By Dennis Glade
Washington Times Herald
The days are getting longer, the sun is shining brighter - when it's not being blocked out by rain and snow - and the crack of the bat is back. It's baseball season in Southwestern Indiana.
Washington, Barr-Reeve, Loogootee and North Daviess are preparing themselves for another baseball season, while navigating through the always unpredictable March weather.
The Hatchets are coming off an 18-11 season, which saw them bow out in the first round of the Class 3A Sectional 31 at Jasper to Vincennes Lincoln.
Washington coach Steve Reed said after losing seven players from last season's squad, five to graduation, he's just not sure what to expect.
Washington will return two left handed pitchers in seniors Tyler Edmiston and Brayden Walls. Edmiston recently signed on to pitch at a junior college, Southeastern Illinois next season.
"I know I've got a couple of pretty good pitchers," Reed said. "There are a lot of question marks right now." A quick look at the 2013 Washington roster shows it will have seven seniors, but Reed said that number doesn¹t accurately reflect varsity experience on the field.
"We always want to try to go .500 and do well in conference," Reed said. "It's not like a season we have had in the past where we have five or six position players coming back. Last years senior class' pitching was deep. I think we've got some good pitching this year, but I don't know how deep we'll be, so that¹s obviously a concern. I don't really know what to expect, I don¹t think I've ever had a season like this."
2012 was a tough season in Elnora, and 2013 looks to be a bit brighter for the North Daviess baseball team. The Cougars lost 19 of 26 games, and lost to eventual sectional champions Loogootee in the Class A Sectional 63 at Loogootee.
Last seasons team graduated three seniors off a squad that was extremely young, and coach Zach Stoll is hopeful that the experience will help guide the Cougars to more victories this season. North Daviess' returning impact seniors will be catcher Dan Wagler, pitcher Alex Wittmer and outfielder Nathaniel Gingerich.
"We're going to be playing some young kids," Stoll said. "There's no doubt, we'll be having some freshman are going to get some varsity time. The guys that graduated last year were all guys that threw for us, so our pitching staff is inexperienced. I'm confident in what they're going to be able to accomplish even though they are young." The biggest obstacle Stoll sees for his team is the psychological aspect of having extremely young guys playing in high pressure games.
"We need to figure out how to mentally play in games at the varsity level," Stoll said. "That's a hurdle, and a lot of that is youth and inexperience. I wouldn't put a guy in there if I didn't think he had the ability to get the job done. It's more of a mental thing that we're talking about."
The Lions finished 2012 with a 24-7 record and the Blue Chip Conference championship, but Loogootee lost its first game of the regional to Northeast Dubois. The Lions will return four seniors, who are all four-year starters - SP/1B Conner Wittmer, second basemen Will Nonte, P/CF Jesse Horney and catcher Waylon Matthews. Junior starting pitcher Matt Mathies, who posted a 5-2 record and a 2.63 ERA is also back for the Lions.
With so many returning contributers from last years team, coach Roger Bailey said the expectations are as high as ever for the Lions.
"Our expectations are to do better than what we did last year," Balley said. "We have the pitching, and we have the hitting. In the south it looks like the runner-up was Shakamak last year and I know they have their best pitcher back." Bailey said the players are thinking about the possibility of playing at Victory Field in Indianapolis for the state championship, and thinking like that isn't out of the ordinary for Loogootee.
The Lions are seeking their third consecutive sectional championship.
"Every year we want to win our conference, we want to have a winning record and we want to make a run in the tournament," Bailey said. "Last year we won 24 ball games, the year before that we won 20. We want to try to win 20 games, that's kind of the standard we set for ourselves."
The Vikings finished 2012 with a 17-12 record, but lost the sectional championship game to arch rival Loogootee. Barr-Reeve will return four senior pitchers, who figure to help the Vikings improve on last seasons finish.
Myron Stoll, Keith Graber, Brandon Wagler and Stan Kemp are the seniors that coach Nathan Lester will expect to lean on this season as the Vikings make a run at their first sectional championship since 2010.
"We want to try to win as many games as possible," Lester said. "Our schedule is pretty rough, but we expect to be competitive every game with a chance to win a sectional championship, that's always our goal." Outside of staying healthy, Lester said the biggest challenge facing the Vikings is the schedule they will face and then the competitive Class A Sectional 63.
"It's a lot like basketball, sectional 63 in any sport is tough," Lester said.
With the roster that Lester will be working with this season, he knows that they will have to rely heavily on keeping their opponents off the base paths and off the scoreboard.
"Pitching and defense - that's what won us 17 games last year," Lester said. "That's ultimately what¹s going to allow us to win baseball games this year. Offensively we are average at best. It's going to come down to our pitching and our defense."