By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — Only at Tippecanoe could a team lose nine seniors, seven starters and five pitchers — and still be expected to be in the hunt for a Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division title.
Such is the case for the Red Devils, however, who have been one of the premier programs in the area for decades.
“Once again, I believe we will challenge for the GWOC North championship,” said erstwhile Tippecanoe coach Bruce Cahill, who has been the head coach of the team for 33 years. “Even though we lost nine seniors, seven starters and five pitchers, we have the firepower to make a run.”
Leading the pitching staff will be Zach Losey, a Ball State University commitment. Joining him in an incredibly deep staff will be junior Ian Yunker, senior Seth Clayton, senior Mason McClurg, junior Brad Dettwiller, senior Troy Powers, senior Connor Woltz, senior Ryan Sias and junior Kenten Egbert.
Behind the plate for Tippecanoe will be senior Cole Barhorst and sophomore Cade Beam.
At first base will be senior Josh Riebe. Miles McClurg will rotate between shortstop and second base, while Clayton also will see time at shortstop. At third base will be Beam and Egbert.
In the outfield will be senior Clay Barhorst, Mason McClurg, Losey, Detwiller and Woltz.
“Our success will depend on our ability to hit more consistently and for some of our first-year varsity seniors to make an impact,” Cahill said.
A pair of future college pitchers spearhead the staff for Newton, which will be looking to claim its fourth Cross County Conference title in a row this spring.
Treg Jackson went 10-0 last season, earning All-Ohio honors in the process. He’s committed to play college baseball at Wright State University Lake Campus. Joining him on the staff will be Cole Weaver, a hard-throwing right hander who has committed to Urbana University.
Noah Weaver will be the Indians’ catcher. Top returning infielders include Cole Weaver, Nash Lavy and Charlie Walker. Returning outfielders include leadoff hitter Ryan Mollette and Nate Zeilinski.
“Our goals are to compete for a league title and to win our fourth-straight sectional title,” Newton coach Jordan Kopp said.
The Bulldogs hope to compete for a title in a wide-open Southwestern Buckeye League this season.
With our league losing a ton of seniors last year, I see our league being wide open,” Milton coach Mark Gunston said. “Waynesville, Carlise, Madison will all be tough this year.”
Returning pitchers include Aaron Stone, Dustin Booher and Kayge Thwaits.
“We have a young staff also that will be filling in some of the reliever roles,” Gunston said.
Behind the plate for the third year will be Hayden Davidson. Thwaits also could see time at catcher. A.J. Lovin returns at shortstop. At first base will be Jake Palmisano, Stone and Thwaits. At second base will be Booher and Sam Case. At third will be Stone and Stanley Fairchild.
Anchoring the outfield will be center fielder Jacob Goodman. Joining him in the outfield will be Fairchild, Alex Beam, Tommy Gauvey, Case and Josh Wooddell.
“Team goals this year would be to finish high in the league standings, and after making it to the sectional final last season and getting a few tournament wins under our belts, we are hoping to make it back with a few good tournament wins and see where it takes us,” Gunston said.
The Vikings have a deep pitching staff that includes Jacob Arthur, Brandon Wilson, Austin Rutledge, Adam Ott and Ian Gengler.
Behind the plate will be Andy Wargo.
Rutledge, Wilson and Alex Hayes will be the primary infielders, while Jacob Brown, Ott and Arthur will be in the outfield.
“We want to finish the league with a good, positive team identity and strong preparation for the tournament,” Miami East coach Dean Denlinger said. “We want to built good ‘teach and trust’ relationships with the team. We will strive to give 100 percent every day and be the best.”
After eight years as an assistant coach, Andy Johnson takes over as Covington’s head baseball coach this season.
The Buccaneers lost four players off a team that went 5-16 (5-7 in the Cross County Conference) last season. Key returning letterwinners include: seniors Mason Dilley and Braden Miller, junior Gavin McReynolds and sophomores Colton Francis and Gage Kerrigan.
“We’re going to be a very young program, with nearly half our numbers coming from the freshman class,” Johnson said. “Regardless, our expectations will not change. I expect us to be focused and prepared to compete in every game we play. I expect our upperclassmen to challenge, support and motivate the younger guys.
“I expect our players to give their best effort on every play and continue to improve every time we take the field. My goal is to be a better team at the end of the year and put ourselves in a position to surprise some people.”
Bethel looks to lean heavily on its seniors and pitching staff this season.
“We return a good group of seniors and, as usual, pitching will be key,” Bethel coach Brett Brookhart said. “We need to have a couple guys really step up, along with our defense. Hopefully we improve as the season goes and we can compete in the upper half of the Cross County Conference.”
Pitching for the Bees will be Ben Lawson, Austin Bird, Hunter Shelley and Perry Casto. Catching will be Shelley, Casto, Patrick Swinderman and Rylan Dilbeck.
Lawson will also play first base for the Bees. Tyler Brueckman will rotate between second base and shortstop. Bird, Shelley and Casto will play multiple infield spots. In the outfield will be Travis Durst, Dylan Williams and Jacob Evans, a standout football and basketball player who will be playing baseball for the first time this year.
The Eagles will have a young team this year, but still hope to compete in the Metro Buckeye Conference.
“We hope to improve throughout the season and compete in a very competitive Metro Buckeye Conference,” Troy Christian coach Tony Ferraro said. “Although we are extremely young, our players have been practicing hard and demonstrating good fundamental skills throughout the preseason.”
On the mound for the Eagles will be Caleb Twiss, Andrew Strait and Nathan Waltz. Carson Kindred will be behind the plate. Key infielders will be Jason Blake, Ethan Twiss, Charlie Wolfe and Noah Kenworthy. Outfielders will be Louden Saulbeamer and Jake Rodicker.
Brad Lavey return for his second season as Piqua coach.
The Indians finished 11-15 overall and year ago and 7-8 in Greater Western Ohio Conference American North Division play.
Graduating off that team were Travis Smith, Blake Wright, Dakota Iddings, Logan Harris and Zach Luttrell.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Derek Hite, Seth Trapp, Cory Cotrell, Michael Ashcraft, Spencer Lavey and Austin Davis, along with juniors Owen Toopes and Mick Karn.
Lehman will be looking to replace some key components off a team that went 23-4 and 14-0 in the Northwest Central Conference last spring.
“We lost 15 varsity wins last year — so we need some players to step up and pitch well for us,” Lehman coach Dave King said. “We are going to try and improve each day with our game.”
Graduating were: Parker Riley (pitcher/third base), Dylan Arnold (shortstop), Brandon Simmons (pitcher), Jared Rourke (pitcher/outfielder) and Blake Leffel (outfielder).
Returning letterwinners include seniors Tyler Lachey, Brandon Barhorst, Ryan Schmidt, Owen Smith and Anthony Karns; juniors Bryce Kennedy, Jared Magoteaux and John Cianciolo and sophomores Drew Barhorst and RJ Bertini.
King returns for his 11th season at Lehman and 38th overall. He has a career record of 588-381-3.
Lehman hopes to defend its NWCC title, but expects strong challenges from Marion Elgin and Lima Perry.
Andy Mead takes over as Bradford baseball coach.
Bradford was 10-11 overall last year and 6-5 in the CCC.
Graduating off that team were Mason Justice, Dillon Reck, Bryant Byers, Bryson Canan, Walker Branson, Wade Gerlach, Chase Gambill and Jeff Wolf.
Returning letterwinners are seniors Parker Smith and Clay Layman and sophomore Fisher Spencer.
“This year our team is looking forward to a competitive season with the leadership of seven seniors,” Mead said. “Bradford baseball is looking to get over the .500 hump that we’ve been stuck in for the last couple years with a league finish near the top and playing some quality baseball through tournament play.”
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong