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Talented teams among area’s best

The current baseball talent in Harrison County could possibly be at its strongest in some time. South Central and North Harrison are both coming off sectional championship seasons, while Lanesville and Corydon Central are looking to break lengthy droughts since their last sniff of the sectional hardware.
South Central is No. 7 in the pre-season Class A Coaches poll, while both Lanesville (Class A) and Corydon Central (Class 3A) are receiving votes. Corydon Central enters the season as one of the favorites in the Mid-Southern Conference alongside Austin, while Lanesville and South Central will tussle with Borden in the Southern Athletic Conference.
Corydon Central
The Panthers came of age last year. A robust offense led to a 17-9 season, but also ended with a disappointing loss to rival North Harrison in the Class 3A Sectional.
Corydon Central should bounce back strong, returning seven starters, along with three veteran pitchers. Senior Jeremy Smith heads the rotation, along with fellow classmen Chad Shireman and Nolan Brightman. All three combined for 14 wins last season, and senior Stu Stark could also toe the rubber in relief.
‘As long as they all stay healthy, they are expected to be our biggest strength,’ said coach Zach Sipes. ‘Defensively, we need to keep improving to have a shot at competing for sectional and conference titles.’
On offense, the Panthers are dangerous. Brightman and Smith clubbed four home runs each last season, and hit over .400. Last season when the Panthers scored five or more runs, they were 15-3. When they scored less than five, they were 2-6. Sipes hopes they buck that trend and win closer games.
‘The biggest thing is this year we won’t be seen as the underdogs,’ Sipes said. ‘This year, we will probably see other team’s No. 1 pitchers. But our guys are pumped about the challenge.’
Plenty of experience returns to the Eagles’ lineup in 2008, but head coach Sean Smith will look to replace one key missing element, Matthew Beckman. He graduated last year and led the Eagles in most statistical categories.
Smith said he will be tough to replace, but the Eagles should be much deeper this season and should fill the void. The main returnee is Kenton Acton. The senior is coming off an ankle injury suffered during basketball season. Acton is expected to be the No. 1 pitcher and is also a power threat at the plate.
Joining Acton in the rotation is southpaw Tom Walter and righty Walker Horton. Smith hopes Walter and Horton can eat away at innings and keep Acton fresh.
‘We have a lot of experience back and we are deep,’ Smith said. ‘The main thing will be our pitching. If we can get the pitchers to throw strikes, we’ll be fine.’
Other key returning players include Collin McCulloch, Cody Hussung, Cameron Teeter and John Kissel. Sophomore Jordan Sizemore, who started the second half of the season as a freshman last year, will anchor the outfield. The team has plenty of speed and defense, two strengths Smith is confident in as the season begins.
South Central
Seven starters return to the defending Class A Sectional champion South Central baseball team. The squad from a year ago was young and, class-wise, the 2008 Rebels are still relatively young. Two seniors, Cody Jobe and Adam McKnight, will be looked up to as leaders, said coach Nick Tremain.
‘We have a good junior class to fill whatever holes we had last year,’ Tremain said.
South Central should be solid defensively. Tremain said they are working everyday to become a better defensive ball club, yet depth at many positions could be an early concern. Jobe, typically a strong outfielder, will be asked to play some infield during the season.
The pitching staff is led by sophomore Chip Hockenbury, who led the team in wins as a freshman with eight. Junior Joe Metcalf has two years of varsity experience and will be asked to take on a bigger load this year. Also looking to take on innings are Travis Higdon, Wesley Hedden and John Lopp.
‘I look for Hockenbury to have a big year,’ Tremain said. ‘We’re a young staff, but no one will graduate this year. We’ll learn early on with a tough first week of games where we are.’
Offensively, Tremain hopes the team bucks the trend of a slow start. The last two seasons, it wasn’t until about the 10th game of the year that the aluminum came alive. If the bats come out early, expect the Rebels to be in the SAC and sectional mix once again.
North Harrison
North Harrison will look to replace six seniors lost to graduation, all who saw significant time on the field. Yet, first-year coach Greg Oppel still has expectations set high as the season is set to begin.
Heading into the upcoming season, a pair of senior pitchers, Cody Simpson and Jim Bob Schuler, have locked up the top two pitching spots, sure to be the strength of the team. Simpson, a solid southpaw, has signed with Oakland City University and Schuler has decided on continuing his baseball career at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology. But for now, both are focusing on leading North Harrison to another sectional title.
‘Everyone is not expecting a whole lot out of us,’ said Oppel. ‘But we had a great summer and we’ve filled holes at every position. I feel that we will be right there again.’
Defense was the main focus over the summer and in practice. The Cougars have logged plenty of work on the infield, according to Oppel. Fielding the ball shouldn’t be the problem; knowing what to do with it during game situations will be key early on.
‘We’ve taken a lot of ground balls,’ Oppel said. ‘Hopefully they will pay off.’
North Harrison is poised to repeat as sectional champions and make a bid in a stout Mid-Southern Conference.