By David Fong
MIAMI COUNTY — As the start of baseball season nears, here are five pressing questions facing Miami County teams and athletes this spring:
1) Who are all these guys in Troy uniforms?
After graduating 12 seniors — and with five sophomores on a 14-team roster — there’s not a lot of recognizable faces on the Troy baseball team this spring. In fact, the most experienced player on the roster — pitcher and centerfielder Hayden Kotwica — is far more well known for his exploits on the gridiron than the baseball field.
Despite that lack of experience, however, Troy coach Ty Welker likes his chances with youth and determination. He feels he has kids who love to play the game of baseball and their enthusiasm will overcome their lack of experience. Don’t count out the Trojans, who have won three sectional titles and two Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division titles in the past five years under Welker.
2) How will Tippecanoe handle the move to the GWOC?
Sure, this has been asked of every Tippecanoe team so far this school year as the Red Devils made the switch from the Central Buckeye Conference to the GWOC, but perhaps with the exception of football, no sports has been — or will be — more under the microscope than the Tippecanoe baseball team.
Quite simply, in the 32 years since Bruce Cahill has been head coach at Tippecanoe, the Red Devils have largely dominated both the CBC and the (now-defunct) Southwestern Rivers Conference, piling up league title after league title. Playing in the GWOC — against mostly larger schools — is a bit of a different animal, however.
Still, though, don’t be so quick to count out the Red Devils, who have traditionally fared well against larger schools in non-league games throughout the years. The Devils are loaded with talent this season and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them immediately insert themselves squarely into the hunt for a GWOC North championship.
3) Can Dean Denlinger make the jump from softball to baseball?
Dean Denlinger knew nothing but success during his tenure as softball coach at Covington High School, taking the Buccaneers to the Division IV state semifinals three years in a row, from 2011-13.
Denlinger will still be coaching in Miami County this year and he’ll still be on the diamonds this spring, but the dimensions of those diamonds will change significantly as Denlinger takes over as head baseball coach at Miami East High School. He takes over for the successful Barry Coomes, who retired from coaching at the end of last season.
While the basic principles of baseball and softball are essentially the same — pitching, hitting, fielding and running the bases — there are some pretty significant differences in the two sports, particularly when it comes to coaching strategy. Pitching rotations and baserunning, in particular, are world’s apart.
Still, though, Denlinger has proven to be an excellent leader who knows how to reach kids, which is the most important element of coaching.
There’s no reason to believe he won’t find success at Miami East.
4) How will the Kopp for Kopp transition go?
Well, at least they won’t have to change the last name on the scorebook.
After leading the Newton baseball team to back-to-back sectional titles, Nathan Kopp left during the offseason to become the athletic director at Xenia High School. Replacing him will be his younger brother Jordan Kopp, one of his assistant coaches at Newton.
Things shouldn’t change much for the Indians this season.
The Kopps are one of the most successful families of athletes in Miami County history. Nathan led the Bethel baseball team to a state runner-up finish before going on to pitch at Wright State University and in the New York Yankees’ farm system. Brother Brett was a member of the Bees’ state championship basketball team in 2001 and currently is the Bees’ boys basketball coach. Jordan matched Nathan’s success in 2006, helping to lead the Bees to a state runner-up finish. Sister Kylie, the baby of the bunch, won a state title in the long jump at Bethel and won a Horizon League title in the heptathlon at Wright State.
The Kopps know a few things about sports. Newton will be just fine with Jordan leading the team.
5) How much of the season will actually happen?
Stop us if you’ve heard this one before.
Ohio’s weather has not been kind the past few springs — and since winter was an extended spring, with a seemingly never-ending rain in the place of snow, things don’t look good as the end of March approaches. The ground hasn’t been dry since the end of the fall season, and none of Miami County’s teams play in domed stadiums. The most uncertainty for any teams this spring — especially the ones playing on grass and dirt fields — will come from the skies above.
Contact David Fong at firstname.lastname@example.org; follow him on Twitter @thefong