By David Fong
TROY — Ty Welker knows there are a lot of people out there who would probably consider this a rebuilding year for his Troy baseball team.
As a matter of fact, he’s counting on it.
“I told the guys there are a lot of people looking at this as a rebuilding year for Troy,” Welker said. “And that’s fine if people want to believe that. I don’t think the guys on the team believe that. I think we’ve got a bunch of kids who want to compete right now. They don’t want to wait until next year to be competitive.”
From the outside looking, it is possible to see why opposing teams would think the Trojans simply have too much to replace to competitive in the Greater Western Ohio Conference. For starters, the Trojans graduated 12 seniors off a team that appeared in three district title games in four years. In their place, just three seniors — only one of which saw significant varsity time last season — returns.
Also, the team has just 14 players on the varsity roster — the least Welker has had in more than a decade as Troy’s coach — and five sophomores, the most Welker has ever had at Troy.
Still, though, Welker likes his team’s chances.
“This truly is a baseball group of kids,” he said. “I know they play other sports, but these kids know a lot about the game and truly understand the of baseball.”
Anchoring the pitching staff for the Trojans will be senior Hayden Kotwica. Last season he went 2-3 in seven appearances with a 2.60 earned run average. Juniors Derek McDonagh and Chase Weaver, along with sophomores Jacob Adams, Matt Bigley, Cole Brogan and Braeden Snyder will round out the Trojans’ staff.
“Kotwica is our most experienced pitcher by far,” Welker said. “He’ll be expected to be a leader on our pitching staff. He’s got to be our anchor, because he does have that experience. Derek was the workhorse on our JV team last year. Chase is a big kid who works hard and could prove to be very valuable to our staff. Adams pitched a little for us last year as a freshman. All of those sophomores are going to get a lot of innings for us this year. We are going to need them to pitch in some league games for us this year.”
Behind the plate for the Trojans will be junior Keiran Williams. He’ll be backed up at catch by senior Chaz Copas.
“Williams has a tremendous arm and he’s gotten better every year,” Welker said. “He’s going to be our catcher.”
Troy is strong in the middle infield with the return of junior Brandon Emery — a second-team All-Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division pick last year — along with Adams and Brogan. Junior Matt McGillivary and Bigley also should figure into the mix in the infield.
“Really, we’ve got three guys who could play shortstop,” Welker said. “We’ve got three guys who all played shortstop growing up — but now that they are in high school, they are all on the same team. Brandon was our shortstop last year and he did a nice job, so it’s his spot this year. He’s worked hard enough to earn that spot.
“Jacob is a tremendous athlete who will probably end up playing third base for us. Cole Brogan will probably play second base for us. We could also have McGillivary sharing time as second base and Bigley playing at third base.”
Jake Daniel — who earned GWOC North special mention honors last season — returns at first base. Snider and Weaver also could see time at first base.
“Jake Daniel is bigger, fast and stronger than he was last year,” Welker said. “We feel really good about having him at first base. He’s one of our most solid players.”
When he’s not on the mound, Kotwica — a second-team All-GWOC North pick last year — will return for his third season as Troy’s starting center fielder. In right field will be Copas and fellow senior Zion Taylor, while sophomore Tyler Brandenburg and McDonagh will play left field.
“We don’t have any seniors in the infield — all three of them play in the outfield,” Welker said. “So we do have some experience out there. Plus we’ve got some younger guys we can mix in there, as well.”
Last season, Troy was second in the GWOC in hitting, with a team batting average of .281 and 159 total runs scored. Despite losing the bulk of his roster, Welker said he doesn’t expect much of a drop off offensively.
“I think we can hit up and down the lineup,” he said. “I don’t know that we have the 3-4-5 hitters that we may have had in some past years, but we feel like our 6-7-8-9 guys can hit as well as the guys at the top of the order. The guys are all pretty aggressive, which I like.
“Overall, I think we are going to surprise some people this year.”
TIPP CITY — After decades of dominating the (now-defunct) Southwestern Rivers Conference and Central Buckeye Conference under head coach Bruce Cahill, Tippecanoe will make its long-awaited debut in the GWOC this spring.
“We know that there are many great baseball towns in the GWOC North that have great traditions,” Cahill said. “We feel we belong in that group and our goal is to compete for a league title. We graduated only seven seniors, with seven returning starters and have great junior depth pushing the returning starters for playing time.
“We are working extremely hard and I am pleased with how our practices have gone. Playing primarily against a Division I schedule this year should prove interesting and we are ready to face that challenge.”
The Red Devils return pretty much all of their pitching staff, including staff ace Aaron Hughes, who has won eight games each of the past two years and boasted a 1.44 ERA last season. Evan Ford won six games with a 1.62 ERA. Bradley Calhoun won four games with a 2.67 ERA, Trevor Staggs won three games (2.38 ERA), including a 10-strikeout no-hitter against Eaton. Also, Justyn Eichbaum returns to the mound this year after not pitching last season. He is a Campbell University commitment with a 90-mile per hour fastball. Senior Austin Spitler also returns.
“The key will be getting out junior pitchers some work,” Cahill said. “Zach Losey, who has worked his tail off in the offseason, threw 87 miles per hour at a showcase a month ago. Twins Mason and Miles McClurg and Troy Powers are very effective as well and should help in different roles. Another pitcher to watch is sophomore Ian Yunker, as he has thrown very well in the preseason.”
Tippecanoe’s catcher will be returning starter Cole Barhorst, who hit .347 as a sophomore and was named first-team All-CBC.
In the infield, Tippecanoe returns third baseman Andrew Kraska, who led the team with a .405 batting average last season while earning first-team All-CBC and All-Dayton Area honors. He also drove in 20 runs and had eight extra base hits. Subler will back up Kraska.
Hughes and junior Seth Clayton will play shortstop, senior Cade Rogers and Miles McClurg will battle it out for the second base position and Calhoun and junior Josh Rieve will share time at first base. Both saw significant playing time last year.
In the outfield, Eichbaum will return for his fourth year as the team’s starting center fielder. A career .300 hitter with power, he should be at full strength this season after suffering a knee injury last year. Staggs and Clay Barhorst saw plenty of time in the outfield last year, while Mason McClurg, Losey and senior Clay Barney all will compete for starting spots in the outfield.
CASSTOWN — Dean Denlinger, the ultra-successful softball coach at Covington, takes over as head baseball coach at Miami East this season.
“We want to finish the league with a good, positive team identity and strong preparation for the tournament,” Denlinger said. “We want to build good ‘teach and trust’ relationships with the team. We will strive to give 100 percent every day and be the best.”
Miami East’s pitchers will be Brandon Wilson, Brett Stapleton, Mitchel Vernon, Colton Purves, Austin Rutledge, Jacob Arthur, Adam Ott, Jackson Tucker, Omar Seleme and Cameron Coomes.
East’s catchers will be Andy Wargo and Seleme.
Wilson, Purves, Austin Niswonger, Vincent Villella, Coomes, Jacob Brown, Stapleton, Tucker, Rutledge and Vernon all will play the infield.
Vernon, Ott, Arthur, Brown, Villella and Seleme will play in the outfield for the Vikings.
WEST MILTON — The Bulldogs return the vast majority of their team from last season, including 10 seniors — eight of whom were starters a year ago.
“With 10 seniors on the roster this year, I see nothing but things for this group,” Milton coach Mark Gunston said. “As far as league play this year, it is too early to project, but Carlisle, Madison and Waynesville will all be tough this year. As far as team goals, we want to be able to be in every game this year and to be able to send those seniors out on a good note.”
On the mound for Milton will be Levi Booher, Alby Baker, Krue Thwaits, Kiefer Jones, Zack Vagedes, Dalton West, Aaran Stone and Dustin Booher. Behind the plate will be returning starter Hayden Davidson.
Playing first base will be Baker and West. Jones and Cory Spitler will play third. Up the middle will be Vagedes at second, while Thwaits, Booher and A.J. Lovin will see time at shortstop.
In the outfield will be Jeremy Strader, Blake Smith and Jones. Lovin and Collin Sherwood could see time in the outfield as well.
PLEASANT HILL — Former assistant Jordan Kopp takes over as head coach at Newton this year, replacing his older brother Nathan, now the athletic director at Xenia. He inherits a team that has won back-to-back sectional championships.
“Our goal is to win 20 games and win our third straight sectional championship,” Kopp said.
Staff ace Treg Jackson returns for the Indians. He went 7-1 with 86 strikeouts and a 1.70 ERA last season. He’ll be joined on the mount by Nash Lavy (24 innings pitched with a 1.70 ERA) and Cole Weaver. Behind the plate will be senior Rhett Gipe, who was the team’s top hitter last season, batting .422 with three home runs and 13 doubles.
Returning infielders include senior Nelson Clymer at first, senior Austin Evans at shortstop and senior Noah Williams at second base.
In the outfield will be sophomores Nate Zelinski, Ryan Mollette and Charlie Walker.
TROY — Tony Ferraro returns for his third year as Troy Christian’s coach.
Returning pitchers include Peyton Forrer, Cameron Davee and Caleb Twiss — all three of whom are the team’s top returning hitters, as well, along with catcher Carson Kindred.
Returning infielders include Jacob Brown and Jon Slone, while Andrew Strait and Louden Saulbeamer return in the outfield.
The Eagles are the defending Metro Buckye Conference champions.
“We will be picked middle of the pack this year, but I think we will surprise some people,” Ferraro said. “A tough non-league schedule should get us ready for the tournament.”
COVINGTON — Covington will feature a young squad this spring.
“We will have some growing pains early in the year,” coach Mitch Hirsch said. “We have a good group of kids — we just need to get some games under our belt.”
Pitching for the Buccaneers will be Nathan Blei, Kenny Atkinson, Triston Sowers and Ty Freeman. Catching will be Mason Dilley.
Blei will also play shortstop, while Atkinson will play first base. Sowers will play the infield as well. The outfielders will be Freeman, Bradley Wiggins, Gavin McReynolds, Brayden Miller and Trevor Miller.
Shane Snyder returns for his eighth season as coach.
Returning letterwinners include Mason Justice, Dillon Reck, Chase Gambill, Jeff Wolf, Wade Gerlach, Walker Branson, Bryant Byers and Bryson Canan; and juniors Parker Smith, Clay Layman and Andy Branson.
“We are returning an experienced team this season with a tremendous amount of leadership,” Snyder said. “We always have very high expectations for our program and set realistic goals. This year is no different.
Veteran coach Dave King returns for this 38th season as a varsity baseball coach.
The Cavaliers are coming off a 23-5 season and a NWCC title.
Lost to graduation were D-IV state Player of the Year Nate Bosway, Max Schutt, Stephen Monnin, Ian Smith, Michael Largent, Avery Pickerel, Tyler Scott and CJ Trahey.
Returning letterwinners include seniors Parker Riley, Dylan Arnold, Jared Rourke and Brandon Simmons; juniors Brandon Barhorst, Tyler Lachey and Owen Smith; and sophomore Jared Magoteaux.
“Every year you have to replace your senior players — and we lost some key ones,” King said. “I am confident that we have kids that will step up. We want to compete in our own league and ready ourselves for tournament play.”
Contact David Fong at email@example.com; follow him on Twitter @thefong