By Josh Brown
MIAMI COUNTY — Two years ago, the Troy Trojans won the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division title … but made an early exit from the postseason tournament.
Last year, the Trojans struggled throughout the regular season, only to go on to win the Division I sectional championship — upsetting a top 10 team in the state, Centerville, in the process — and finished the season as district runners-up.
This year, Troy would like to put those two things together into one consistently-strong-all-year-long season — and with an experienced pitching staff and a deep lineup coming back, the Trojans are poised to do just that.
“We put it all together at the end of last year,” Troy baseball coach Ty Welker said. The team finished last year with a 19-12 record. “We played some good, close games in the first couple rounds of the tournament, got a great win over state-ranked Centerville and then finally lost to another top 10 team because of one just bad inning.
“We lost a couple key pieces off of that team, but we return nine kids from last year’s team.”
The biggest holes to fill will be the ones left by departed graduates Dylan Cascaden and Devin Blakely.
“Dylan was a leader, a three-year varsity player, and Devin brought a lot of speed to the table,” Welker said. “Dylan led off for us, and we’re still looking for that leadoff guy, that table setter.”
One thing the Trojans won’t need to tinker with, though, is the pitching staff. The Trojans return seniors Zach Kendall and Ben Langdon, who have been clutch in some big games over the past two seasons, as well as juniors Trenton Wood and Ryan Lavy.
“We’ve got a lot of pitching coming back,” Welker said. “Those four guys threw a lot of innings last year. Zack and Ben both have three years of experience, and both have thrown in and won some pretty big games for us over the years. And Trenton and Ryan got some experience last year in key situations, too.”
Two years ago, it was Langdon pitching against Piqua in the final game of the regular season to help Troy win the GWOC North title. And last year, it was Kendall’s dominant performance in the sectional title game that helped the Trojans top the Elks.
“Zach threw a couple big games in the tournament, got a couple wins and a save,” Welker said. “That’s a pretty darn good tournament.”
One of the biggest changes will be the infield’s makeup — especially for senior Nick Sanders, who will move from second base last season to catcher. In his place, Dalton Cascaden and Alec Demore will battle for his vacated spot. And without Dylan Cascaden at short, Zach Thompson will move up from JV to fill that void. Seniors Alex Magoteaux and Kevin McGraw will be the only holdovers at third and first base, respectively.
“I’m pretty comfortable with the guys we’ve got up the middle,” Welker said. “We’ve worked hard on defense in the offseason — it’s always a big point of emphasis for me — and we worked through the winter trying to make us better in the infield.
“Zach is a good shortstop in his own right, and he was good for JV last year. He’s done a nice job for us so far this year. And with Dalton and Alec, they’re both good defensive players so it’s going to come down to who’s hitting. Whoever is hitting at that time is going to be in the lineup that day.”
Senior Greg Johnson will move to center field to occupy the spot left by Blakely, with Collin Moeller in left and Wood in right. Senior Kody Hackney and juniors Daniel Powell and Shane Zwierzchowski will back them up, with Lavy having the ability to play third, first or outfield.
“We’re in pretty good shape defensively in the outfield,” Welker said. “And Lavy can play just about anywhere. He’s going to be in the lineup every day somewhere because he can hit.”
Anthony Shoop will also see some time at catcher, while John Taylor can play third base and pitch.
And after a disappointing 6-4 second-place finish in the GWOC North last year, the Trojans are hoping to put together a strong run in the league in addition to the postseason this time around. But with tons of talent all around the division, it’s going to be a crapshoot as to who comes out on top.
“I think everyone’s going to be better this year,” Welker said. “Butler was young last year, is young this year — but they have both their pitchers back. They’re always a threat. Piqua’s returning its pitchers. They lost some bats, but they’re scrappy. We haven’t had an easy game against them in years. Greenville returns its best pitcher and hitter, Sidney returns its best pitcher, who was just a sophomore last year.
“It should be fun. I think we’ll all beat each other up a little bit. But that’s a good thing, too, because when it comes time for the tournament, we’ll be battle-tested.”
One win away from state. That’s how far Tippecanoe baseball got last season.
Which should put things in perspective when Red Devil coach Bruce Cahill says that the team is looking to “repeat and surpass” last year’s success.
“Our goal is to repeat and surpass last season’s 28-5 season,” Cahill said. “We have a good nucleus of returning starters with a good core of JV kids moving up. We also have one of the finest freshman groups in years entering the program.”
And, as always with the Devils, it all starts with pitching.
Senior Ben Hughes, a first team All-Ohio selection as a junior last year who went 8-1 with a 0.81 ERA and 89 strikeouts, leads a talented and deep pitching staff. Also back is senior Cameron Johnson, who was 3-0 with four saves and a 1.08 ERA, as well as juniors Austin Clack and Logan Dawes. Jared Rindler and Dalton Hodge both saw JV time last year, and freshmen Justyn Eichbaum, Aaron Hughes and Bradley Calhoun all could see time, also. Senior catcher B.J. Donathan (.313 average, seven doubles, 20 RBIs) and junior Evan Gilliam will call signals from behind the plate — and one will play first base while the other catches.
Johnson will anchor the veteran infield, a four-year starter and three-time first team All-Central Buckeye Conference selection at shortstop. Junior Zack Blair is a two-year starter and will play second base, while Hughes will play third. Dawes and Brandon Roberts will also see time in the infield. Clack, Eichbaum, Rindler, Hodge and Mitchell Fischer will all see action in the outfield.
After a 5-19 season last year, the Milton-Union Bulldogs may just have the right mix of experience, talent, youth and everything in between to have a quality 2014 season — they’ll just have to continue working hard.
“This is our best chance in a while to be a solid baseball team,” Milton-Union coach Brett Barnes said. “Our pitching needs to hold up throughout the year. Depth is always an issue, and developing young players will be the key.”
Luckily, the Bulldogs have some of that depth at pitching, where juniors Chris Heisey and Zac Greenwald and sophomore Jake Roberts highlight the staff, with senior Matt Bracci and juniors Brandon Jacobs and Brad Spitler catching.
The Bulldogs also have plenty of experience and potent bats in the outfield, beginning with two-time All Southwest Buckeye League Buckeye Division center fielder Adam Gunston. Seniors Cody Beeler and Sam Morgan will patrol left and right field, respectively. Roberts will also anchor the infield at shortstop alongside senior second baseman Connor Jones.
The Bethel Bees have experience coming back this year — and in the right places, too — but they also have plenty of young players that will need to step into key roles right away and grow up quickly if they’re to finish where they want in the Cross County Conference.
“This year’s team has a lot of returning experience, but we also have some key spots that are going to be filled with young, inexperienced players,” Bethel coach Brett Brookhart said. “Offensively, I think we have the ability to score some runs. Hopefully our pitching and pitching depth along with our defense can improve throughout the season, and we can compete with the upper part of the CCC.”
That pitching has an experienced core in seniors Jimmy Pelphrey and Jordan Elam. Pelhrey was 5-2 last season with a 4.00 ERA, while Elam was 3-4 with a 4.80 ERA. Also back is Alex Wilson, a junior who went 1-0 with a 4.40 ERA last year. When not on the mound, Pelphrey will catch, as will senior Brent Jacobs.
Elam was also first team all-CCC — and All-Ohio — as an outfielder last year, hitting .464 with 38 RBIs. He is signed to play at Ashland University. Wilson and senior Zach Baughman will also play in the outfield. Junior Brandon Nesbitt returns at shortstop after hitting .372 last season, while senior Nate Reese is back at first base after hitting .279.
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,” Covington coach Mitch Hirsch said. “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.
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,” Hirsch said. “Going in, we already know Tri-County North, Miami East and Arcanum are probably the teams to beat.”
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.”
Lehman 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.
Information submitted to the Troy Daily News by Miami County baseball coaches.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 440-5251 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.