Most baseball teams will get their seasons underway Saturday or March 31.
Shane Snyder returns as Bradford baseball coach.
The Railroaders were 15-9 overall last year and 3-7 in the CCC.
Returning letterwinners include Jake Cline, Aaron Yohey, Austin Lear, Eric Swabb and Bryce Arnett.
Returning letterwinners are seniors Brandon Wysong, TJ Pullins and Mikey Barga and junior Craig Wyan.
“After graduating a large group of seniors, we are brining in our largest group to date,” Snyder said. “We will led by first team All-CCC selection Brandon Wysong and second team All-CCC Mikey Barga as we look to have another impressive season.”
The Covington Buccaneers enter the 2014 season fresh off a 14-11 record of a year ago after winning 10 of 11 game and nine in row before falling to Russia by the score of 2-1 in the sectional tournament.
And with the loss of nine seniors, the Buccaneers have some holes to fill as the entire infield other than third base will see new faces.
“Anytime you lose a big senior class it’s going to be tough,” said Covington coach Mitch Hirsch. “But so far this group is really into it. We have a lot of younger kids who are pretty talented, so we’re optimistic.”
The lone starter returning to the infield is senior Daine Peters at third base. He’ll be joined by sophomore Jared Williams or freshman Nathan Blei at short, junior Drew Schaurer at second and senior Jake Albright at first.
Junior Sam Sherman and senior Zakk Collins will split time behind the plate, while a host of Buccaneers will see time on the hill; including seniors Justin Williams, Jake Albright and Zakk Collins, juniors Adam Lefeld and Ty Boehringer, sophomore Jared Williams, and freshmen Nathan Blei and Tristan Sowers.
Manning the outfield will be senior Justin Williams in center, junior Austin Lefeld in left and sophomore James Grilliot in right.
“The kids have worked very hard and have been so much fun to coach,” said Hirsch. “Our younger kids have stepped up so far, but you really never know what you have until game situations.”
Even with a significant turnover in its roster, Covington still has expectations of challenging in the Cross County Conference.
“That’s always the first goal, to challenge in the league,” said Hirsch. “Going in, we already know Tri-County North, Miami East and Arcanum are probably the teams to beat.”
The Buccs open at New Knoxville and Anna before the home opener against Milton Union. A double-header at home with Lehman follows and Versailles comes to town before Covington opens Cross County Conference play against Tri-Village on April the 8th.
“We have a scrimmage at St. Henry and our first six games are non-league games, so we’re hoping we can gel a little bit before we get into league play,” said Hirsch.
Something Hirsch is optimistic about considering the temperament of his young squad.
“This is one of the most enthusiastic groups I’ve had in a while,” he said. “When you have a group that’s excited about baseball it makes practices more productive. I think this group will grow up in a hurry.”
And hopefully be playing its best baseball come tournament time.
Brad Allen’s first season didn’t go as well as he would have liked, the Wildcats finishing 2-14. But with seven players back from that team, he thinks there will be improvement, even though it will still be a young team.
“We have varsity experience returning but we are still young,” he said. “We have some solid senior leadership this year and they will be very good role models for our young players. I’m expecting some good production out of the players that are returning. Our kids came to practice that first week with some high energy and enthusiasm and want to become a better team. I look forward to seeing their progress.”
Returning for the Wildcats are seniors Jamie Riffell, Chase Foster and Anton Wehrman, junior Quinten Pence and sophomores Arron Heckman, Andrew Miller and Zach Jolly.
Jolly and Pence were roughed up on the mound this year and are out to atone for that this season. And they will be throwing to Miller, who hit .266 last season.
Riffell was a second-team All-County pick last year after hitting .434 and he’s back at short, and Jolly will hold down first base.
Second base will be held down by Heckman and third by Wehrman.
Foster will be in the outfield.
The top newcomers will be freshmen Isaiah Beaver at first base and pitcher, Kaleib Freistuhler in the infield and outfield, and Dylan Hensley in the infield and on the mound.
Coach Dave King will steal the spotlight early in the season as he closes in on another milestone victory — win No. 500. Only 18 coaches in state history have reached that plateau, according to the Ohio High School Athletic Association website.
King should be able to rack up plenty more wins this season with the talent he has coming back. In fact, the Miami Valley Baseball Coaches Association ranked his team No. 2 in Division IV in preseason.
“We have experience and talent back from a young team last year,” said King, who led that young team to 20 victories a year ago. “So we expect to do well. It’s a hard-working and fun group. We want to improve in all aspects of the game. It’s a new season, a new team, but the same focus — competitive baseball.”
A highlight of the coming season will be the opportunity to play for a league championship. Lehman is now a part of the Northwest Central Conference in all sports. “First time competing in a league,” said King. “That’s going to be nice. I know Riverside and Lima Perry play very good baseball.”
King has nine players returning from last season, only one of which is a senior in Drew Westerheide, an outfielder who hit .371.
Also back are juniors Greg Spearman, AJ Hemmelgarn, Austin Arnold, Cole Proffitt, Nick Rourke and Joe Skelton, and sophomores Max Schutt and Nate Bosway.
The pitching staff will include Bosway, Proffitt, Hemmelgarn, Arnold, Rourke and freshman Parker Riley. Bosway was outstanding last season as a freshman, going 6-2 with a 1.71 earned run average. And Proffitt was 5-1 with a 1.88 ERA. Hemmelgarn was 7-2 with a 3.50 ERA, so the pitching staff appears solid.
Sophomore Max Schutt will be behind the plate, as will Proffitt. Schutt hit .329 last season and Proffitt .359. Skelton and freshman Cole Hofmann will also see action back there.
Hemmelgarn, who hit .347 last year, is at short along with Spearman, who hit .398. And at first, Bosway, Proffitt, Skelton and Riley will also see action.
At second will be two Arnolds, junior Austin, who hit .279 last year, and freshman Dylan.
At third will be Spearman, backed up by Arnold and Riley.
In the outfield with Westerheide will be Rourke, Bosway, Schutt, Hofmann and D. Arnold.
Rick Gold is back for his third year as head coach of the Russia Raiders and it will be his 33rd year in all as a high school baseball coach.
He led the Raiders to an outstanding season a year ago, the team posting a 23-8 record overall, including 10-2 in County play, which was good enough for the league title. The Raiders went on to win the district before falling in the regional championship game.
Although the Raiders lost a lot of talent off that team, Gold still has nine lettermen returning.
Two of them are two-year senior lettermen in pitcher/first baseman Isaiah Counts and pitcher/shortstop Cole McEldowney. Counts hit .314 last season and was honorable mention All-County. McEldowney hit .397 and was second-team All-County.
Also back are four other seniors in outfielders Bryan Drees, Randy McCarty and Bailey Francis, and catcher Austin Tebbe. Francis was first-team All-County and All-Area last season after hitting .383 overall and driving in 29 runs. He was also All-Area Academic.
Tebbe hit .250 last season.
Three juniors also return in second baseman Bryce Cordonnier, pitcher/first baseman Nolan Francis and pitcher/outfielder Gavin Hoying. Hoying had a 3-0 mark with a 1.75 earned run average last year, and Francis was 5-3 with a 2.64 ERA.
“It will be tough to duplicate last year, but we have a strong nucleus returning from last year,” said Gold. “Pitching and defense will continue to be the strength of this team. We lost two players in Treg Francis and Trevor Sherman who carried the load on the hill for the past two years. They will be tough to replace. But we have three outstanding candidates in Nolan Francis, who came on strong last year, Iaiah Counts, who had a spectacular sophomore year on the hill, and Gavin Hoying, a hard-throwing righthander.”
Counts had an arm injury last season, so Gold is looking for him to come back strong on the mound this season.
He called McEldowney one of the best shortstops in the league, and B. Francis is back in left field. Counts will alternate with N. Francis or Jacob Pleiman at first. Up the middle will be McEldowney and either Cordonnier or Jordan Gariety at second. At third, Bryan Drees, Zach Sherman and Jonah Counts are battling it out, and in the outfield, there is Francis, McCarty, Drees and Tyler Young battling for the spots. Nolan Francis is also in that mix.
Tebbe has the lead behind the plate, but is being pushed hard by two juniors, Luke Dapore and Ryan Magoto.
Ryan Schlater takes over as Versailles coach.
The Tigers are coming off a 23-7 season.
Graduating off last year’s team were Mike Rutschiling, Kyle Niekamp and Lee Ruhenkamp.
Versailles also suffered a big loss when senior Damien Richard tore his ACL during basketball.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Mitch Gigandet, Mike Davidson, Jake Wenning and Jared Heitkamp; and juniors Nic Moorman, Jace Barga, Dan Borchers, Kyle Rutschilling and Derek Bornhorst.
“We have a good amount of returning experience, but have some major holes to fill due to graduation and a key injury to Damien Richard,” Schlater said. “I expect the upperclassmen to step up and lead the young guys.
“The first two weeks we have some tough games and that will be a big test of the guys toughness.”
Schlater feels the Tigers can be near the top of the MAC.