It’s prep baseball time in Champaign County.
And as hard as that might be to believe, balls will be flying off of bats starting this week. And while both the Central Buckeye Conference and the Ohio Heritage Conference are loaded with great baseball talent, most local coaches seem to expect success from their squads.
Urbana turns the reins over to first-year man Evan Petty, who is replacing coaching stalwart Kevin Bowdle after more than two decades.
“I’m still new on the scene. And it’s a very young team this year. Rebuilding for sure,” Petty said.
No doubt about that since Urbana lost eight seniors from last year’s squad.
However, the Hillclimbers return Gabe Spiers, Austin Rooney and Logan Johnson to the mix. Riley Wilson, Nick Wirick, Daniel McKenzie and Grant Hower will join the fray.
“I try to impress upon them every single day about individual growth. Person, student, athlete. And I put them in that order on purpose,” Petty said, adding that he stresses acts of kindness. “I know that has nothing to do with baseball. At first, I was hesitant to do it, but they are buying in.”
It should be an interesting season of growth for the ’Climbers.
At Graham, the Falcons have a group of talented returners back from a squad that went 9-11 last year, but only had a minus-seven run differential.
Josh Lewis, Andy Milligan, Chase Adams, Eli Palmer, Logan Thompson, Brady Anderson, Caleb Horner, Logan Anthony and Lane Smith all come back after lettering last season.
“We have two of our starting pitchers back in Andy Milligan and Brady Anderson. They will do most of the work on the mound for us this year. Our offensive production will mainly come from Josh Lewis, Logan Thompson, Lane Smith and Chase Adams,” GHS Coach Jay Lewis said. “We will be very strong defensively with consistent pitching and a strong offense. Our main goal is to win the Mad River Division and go as far as we can in the tournament.”
At West Liberty-Salem, the Tigers seem to be benefiting from an offseason ACME program that gets guys playing more baseball.
Returners Jacob VanHorn, Trevor Woodruff, Zack Glock, Nick Burden and Ethan Larsen will be the driving force behind the team, with newcomers Will Motzko, Logan Saylor, Xavier Hamilton, Patrick Harr and Kenny Harr joining the fray.
“We’re very young this year. We’re going to be moving younger kids up and down all year,” WL-S Coach Jon Payer said. “We had a very productive offseason with this group. We’re blessed with pitching and we’ve got a lot of good ballplayers. The summer program is really helping.”
The Tigers are looking to be competitive in each and every game they play, but that’ll be difficult in a very tough OHC North division.
“(The Ohio Heritage Conference is) stacked and if you look at the North, there’s no real weak teams. The North’s loaded with baseball talent and it’s very competitive,” Payer said.
Triad will rely on seniors Isaiah Bruce, Dylan Warner, Cade Manley Austin Bails to lead the way, with juniors Logan McCoy and Jordan Simonelli following suit. Sophomore Batai Lease is also back after a promising freshman year.
“The rest are freshmen and sophomores, so I would imagine they’ll all be in the mix,” Triad Coach Gary Davis said. “Probably a lot of young arms on the mound.”
Some of those newcomers will include Blake Boldman, Coleman Hauck, J.C. Alexander and Ryan Gross.
“Our focus so far has just been hard work. If they come in and put in the effort, good things can happen. But with youth, there can be some growing pains,” Davis said.
Still, the Cardinals want to be near the top of the OHC North, which Davis also touted.
“I think it’s great preparation for the tournament. There’s a lot of highly-qualified teams. You never know who’s going to be standing on top at the end of the year,” he said, noting he wants his team to win 20 games. “That’s setting the bar at the end of the season, something that we’d like to see.”
Mechanicsburg will feature a very fresh team, with juniors Logan Hurst and Mack DeLong providing the leadership, while sophomore Brooks Tom looks to follow up on a great freshman season at shortstop. Newcomers Jake Edwards and Aaron Conley should make an impact right away.
“We have a young core group this year. No seniors on the roster,” Mechanicsburg Coach Bryan Eyink said. “Our goal is to enjoy the process and not always get caught up in the results. We understand that we play on an extremely tough OHC North side. Every school on that side has had good runs.”
The Indians might be near the bottom of the pack this season, but it would surprise nobody if they were competitive. And in another year or two, who knows?
“I’ve been very pleased with their motivation so far. They come to practice every night and give everything and they’re willing to learn,” Eyink said. “The road for us is looking bright. We’ve just got to learn from last year.”
Reach Justin Miller at 652-1331 (ext. 1776) or on Twitter @UDC_Miller.