By David Fong
Regional Sports Editor
TROY — Three years ago, Ty Welker saw a spark.
This year, the Troy baseball coach is hoping that spark ignites a full-fledged conflagration.
“The interesting thing about this senior group is that we knew when they were freshmen they were going to be a pretty strong group,” Welker said. “And they’ve been that way all the way through the program. This is a group we anticipated good things from when they were young, so we kind of set it up to be the way it is this year — we got them up (to varsity) early and got them experience early.”
A senior-laden squad — 11 of the 14 players on the varsity roster — will be graduating later this spring. Of those 11, seven are returning letterwinners from last season. Welker said the Trojans will hope to lean heavily upon that experience as they defend the Greater Western Ohio Conference American League North Division co-championship they shared with Tippecanoe last season.
Anchoring the pitching staff will be three-year starter Cole Brogan. Last year, Brogan went 6-1 with a 1.27 earned run average and 34 strikeouts in 44 innings pitched. Joining him in the starting rotation will be seniors Ethan West, Braeden Snider and Jakob Liebcap. Senior Matt Bigley also will pitch in a relief role.
“Brogan is a three-year starter who has been our No. 1 or No. 2 guy for couple of years now,” Welker said. “You could say he’s the ace of our staff. He’ll be pitching in a lot of big games for us this year. Ethan West has had a nice spring. Braeden Snider and Jakob Liebcap will be out there fighting for innings, as well. Matt Bigley is a kid who will pitch relief, but will still get some important innings in big games. We feel pretty good about this staff.”
Behind the plate for the Trojans will be senior Grant Gariety and junior Quenton Shepard.
“That’s a fight for the starting spot right now,” Welker said. “They are really pushing each other right now. They’ve both got some big shoes to fill with Keiran Williams graduating. They are both working hard; the one who is hitting is probably going to be the one who is in the lineup.”
Snider will make the move from right field to first base for the Trojans. West and Liebcap also could see time at first base. With all three in the pitching rotation, who is playing first likely will depend upon who is on the mound that day.
At second base will be senior Austin Kendall. Last season, Kendall hit .348 with 14 runs batted in and four stolen bases. At shortstop will be Brogan on days he isn’t pitching. Also seeing time at shortstop will be senior Jacob Adams and sophomore Caleb Fogarty. Last season, an arm injury forced Adams into strictly a designated hitter role. He was brilliant at DH, hitting .383 with 19 RBI, five doubles, two triples and 10 stolen bases. Now fully healthy, he’ll also get the chance to play in the field for the Trojans.
“We probably have four really nice middle infielders who could start for most teams,” Welker said. “Austin Kendall had a tremendous year last year. The unique thing about Adams is that he can play just about anywhere, which makes him a little more versatile.”
At third base will be Bigley, a three-year starter. Last year Bigley hit .273 with 10 RBI and three doubles. Should he be called on to pitch, both Adams and Fogarty are capable of playing third.
In the outfield, Adams likely will man center field,while junior Weston Smith could play center or left field. In right field will be some combination of West and seniors Luke Severt, Nate Henderson and Sam Shaneyfelt.
“Having Adams and Smith out there really shrinks the outfield with their speed,” Welker said. “They were both starting defensive backs on the football team. This is probably one of the most athletic outfields we’ve had here.”
With so many experienced pieces in place, Welker is hoping for another shot at a division title and a possible deep run into the postseason — but knows there’s still work to be done.
“These guys know the guys who came before them have built up the expectations for this program,” Welker said. “Surely we aren’t looking past anyone. These guys have all been around for awhile and have played in some big league games and tournament games. Our schedule is as tough as anybody’s. These guys know they are going to have to come ready to play every day, because all it takes is one letdown and you’re in trouble. We’re looking forward to the season to see what we can do.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong