By David Fong
TIPP CITY — There may be plenty of new faces on the Tippecanoe baseball team this season — but there will be a familiar face leading the Red Devils.
For three decades, Bruce Cahill has guided the ultra-successful Tippecanoe program — and he’ll be back in the dugout again this spring after briefly flirting with the idea of retiring following last season.
“With only three seniors, it appears we have a young team, but we have three juniors who have started since they were freshmen and a couple of other players who started last year as sophomores,” Cahill said. “Our goals, as they are every year, are to win the Central Buckeye Conference in our last year in the conference and to win another district championship.
“We came up short last year, finishing second in the conference and losing in the district championship. We are coming off of a 19-11 season, substandard for us, and are looking to improve upon last year. The CBC will be strong once again, with several Division I signees in our conference.”
Pitching shouldn’t be a problem for the Red Devils. Aaron Hughes, who won eight games last year, is the projected No. 1 starter. Bradley Calhoun, Justyn Eichbaum and Trevor Staggs all return after seeing significant playing time last season. Evan Ford — a transfer from Northmont — also will be looking to break into the starting rotation this year. Seniors Jacob Ambos, Brandon Gotthardt and Nick Hoff, along with juniors Eddie Martino, Cade Rogers and Austin Subler, also should see time on the mound.
“Pitching looks to be a strong point for us this year,” Cahill said. “We have 10-plus pitchers out of our 16 players on varsity.”
Last year’s catcher, Gotthardt, will move to the infield this year. He could also see time behind the plate backing up sophomore Cole Barhorst, who saw varsity time last year, and junior Andrew Kraska.
Calhoun and sophomore Josh Rieble will share duties at first base, while Gotthardt will start at second, Hughes at shortstop and Ford at third base. Rogers, Subler and Kraska also will see time in the infield when not pitching.
Eichbaum is back for his third season as the Red Devils’ starting center fielder. Staggs and Ambos will man the other two outfield positions, with Barhorst and junior Clay Barney seeing time in the outfield as well, depending in the pitching rotation.
PLEASANT HILL — Newton returns a wealth of talent from a team that went 21-7 last year and returns all but nine innings worth of pitching on the mound.
“A spring trip to The Perfect Game Complex in Emerson, Ga. to start the year will be a good initial test for us,” Newton coach Nathan Kopp said. “We hope to be in the top half of the Cross County Conference and have an opportunity to play for a chance to get to the district final.”
Newton’s top three pitchers all return. Senior Wade Ferrell — a second-team All-CCC selection last year — went 6-1 with a 3.25 earned run average and 56 strikeouts in 40 innings pitched a season ago. Sophomore Treg Jackson went 5-1 with a 1.82 ERA, while senior Brian Delcamp went 4-2 with a 2.28 ERA.
Juniors Troy Denlinger and Austin Evans led the team in appearances last year with 11 and 10, respectively. Both also had earned run averages less than 3.50.
Behind the plate, junior Rhett Gripe returns. He was an all-area and All-CCC first-team selection last year, batting .480 with 15 doubles and 34 RBIs. Rhett, Wade and Jackson all are starting to receive interest from college coaches, Kopp said.
The entire starting infield returns from last season for the Indians. Junior Nelson Clymer is back at first base, senior Andrew Dilts (who hit .333 last year) will play second, Ferrell (who hit .380 last year) will play shortstop when he’s not pitching and Evans is back at third base.
Delcamp — who hit .450 last year and was an all-area selection — will anchor the outfield for the Indians.
Rounding out the varsity roster for the Indians will be Ryan Mollette, Nate Zilinski, Charlie Walker, Nash Lavy, Noah Williams, Milan Bess and Grant Bayer.
BRANDT — Bethel will be looking for help from its younger players immediately this season.
“We have some guys back with great experience from last year, but we have holes to fill in many spots,” Bethel coach Brett Brookhart said. “Pitching will be a key for us, with hopefully a couple of guys stepping up. We have some young guys who are going to push our seniors for playing time. Hopefully we can finish in the upper third of the league and continue to improve throughout the season.”
Back on the mound is staff ace Tyler Brookhart, who went 5-1 with a 1.07 earned run average last season, earning him first-team All-Cross County Conference and second-team All-Dayton honors last season. He’s a three-year starter. Junior Christian White went 2-2 with a 4.94 ERA last season. Senior Sam McKinney and sophomore Hunter Shelley saw time last season. Sophomore Ben Lawson and freshman Kenten Egbert round out the pitching staff.
Riley Shaffer, a three-year starter, returns at catcher for the Bees.
Brookhart, who hit .437 with 27 RBIs last season, can play either second or shortstop when not pitching. White, who hit .329 last year, also returns at shortstop. Nick Lightcap, Tyler Brueckman, Shelley and Egbert all will play the infield.
Senior center fielder Zach Cohee, who hit .357 and was second-team All-CCC last year, will anchor the outfield.
CASSTOWN — Miami East returns a number of key starters from last year’s team.
Scot Kirby, Brandon Wilson, Braxton Donaldson and Colton Purves will be the team’s pitchers, while Donaldson and Wilson will share catching duties.
Coach Barry Coomes said he anticipates Austin Rutledge and Cam Coomes being leaders in the infield, with Austin Niswonger and Mitchell Vernon anchoring the outfield.
TROY — Troy Christian returns a number of lettermen from last season’s 15-9 team.
Scott Douglas, Jacob Williams, Peyton Forrer and Cameron Davee all will see time on the mound for the Eagles. Chase Hayden will be the team’s catcher.
John Slone, Jacob Brown and Carson Kindred will play the infield, while Caleb Twiss, Sam Kirkpatrick, Louden Saulbeamer and Jackson Kremer will play the outfield.
“We are hoping to improve and compete in the tough Metro Buckeye Conference,” Troy Christian coach Tony Ferraro said.
COVINGTON — Mitch Hirsch returns for his 14th season as Covington’s coach.
The Buccs were 14-14 overall last year and tied for second in the CCC.
Graduating off that team were Ty Boehringer, Austin Lefeld, Drew Schaurer and Sam Sherman.
Returning letterwinners include seniors James Grilliot, Jared Williams and Levin Winn; and juniors Nathan Blei, Christian Nelson and Tristan Sowers.
“We will go as far as our pitching takes us,” Hirsch said. “We lost some good seniors last year but we have some good players coming back. Pitching is always the key. We play a tough non-league schedule and our league will be more balanced this year.”
WEST MILTON — After five years as an assistant coach, Mark Gunston takes over as varsity coach at Milton-Union this spring.
“I think we have a decent shot at competing for a top spot in the Southwest Buckeye League Buckeye Division,” Gunston said. “We return six starters from last year’s team that finished third in the league.”
Milton’s pitchers will include Levi Booher, Krue Thwaits, Alby Baker, Keifer Jones and Jeremy Strader, while Hayden Davidson will serve as the team’s catcher.
Baker will play first base, Thwaits and Booher will play shortstop and Jacob Hill and Jones will play third base.
Braden Smith will play center field, Jones will play right field and Blake Smith and Strader will play left field.
BRADFORD — Shane Snyder returns for his sixth season as Bradford’s coach.
The Railroaders were 3-18 last season.
Graduating off that team were Craig Wyan, Trey Higgins, Pat Wolf, Collin Hamilton, Rayce Grigg and Zane Hoelscher.
Returning letterwinners include juniors Mason Justice, Bryant Byers and Walker Branson and sophomore Andrew Branson.
“While we have no seniors this season, we return with an athletic group who have varsity experience,” Snyder said. “That is something we missed last season.”
SIDNEY — Veteran coach Dave King returns for his ninth season as Lehman’s baseball coach.
The Cavaliers were 26-5 last season, won the NWCC with a 14-0 record, won the sectional and won the district.
Graduating off that team were Greg Spearman, Cole Proffitt, Austin Arnold, Alex Cavinder, Nick Rourke and Joe Skelton.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Nate Bosway, Max Schutt, Stephen Monnin and Ian Smith; and juniors Dylan Arnold and Parker Riley.
“We lost a lot of talent,” King said. “This will provide many opportunities for some young players to step up and perform. We want to compete in our league and prepare for a tournament run.”
King expects Riverside and Lima Perry to field strong teams in the NWCC.
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong