It’s nearly baseball season, and the boys of Champaign County have a tough act to follow after last year’s Triad squad fell in the state championship game.
This year’s Cardinals are looking to one-up that team, with athletic director Gary Davis taking the helm for his first year.
“We had some very talented seniors, but the chemistry is there or getting there. If everyone goes out and does their job, it could be a very successful season,” Davis said. “We hashed out team goals and the main one was go back and finish business. They know how to play the game and their hunger to get back to that final game is huge.”
Triad will sport a large core of returners, with Shane Ford, Briley Harlan, Dustin Bruce, Trevor Instine, Isaiah Bruce, Jacob Greve, Derek McCall and Alec Ober earning letters last season.
“They’re a gritty, hard-nosed, baseball-minded group,” Davis said. “That makes my job easier. They understand their role, as to what the expectation is.”
Jordan Simonelli, Chris Tomlin, Parker Wells, Austin Bails and Tommy Tossey will join the ranks after playing primarily jayvee or junior high ball last season.
At Urbana, the Hillclimbers will see an experienced squad take the diamond, but one that hasn’t seen much success over the past couple of seasons.
“We’d like to be up in the league standings. Being over in the Kenton Trail Division is going to be a little more challenging for us,” UHS Coach Kevin Bowdle said. ““This year, we’re veteran. Some of these kids have taken their lumps and now it’s time for them to turn that around.”
Caleb Peterson, Seth Mangus, Kaleb Bowdle, Logan Rooney, Brayden Fain, Austin Rader and Tyler Weekley will provide upperclassman punch for the ‘Climbers, while sophomore Reid Taylor also returns after lettering. Senior Luc Russell returns after lettering as a sophomore and Gabe Spiers will join the team.
“We expect to win more games this year than we did last year. We want to get over that .500 mark,” Coach Bowdle said, adding the team’s goal is to be more consistent. “We can’t have a hot day and then turn around the next day and play poorly. They’re showing some consistency with their work ethic. We don’t have a lot of guys, so they’re going to have to play different positions.”
At Graham, the Falcons will be led by athletic director Jay Lewis in his first year. Lewis was formerly the long-time baseball coach at Wittenberg University.
The squad was gutted by graduation, losing several talented players.
Seniors Ethan Palmer, Jake Moody and Mark Ward were part of last year’s team, along with juniors Tyler Powell, Trysten Henry and Logan Black. Sophomores Josh Lewis and Tyler Dunham made the squad last year as freshmen.
Ward will be the team’s top returning slugger after hitting .391 last season with 17 RBI. Lewis hit .278 with 15 RBI as a freshman and should take a step forward.
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers will return a solid group that includes Otterbein University signee Tyler Louden, Dillon Callicoat, Trevor Burden, Thomas Allen, Chase Humphrey, Brandon Orahood and Levi Moell. Trevor Woodruff will provide some pitching and middle infield help as a freshman, with Cayden Whitman and Zech Gluckel also coming on.
“Our number one goal is to win the OHC North this year. It’s the first time for it and we want to be the first,” WL-S Coach John Payer said, noting the league expansion and restructuring. “We want to start fast and finish slow. And what I mean by finish slow is take our time and win plenty of games in the tournament.”
The Tigers had plenty of firepower from the mound last season, but committed far too many errors and often gave away games due to those breakdowns.
“I expect them to play hard and respect the game. Probably my biggest expectation is that we play better defense than last year,” Payer said. “We were in a lot of ballgames, but our defense let us down. We had too many errors.
“We’re excited, we’ve got a lot of talent back. Our pitching was our strong suit last year and we’ve got our pitching staff back, so we’re excited to see how it translates.”
At Mechanicsburg, the Indians will be pretty short on experience, but long on upside.
“I think that we came off a very successful 2016 campaign. We always talk about building off of that. We’re going to be young in spots,” M’burg Coach Bryan Eyink said.
The Indians have Corey Bogan, Keane Dunn and Caleb Newsome back this season, with talented freshmen Logan Hurst and Mack DeLong joining the ranks.
“Pitching should be OK. I feel like we have some good depth with pitching,” Eyink said. “Defensively, we’re still trying to figure out what our best setup is going to be. We play in a very tough conference. We understand. If we’re going to come out on top with our league matchups, we have to bring our best every night.”
And how do they plan on doing that?
“We talk about relentless effort, every night. Practices, games, scrimmages, bring 100 percent to the field to get the most out of your game. We preach that the little things become big things,” Eyink said.
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.