Local baseball players are straightening their caps and tightening their belts for the upcoming season, which begins Saturday in Champaign County.
At Urbana, the Hillclimbers have a ton of returners.
Dillon Watkins, Trenton Dunham, Skyler Reisinger, Caleb Peterson, Seth Mangus, Kaleb Bowdle and Logan Rooney all come back for the maroon and white. Alex Morrow, Brayden Fain and Austin Rader will get into the mix as varsity newcomers.
“We’re all a year older and more experienced,” UHS Coach Kevin Bowdle said. “Hopefully that pays dividends. I think they’re going to have the ability to make the routine play.”
That will be a key for the Hillclimbers, as errors plagued an otherwise capable team last season.
“As long as we continue to throw strikes and make the routine plays, we’re going to be in some games,” Bowdle said. “We’ve got to get better as a group of kids, each and every day. And we’re doing that so far.”
Urbana opens by hosting a doubleheader with Southeastern on Saturday.
At Graham, the Falcons are ready to make a run with a team that boasts eight seniors and a ton of returning players for Coach Ty Jacobs. Will Wells, Jake Peters, Nolan Anderson, Alan St. Myers, Brandon Thompson, Mark Ward, Kirby Dunham and Nathan Anderson will all contribute, with Tyler Powell and Logan Black chipping in as younger players.
“This team’s a really good group of kids. They really care about what they’re doing. They’re very coachable,” Jacobs said. “Just as long as everyone stays healthy and plays to their potential, we’ll be well above .500.”
Graham’s squad would like to win the Mad River Division of the Central Buckeye Conference and has its sights set on a district title.
“(We just need to) stay focused every day,” Jacobs said. “If we do that, we’re really going to pull it together when the season starts.”
The Falcons open with a doubleheader on Saturday at Greeneview.
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers have their sights set on playing good defense and turning baseball into the game it’s meant to be – a war of attrition.
“Go out and play hard, sound defense, be aggressive at the plate and do damage early in the count – that’s kind of our goal,” WL-S Coach John Payer said. “We want to be a much better, fundamentally sound baseball team.”
Familiar faces like Dusty Moell, Brandon Upton, Bryce Jones, Dillon Callicoat, Thomas Allen, Ben Hyland and Dominic Smith will anchor the Tigers. Other players that should contribute will be Tyler Louden, Levi Moell, Chase Humphries and Brandon Orahood.
“They all get along. There’s no drama,” Payer said. “They’re a very cohesive unit.”
The Tigers will start with a county rival out of the gate, hosting Mechanicsburg on March 29.
At Triad, the Cardinals will come back loaded with pitching and try to make a run at another OHC title with the potential for more.
Seniors Shem Pond, Timmy Marsalis, Trent McIntyre and Dalton Holycross will all play some, with juniors Derek McCall, Dustin Bruce, Shane Ford and Noah Unger getting into the mix.
Caleb Saunders, Trevor Instine, Jacob Greve, Briley Harlan and Isaiah Bruce will all battle for varsity time.
The Cardinals have eight returning players, but only five full-time starters.
“We want to play aggressive ball and put the team in position to win by making smart decisions,” Triad Coach Will Nichols said.
At Mechanicsburg, the Indians are replacing some talent, but have returners Keane Dunne, Corey Bogan, Colton McMannis and Jake Bowers to keep the ship steady.
“I’m just excited to see what those guys are going to bring,” M’burg Coach Bryan Eyink said. “We’re kind of living by giving relentless effort.”
The newcomers will help, too, with senior Joey Butsch and sophomore Drew Myers coming out to play.
“We’re young, but our young talent is promising,” Eyink said. “We’re kind of living by giving relentless effort. That’s been the staple of our program the last couple years. We continue to preach this competitive environment.
“I’d like to see us compete a little more in conference. There’s a lot of good baseball teams in the conference.”
The Indians open on the road at Mississinawa Valley on Saturday.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.