Optimism high for local teams as season gets into full swing
The three local Big 12 Conference baseball teams are in three distinct stages of development.
Centennial returns nearly its entire roster from last season's 13-17 team. Urbana has a few key holdovers in Julian Butler, Markus White and Josh Hall to go with some promising sophomores. And Champaign Central is retooling after losing 11 varsity players.
A look at each club as the season gets into full swing:
The Chargers are off to a slow start (1-3) after six players, including some of the team's top sluggers, were forced to sit out five games for violating team rules.
When the team is intact, however, it could be among the league's best.
The lineup has holdovers from the group that finished 2007 with a heartbreaking loss against eventual regional champ Mahomet- Seymour. The group includes pitchers Dan Plecki (5-2, 2.00 ERA) and Bryan Wachtel.
The infield should be sound with third baseman Addie Aina, shortstop Collin DeDecker and second baseman Neil Hamilton.
The Maroons (3-2) no longer have a player named Strang – for the first time in six years – and no Eric Wilson. It's a new era.
"It's kind of exciting this year, starting over a little bit," coach John Staab said.
Pitcher Ben Freeman and outfielder Nick Kresca are the top holdovers. Infielder Mark Pataky, catcher Doug Kyrouac and outfielder Tatsu Shigeta gained some experience last spring.
Still, the Maroons are a "couple mistakes away" from being 5-0, Staab said.
"We are very inexperienced at the varsity level," Staab said. "I kind of expected us to be up and down a little bit. I'm not really too discouraged about it."
The Tigers (4-2) have walloped opponents with offense, hitting nearly .400 as a team and scoring 15 runs a game. Last year's leading run producer, All-Area pick Ryne Brownfield, had 23 RBI. Sophomore Trey Russell already has 15.
"I don't have an answer for it," coach Steve Waller said with a laugh. "I'd like to say it's coaching."
Sophomores Cody Randolph, Ben Thompson (hitting .619) and Russell hit in the 1-2-3 slots. Then come the holdovers – White, Butler and Hall.
Junior Matt Brownfield, a seven-game winner in '07, and senior Max Tinsman are the top starters. The hard-throwing White will be a relief specialist.
"As far as (offensive) production, we're well ahead of any team I've had since I've been here," Waller said. "Will that change? Obviously you're probably not going to stay this hot throughout the season. But we've got some guys who can swing the bat."