Eastern Brown was one of the teams to beat in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference last year, with a result other than victory only coming twice in conference games.
The Warriors will look different on the diamond this year than they did when they won 11 of the 13 conference games they played last season, but despite several new faces, they’re hoping to compete for the SHAC title this spring.
“We lost nine seniors from last year’s team. We return three starters and one reserve from last year, so we will be young and without much varsity experience. Having said that, we do have some good young talent that we expect to jump right in and contribute this season,” said Eastern coach Steve Goetz via email. “With the inexperience, especially with our pitching, I expect we’ll have some ups and downs along the way but I think we have the potential to be a very solid team all-around by mid-season.”
Goetz expects his top returning players to include juniors Ethan Battson and Mike Schmid, along with sophomore Ian Wiles.
Battson pitched and played in the outfield last year, but will be making the transition to shortstop. He’ll continue to pitch after starting four games and appearing in six others last year, posting a 2-1 record and recording three saves. He struck out 29 batters while only walking eight and finished the season with a 3.21 ERA. He’s expected to bat third for the Warriors, posting a .361 average with 15 RBIs and 18 runs scored as a sophomore.
Schmid primarily played in the outfield last season, but will be key in Eastern’s pitching rotation this year. He batted .231 with 12 RBIs and 12 runs scored as a sophomore.
Wiles will be behind the plate for Eastern again this season, after starting last year as a freshman and hitting .344 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored. He’s also expected to be a big contributor on the mound.
Goetz believes several newcomers can be productive for the Warriors this season, and thinks that Hunter Ruckel and Colton Vaughn can turn some heads. Ruckel is a sophomore that’s expected to spend time at third, on the mound and behind the plate throughout the season and bat in the middle of the lineup. He was unable to play last year because of injury.
Vaughn is only a freshman, but is expected to pitch and play in the outfield this year. Goetz believes his bat, along with his speed, can help both offensively and defensively.
The Eastern coach is hopeful that core can help produce another successful season, after finishing last year with a 12-10 overall record with a loss in the opening game of the playoffs to Paint Valley, 8-1.
“This year especially, I think the team will look much different by the end of the season, than what we will early on while we’re gaining experience and learning to play together as a team,” said Goetz. “I’m very optimistic that we’ll be very competitive in the SHAC but know that it’s going to be a tough and balanced league this year, where anyone can beat anyone.”
Eastern won’t be the only team filling roles from departing seniors.
Manchester finished last season with a 10-12 record and will also be looking for some new players to step up after graduating some key players last year.
“We are looking to fill some key roles as last year we graduated three of our top pitchers and key players offensively and defensively,” said Manchester coach Dustin Cook in an email. “We are hoping that our young arms can gain some experience early on and have a good year.”
He’s hoping to have three seniors – Kaige Cox, Gage Lucas and Jalen James – carry the majority of the load for the Greyhounds. Cox and Lucas are both expected to take the mound this spring for Manchester. Cox is also a shortstop, while Lucas covers the other middle infield position. James is expected to play first base.
“We are relying on these three returning seniors to have big years for us both at the plate and in the field,” said Cook.
West Union coach Joseph Kramer also believes the league will be competitive this season. Last year, the Dragons finished a 5-15 season with an opening round playoff loss to Adena, 3-0. Adena was a No. 2 seed that advanced to the district final before falling to Wheelersburg.
“Last season was as wild a season as any season the SHAC has seen in a long time. Every team had amazing wins and head-scratching losses and the same can happen again this season,” said Kramer in an email. “We hope to be in the thick of it. Our team is anxious to get out of the gym and onto the field.”
Kramer believes the Dragons will be extremely flexible this season, and has at least three capable players at every position.
“Our team this year can be described as versatile,” said Kramer. “Each player can play more than one position and we will have fun in seeing who plays where on any given day.”
The team currently has six pitchers – Jared Fenton, Brandon Cornell, Dylan Grooms, Ryan Rothwell, Alex Hirsch and Brycen Staten. Elijah McCarty and Clayton Madden are also expected to get some innings as well.
Fenton, a senior, and Cornell, a junior, were two of the Dragons’ top hitters last season, according to Kramer, and he’s looking for them to provide an offensive boost again this season. He’ll also be looking at Michael Carson, Gabe Grooms and McCarty – the three other seniors – to play a key role.
Two years ago, Georgetown didn’t win a single game. This year, they’ll look for players like Jackson Gregory, Issac Holland, Blake Miles, Peyton Penny, Alex Bolington and Lance Leggett for their experience from a 5-17 season last year, and will look to improve in Southern Buckeye Athletic and Academic Conference play.
“I never want to commit to a certain number of wins. The program has been progressing every year. Two years ago we didn’t win a game,” said Georgetown coach Daniel Oliver via email. “We are moving in the right direction. I want us to be competitive every game we play.”
Progressing again could mean even better signs for next spring, as the G-Men don’t have a single senior on their roster.
Head coaches from Ripley and Peebles did not respond to an email requesting information on their respective teams.