Baseball Preview: Teams bring back talent
The Panthers erased two long droughts last season: winning their first sectional and tying for the Mid-Southern Conference title. Neither had been done in 41 years.
Graduating one player, Zach Anderson, from last year, the Panthers should be poised to make another run.
‘One thing we had last year was the hunger to win conference and sectional,’ coach Zach Sipes said of his team that went 21-7 last season. ‘Just because we won last year doesn’t mean we can’t be hungry again. It’s going to take that same attitude as last year to get there.’
Anderson will be a big replacement. He won each of the sectional games on the mound.
‘We’ve stressed to the younger kids that there are spots in the rotation to be won,’ Sipes said.
Returning pitchers include sophomore Chase Burton and senior Cody Arnold. Also looking to log innings are juniors Jeffery Durham and Andrew Yeager and sophomore Mitch Akers.
‘Those guys are really going to compete for that No. 3 spot in the rotation,’ Sipes said.
Sipes said the team always wants to win games early, but the expectation is to be ready when conference season rolls around and to have a rotation set.
‘We want to make it clear that we want our pitchers to throw strikes and allow teams to put the ball in play,’ Sipes said.
Competition is heated with several returnees and newcomers. Brothers Jeremiah and Lucas Windell are competing for positions in the middle infield. The juniors are joined by senior Jake Carnley, who is also seeking an infield spot. Arnold and Burton are expected to rotate play at first base, depending on who is pitching. Junior Tyler Shewmaker is back behind the plate.
Senior Tyler Jones has manned the outfield for several years for the Panthers. Jones is coming back from a knee injury suffered in football and is on track to see action.
Senior Logan Hodges, along with Durham, is among the competitors for other outfield spots. Sipes said several players who saw junior varsity time last year could unseat some positions.
‘Guys can be beat out. It shows the quality depth we have,’ he said.
Similar to Corydon Central, the Lanesville baseball program ended a lengthy sectional drought last year. The Eagles won their first sectional title in 35 years and were a run away from reaching the regional final in Class A.
Three key components of the team graduated: pitcher Jordan Sizemore, catcher Tate Watson and infielder Josh Bowman.
Back for coach Sean Smith is a pair of pitchers who return experience on the hill in junior Caleb Caldwell and sophomore Brandon Blackerby.
‘They will be our No. 1 and 2, but we are working out a couple to fill in the other pitching spots,’ Smith said. ‘Some have pitched before and will fill in some innings.’
Caldwell was the state leader in stolen bases in 2010 and will continue to be a threat on the bases. The quick outfielder also covers a lot of ground in center when not on the mound. Blackerby, a lefty, also is an outfielder.
The Eagles are also dealing with several injuries in the early part of the spring, something Smith hopes goes away as the season gets going. Senior Alex Mix is slated the see action at shortstop and also on the mound but is dealing with a minor injury. Mix hit a handful of home runs last year and could provide pop in the middle of the lineup.
Smith said the team returns experience but will have to tinker with where to position players.
‘We have a lot of experience in the field, but it is putting the right people in right spots for each game,’ Smith said. ‘Hopefully, when conference comes around, we’ll be ready.’
Among the senior group are first baseman Devin Fonda, second baseman Joel Ferree and outfielder Aaron Borders. Senior Vince Cecil played his sophomore year and returns to hopefully fill the void at catcher.
The Cougars put things together to play their best baseball at the end of last season. When the season ended with a narrow loss to Silver Creek, the youthful team was eager to get back to work.
‘I think we have more depth this year where we can fill some spots,’ North Harrison coach Gregg Oppel said. ‘At one time, we started five freshmen last year, and now those guys have varsity experience. We really came on strong toward the end of last year and was playing some really good baseball.’
Injuries have hit the Cougars in the preseason with infielders Josh Wenning and Collin Book having surgery after the basketball season.
‘I feel once we get Josh and Collin back is going to be key,’ Oppel said. ‘How the rest of our guys respond to adversity will be big. We’re missing a couple starters and speed guys, but how we respond without them will be key. It can be a big boost when we get them back.’
Back and healthy is Dylan Janes, an infielder with a strong presence at the plate. He missed much of last season with an injury.
‘He didn’t get fully healthy until July. His arm is strong and we have him back on the mound again,’ Oppel said.
Also on the hill are Jordan Robbeloth, Lincoln Jones and Sean Murphy. Robbeloth will head the rotation and is a solid lefty who hits spots. Oppel said he possesses a strong change up and curve, while Jones and Murphy are more power pitchers.
Returning as catcher is Michael Cox, but he is joined in competition with Dalton Fessel, Wyatt Faith and the team’s lone senior Kendall Wiley. All are capable catchers, Oppel said.
Making a splash as freshmen, Mitch Bolin and Wyatt Faith have become vocal leaders on the field and in the dugout.
Oppel said a key, thus far, has been team chemistry.
‘We have numbers this year with 35 kids,’ he said. ‘We are really trying to sell them on there is no ‘I’ in team and to work together.’
Oppel said the team’s focus this preseason has been with the defense. At times last season, the young Cougars had trouble in the field. The coach hopes additional emphasis on defense will cure the woes.
‘The way we’re going to go is how well we play defense,’ Oppel said. ‘The boys have been working their butts off on technique and drills to improve.’
The Rebels closed the 2010 season with a 17-9 record and look to continue into a successful 2011.
South Central graduated a pair of four-year varsity players ‘ Chip Hockenbury and Elliot Thompson ‘ yet back for the Rebels are seven starters and a pair of pitchers with varsity experience.
Looked to for leadership will be the team’s sole senior, Josh Sams. The outfielder was among the best hitters last season with a .362 average.
‘We will need Josh Sams to be a leader for us,’ South Central coach Nick Tremain said. ‘He has been in the program a long time and, as the only senior, we will be looking for him to provide a lot of production offensively and take on a leadership role.’
Joining Sams in the outfield will be Lucas West and Mark O’Connor.
Battling for the top pitching spots are returnees Matt Veith and Jason Boston. Both right-handed throwers, they combined for 86 strikeouts in 83 innings a year ago and won four games apiece.
‘We will have several pitchers competing for innings on the mound,’ Tremain said. ‘Matt Veith logged a lot of innings last year and really became a strike-thrower for us. Jason Boston and Alex Wiseman also will work a lot of innings and could give us solid pitching depth.’
Boston will also see time in the infield at third base. As a freshman last season, he was among the best in batting average (.394) and runs batted in (22).
Wiseman is a lefty who plays first base. He hit .304 last year and looks for another strong season. When Veith isn’t on the mound, he will be used as a utility infielder. Also looking to log time up the middle will be shortstop Jordan Yale and infielder Matt Fox.
‘Offensively, we will have to have several guys adjust to hitting at the varsity level,’ Tremain said. ‘We need to learn to adjust with two strikes and put the ball in play.’
Spencer Ray is back for his second season as the signal caller behind the plate.