it wasn't as bad as all the stories I heard. Coach Hoffpauir is a great coach and I've learned a lot from him."
Ozburn said being a pitching doesn't make you a better a hitter.
"I always thought that, but it's a lot different," he said. "I was trying to guess pitches, and that makes it even tougher. And you use up a lot of energy pitching."
Ozburn had two home runs in a district game against Bolton.
"That felt great because those are the most important games," he said.
Ozburn, who also plays on the Vidalia football team, said he is going to work more on his hitting during the offseason.
"I struggled a little bit at the end," he said. "But I think that also had a lot to do with my endurance. I'm really going to work harder on keeping on my stamina next year and finishing stronger."
Hoffpauir also hopes for a stronger finish next year and is anxious to start back up again.
"The part I hated the most of losing out in the first round was not being around the kids anymore," Hoffpauir said. "They were a fun group and I enjoyed being with them every day in practice."
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