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Bat & Ball

Bat & Ball
Bat & Ball
South Central second baseman Tanner Stark is one of three seniors returning for the defending Class A Sectional champion Rebels. File photo by Brian Smith (click for larger version)

Some teams have practiced this spring in sun on certain days, strong winds on other days. There has even been a random snow shower to go along with the typical spring rain so far during baseball’s preseason.
Hard at work are Harrison County teams: Corydon Central, Lanesville, North Harrison and South Central. The first three teams have a bit of a youth movement going on, while the Rebels seek to continue its postseason success.
Corydon Central is coming off a Mid-Southern Conference championship but graduated plenty off its previous roster. South Central is back after three straight trips to the Class A regional and another Southern Athletic Conference title.
Here is a preview of the local baseball teams.
Corydon Central
Coming off a Mid-Southern Conference championship season, the Corydon Central Panthers are in a bit of a youth movement.
Experience was key for the Panthers a year ago, but seven starters have been lost to either graduation or moving away from the 16-8 team.
‘Replacing seven positions is a lot and pretty much all of our pitching,’ Corydon Central coach Zach Sipes said.
One thing is for sure, Corydon Central will have a home field. Late in the previous season, a sinkhole appeared but has since been fix.
‘We’re thankful to be out here,’ Sipes said.
A pair of veteran aces graduated last year from the pitching staff in Chase Burton and Mitch Akers. Not a lot of varsity pitching experience returns for the Panthers. Among the returnees who threw innings are Dalton Arnold and Tyler Stauth.
‘With those two combined, they may have pitched 10 innings,’ Sipes said. ‘Pitching is one area we are concerned about.’
Toeing the rubber, Sipes said he wants strikes, strikes and more strikes from the Panthers’ arms.
‘Pound the zone,’ he said. ‘We want teams to get runs by hitting the baseball. Free bases are something we want to really limit. Teams need to beat us by putting the ball in play.’
Arnold is one of two seniors in the program; he is joined by Elijah Terrell. One of many utility players, Arnold can play a variety of infield positions when he isn’t pitching, while Terrell is an outfield option.
Returning for his sophomore year is Adam Yeager, who saw a bulk of the action behind the plate as a freshman. While Yeager may still catch some, Sipes said the talented player can pitch and also play infield.
Another key returning contributor is junior Joseph Pryor.
‘He is another utility type but gives us to option to put him in the outfield,’ Sipes said.
After the returning players, Sipes said the competition is good among the others, made up mostly of freshmen.
‘We have 29 kids in the program,’ Sipes said. ‘Half played some JV last year and the other half are freshmen. Out of our freshmen group, we think there are three or four that are fighting for a starting spot on varsity.’
The numbers lead to a strength the coach sees: depth.
‘We have Alec Saulman, a freshman, and Yeager that can both catch,’ Sipes said. ‘In the past, we’ve only had one catcher behind the plate. We have other guys, too, that can play multiple positions.’
With such a young group, Sipes said they are keeping positive vibes.
‘We want them to think positive, even after a strike out or an error,’ he said. ‘If it doesn’t go your way, forget about it, shake it off and be ready for the next at-bat or ball that comes to you.’
At the center of the Eagles’ baseball program is a nucleus coach Rusty McCubbins likes.
There is experience with a junior class with some players who have been on the diamond since they were freshmen at the varsity level. Five of the juniors saw significant playing time a year ago.
‘It’s a strong, solid junior class,’ McCubbins said. ‘They have been good athletes growing up and they seem to continue to progress. I like to call them the core.’
At the center of that core is returning All-Southern Athletic Conference performer Caleb Gresham. Having started at catcher the previous two years, Gresham is back for another and seems to keep growing.
‘Caleb is a big kid, around 6-2, 6-3, and will be key for us,’ McCubbins said.
Joining Gresham in the junior group are middle infielders Jon Ferree and Stephen Shaffer. Both are expected to contribute on the mound as well. Having played right field the year before, Josh Barnes is looking to hold down the position once again.
Jake Chanley is a righty for the pitching staff who can also play several positions.
‘All five of those guys started last year and a couple started as freshmen,’ McCubbins said.
To go along with the core five is a group of senior leaders: Spencer Dauphinee, Kyle Rottet and Dakota Mills.
‘Spencer, due to a car wreck last year, only played in a couple of games,’ McCubbins said. ‘So, basically, he missed his junior year. He’s thirsty to get back.’
Dauphinee is penciled in as the opening-day starting pitcher. When not on the bump, the senior lands on the hot corner.
Opposite Dauphinee on the diamond is Rottet, who primarily played a back-up role a year ago at first base. Mills, meanwhile, is the program’s lone left-handed pitcher. He also plays the outfield.
Five freshmen make up the varsity squad as well, including a trio ‘ Brenden Bube, Gregory Daly and Ryan McCubbins ‘ who will be called upon to contribute right off the bat.
‘Greg is extremely talented, and guys like Ryan and Brenden have played a lot of travel ball since a young age,’ McCubbins said. ‘At the 1A level, I’m comfortable letting them see varsity pitching.’
Daly and McCubbins are seeking outfield spots, while Bube is a utility infielder and pitcher.
Within pitching, McCubbins said the staff will shake itself out by mid-season. Ferree, Shaffer, Chanley and Bube, along with Dauphinee, are the top candidates; that doesn’t mean others won’t get a shot. The Eagles skipper said he could pitch as many as nine guys at the varsity level.
Overall, after a 5-16 season a year ago, McCubbins said there will be improvements.
‘Last year was my first year as head coach of the varsity program, but I had worked in some capacity with the program before then,’ he said. ‘We’ve worked the last few years at the youth level with our middle school program, and we should reap those benefits.’
North Harrison
Graduation may have hit the North Harrison program hard, but the ‘next one up’ mentality is in full force.
Six are gone from last year’s team that put together a strong year, including All-State honorable mention player Tyler Cockerham.
‘More importantly than numbers, we graduated good kids,’ North Harrison coach Jamie Polk said. ‘Several are playing in college. On the other side, probably half of our starters are coming back although they will be in different positions than they were last year.’
While it was a big senior class a year ago, the lone warrior with a 2014 next to his name is Cameron Smith.
‘Cameron is our lone senior that pitched last season and a lot over the summer,’ Polk said. ‘We’re counting on him to help out a lot.’
There is pitching depth for the Cougars, led by a pair of lefties in juniors Craig Waynescott and Micah Napper. Making a splash last season, Waynescott won 10 games as a sophomore and brings a lively arm to the rotation.
Other pitching arms figuring into the rotation are junior Gage Arnold and sophomore Konnor Voyles.
‘Those will be our main five, then we have some freshmen that I don’t think are ready yet but will certainly help us down the road,’ Polk said.
Many of the pitchers competed in summer and fall leagues to get in innings. Within the varsity ranks, Waynescott and Napper tossed about 45 innings a year ago.
‘If our pitching does what I think it should do, we’ll be OK,’ Polk said. ‘When you have two lefties, along with our other three guys, it’s five solid pitchers if they come along.’
In the field, junior Jacob Faith has played catcher and outfield in the past but will shift to third base. Sophomore Alex Flock played in 11 games as a freshman at shortstop and will assume a full time role this spring.
Suiting up behind the plate is another junior, Brad Nowak.
While the junior group is deep, Polk said it is the nucleus of the varsity team. One thing that stands out is the physical maturity of the players.
‘They have gotten a lot bigger physically,’ Polk said. ‘At times, they weren’t physically ready last year. Now, their bodies look like they are ready to play high school baseball. We’re counting on those guys to hit in some key spots.’
With a young team, and replacing several three- and four-year players, Polk is letting this year’s group know they need to be themselves.
‘We want kids to be who they are and not worry about replacing people,’ he said. ‘The key is to keep getting better.’
How they handle the full slate of 28 games is something the coach will keep an eye on as well.
‘If we handle the ups and downs of the season, which is my concern because we are young, appropriately, we’ll be OK,’ Polk said. ‘We’ll be fun to watch in a tough conference and sectional.’
South Central
Trips to Loogootee seem to be commonplace for the South Central baseball program. During the three previous seasons, the Rebels have reached at least the Class A Regional final, having won it in 2012.
Seeking another run into the state tournament will be the Rebels, who enter the season No. 3 in their class.
‘The kids take pride in the ranking,’ South Central coach Brian McKnight said. ‘They want to keep things going the way they have been. They enjoy winning, and they know the hard work it takes to win games at that level.’
South Central returns a ton of experience yet move forward after a pair of four-year starters ‘ Jason Boston and Spencer Ray ‘ were lost to graduation. Boston, an all-state honoree, went 10-1 on the hill a year ago, while Ray was a constant backstop.
‘Both started every game in high school they played in,’ McKnight said. ‘They were two tough losses but we have kids coming in to replace them.’
Sliding into the catching role will be junior Parker Gabhart. He spent time at the hot corner last year and is expected to bring a big bat to the middle of the batting order.
Several arms return for Gabhart to receive. Lefty Nathan Shaffer, along with right-hander Nick Veith, logged plenty of innings during the team’s 23-6 season last year.
‘They all threw last year, so they’ve experienced games at this level,’ McKnight said. ‘Cory (Ray) will have to step up because he’ll get some tough games to throw in. Shaffer had a good record, and Veith pitched really well last year.’
Shaffer is the lone senior in the pitching rotation, while Veith is a junior and Ray is a sophomore.
While the rotation has experience, McKnight said the strength should be defense. Senior Tanner Stark likely gets the nod at second base, while the team’s third senior, Austin Knear, returns to center.
Knear is a speedy player who sets the table at the top of the order. He’s garnered all-state recognition previously.
‘We expect Austin to play well,’ McKnight said. ‘He’ll lead off and play center field for us once again.’
Around the infield, Jack Turner saw time at first base last year, while junior Alex Goforth and Logan May could rotate at the hot corner.
Surrounding Knear in the outfield is a host of options, often depending on who is pitching. Shaffer, Goforth and Veith join Jacob Miller as outfield options.
Plugging the hole at shortstop will be Veith and Ray, swapping when one is throwing.
Depth has improved this season with 18 players filling the roster with a good number of freshmen.
McKnight said the players are itching to go.
‘Fielding should be our strong point,’ he said. ‘The guys played a lot of games last year. If our pitching holds up, which it should, it will play to our defense. We won’t strike a lot of people out, but, when the ball is put in play, I’m confident our guys will make the plays.’