Five baseball teams to watch, courtesy Fred Kroner
During the past decade, Mahomet-Seymour has enjoyed six 20-win seasons in baseball, including last year’s 24-12 mark.
It looks like more of the same this spring.
The 5-1 Bulldogs return nine starters, including sophomore Joe Kenney, who led the area in home runs and RBI as a freshman. He
picked up where he left off, swatting a grand slam.
Senior pitcher Brad Herrmann is recovered from a basketball injury and could anchor the mound corps.
Junior Tyler Francisco will split his time between second base and pitching and was the team leader in batting a year ago. Junior outfielder Cully Day is a three-year starter who bats cleanup. Senior outfielder Dalton Kerans is a three-year regular.
Coach Nic DiFilippo has three left-handers who will get turns pitching: sophomores Alex Hoffman and Jack Rettig, and senior Dusty Rittenhouse.
“Our team strengths are the number of guys that we are returning,” seventh-year coach DiFilippo said. “We have a solid defense with experience. Our pitching staff is our biggest improvement. I feel like we have 11 guys who can take the mound and help our team.”
Ryan Walters is another second baseman/pitcher who will contribute. Junior Chris Redman has two of the first five wins.
Herrmann, Kerans, Rittenhouse and Walters are joined by two other seniors, Clay Dilks and Todd Metzger, on the 18-player roster.
Many of the players who helped the Warriors win a sectional crown last spring are gone, but coach Duff Hoel said, “Though our personnel has drastically changed, our expectations have not.”
Seniors Cameron Westjohn and Nolan Walsh will be relied upon to shoulder the pitching load. Center fielder Walsh is Tuscola’s top returning hitter. Another senior, Dan Yoakum, was the area leader in stolen bases as a junior. He and freshman Nick Bates are candidates at shortstop. Junior catcher Tristan Williams is another returnee along with sophomore Tommy Watson. Westjohn will play first base when not on the mound.
“I anticipate our team will hit the ball very well,” Hoel said. “We’ll be very aggressive on offense though we do not have near the speed that we had last year.” From freshmen through seniors, the Warriors have 33 players in the baseball program. Key newcomers include switch-hitter Bates, whom Hoel calls, “the real deal,” juniors Devin Rose and Austin Martin as well as sophomore Zach Bates.
The versatile Nick Bates may not have a full-time position. “I can see him getting playing time potentially at all nine positions,” Hoel said. The Warriors are off to a 2-3-1 start. “Last year’s team raised the bar as far as expectations for our program,” Hoel said. “I really believe the success we had in 2012 (23-13) will pay dividends for this year’s team because the younger players saw how hard those guys worked.”
The Vikings graduated 10 seniors from last year’s sectional championship team, but All-Area Player of the Year Chuckie Robinson is back as catcher and the defensive anchor. “We have a nice nucleus of key players returning,” 12th-year Danville coach Gary Gritton said.
Robinson, a Southern Mississippi recruit, will work with two pitchers who each won seven games last spring: Eastern Illinois recruit Chase Thurston and junior Michael Vascura, who also plays first base. “The strengths of the team will be our pitching when the top two are on the mound and the defense led by Robinson’s toughness, leadership and his ability to shut down the opponents’ running game,” said Gritton, whose squad committed two errors in its first two games. “A key to our season will be finding a consistent No. 3 and No. 4 pitcher.”
Last year, Vascura had a 1.52 ERA. Thurston’s ERA was 2.39. Junior third baseman Austin West is another veteran holdover.
Newcomers expected to contribute immediately are sophomore second baseman Brady Watkins, junior left fielder Nolan First, senior center fielder Celeb Finley and junior infielder Grant Lamar.
Danville has been assigned to the Edwardsville Class 4A regional. “Nothing like a four-hour bus ride for a regional game against opponents you have not seen all year,” Gritton said.
Danville is 1-2, with seven games already postponed. The Vikings were 22-15 a year ago, their third consecutive 20-win season. Watkins is the only sophomore on the 14-player roster. Eight of the squad members are seniors.
All of last year’s starting pitchers are among the 10 Chargers who graduated from a 25-12 team. Coach Richard Hyde’s 18-member squad is in position to reload instead of rebuild thanks to the number of travel-team players on the roster. Catcher Grey Schultz, pitcher Jeffrey Lavin and shortstop Drake Peratt are seniors who were varsity members a year ago. Current juniors who saw action a year ago are outfielder Zach Parks, infielder Greg Huss and pitcher Austin Johnson.
“I believe our defense is going to be better this year as I have multiple players that have played the infield and have seen action at a variety of positions,” Hyde said. “The pitching will be a question as well as run production from our offense.”
Centennial’s varsity roster also features four sophomores that fourth-year head coach Hyde said “should see significant playing time.”
The group includes Dylan Grady, Jeff Lindgren, Anthony Martin and Brian Paul. The Chargers have averaged nearly 21 wins a season during the past five years. Other seniors hoping to make an impact this spring are Brice Deaville, Logan Johnson, Zach Powers and Jordan Seitz.
Fourth-year coach Chris Jones hopes to “continue the trend of improving,” he said. Last year’s 17-6 team won 11 more games than the previous season and more games in a season in more than a decade at the school.
“We played for a regional championship,” Jones said. “I feel the expectation this year is to play for a regional championship.” Monticello has won two regional crowns in baseball. The most recent one was in 1993.
Hoping to help end the two-decade drought are seniors Isaac Bales (outfielder) and Ross Reeder (infielder/pitcher), along with junior Nick Stokowski (infielder/pitcher) and sophomore Ryne Bundy (infielder/pitcher). Among the newcomers who will contribute are junior Matt Crook (catcher) and sophomore Daniel Caldwell (outfielder/pitcher).
The 1-1 Sages will have a youthful look to their lineup. “Although we will be playing five sophomores, most of them have varsity experience,” Jones said. Besides Bundy and Caldwell, the other varsity sophomores are Peter Ceceva (pitcher/infielder), Daniel Peterson (infielder/outfielder) and David Vanderkloot (infielder/pitcher).