After running the table en route to the 2012 West Central Conference's North Division pennant, the Sherrard baseball team is hoping to write a similar tale in its third and final year in the conference.|
Even with the loss of six starters from last spring's 30-7 club that lost to eventual Class 2A state runner-up Alleman in the regional championship game, the Tigers return a nucleus of eight veterans. That group, led by senior pitcher/first baseman Brian King (.374, 29 RBIs; 5-1, 0.71 ERA in '12), has them continuing to aim high this spring.
"We lost six guys who started pretty regularly,'' said Sherrard coach Sean McCollum, "and we lost a lot of our big bats, guys who hit the doubles and homers.
The graduates included last year's Area Player of the Year for The Dispatch and The Rock Island Argus, Trace Gingerich (.496, 33 RBIs, 41 runs) and fellow standouts Mike Baugh (.506, 43 RBIs), Bryce Frenell (8-2, 1.79 ERA) and Jake Friichtenicht (.413; 5-1, 1.72 ERA),
"But, we also had a lot of guys step up in different spots last year, and I'm pretty happy with the core we've got back,'' said McCollum. "We've got five guys who started almost every game last year, so we've got a lot of good senior leadership. With more than half of our team returning from last year, I think we can still have quite a bit of success.''
The chance at consecutive unbeaten WCC North title runs is another goal that has Sherrard highly motivated.
"That's one of our major goals,'' said McCollum. "We'd love to go two straight years of being unbeaten; the chances of doing that in baseball are slim, with having to line up your top two pitchers for every league game. I do think it'll be like it has been the last three years, a grind out to see who wins. We were fortunate to squeak out some close games last year.''
The other two WCC North clubs who will be joining the Tigers in their exodus to the Three Rivers Conference once the school year ends, Orion and Rockridge, are in the same boat in their respective pursuits of a conference title. Both teams also lost significant firepower to graduation.
A Class 1A regional finalist last season, the Orion Chargers (9-19) are bolstered by the return of senior pitchers Drew Amador, Trent Burns and Tyler Nelson as they look to make a big move up the division ladder after struggling near the bottom in '12.
"We've got three of our top four pitchers back, and the other guys we have back do have a lot of experience,'' said Orion coach Alex Johnson. "Even though the seven seniors (including Kyle Hoffman and his .341 batting average) are tough to replace, we do have a lot of key guys back. If we can have a better approach at the plate, we can compete.''
Last year's tough one-run loss to Lincoln Trail Conference power Annawan-Wethersfield in the regional title game on their home diamond at Love Park is spurring on the Chargers.
"We're definitely motivated by that,'' said Johnson. "The kids took that really hard, and they put in a real good summer and have done very good the first few weeks of practice, although we know the stakes will be higher this year by moving up to 2A.''
Rockridge (17-14) took an even bigger graduation hit, losing pitching standouts Cody Hinson (5-2, 2.48 ERA) and Drew Williams (5-3, 1.95 ERA; .368 BA) along with top hitters Sage Wetteland (.311) and Tyler Whitcomb (.360), who combined to drive in 36 runs.
Even one of the key returners for Coach Glen Cook's Rockets, senior outfielder/pitcher Chase DeKeyrel (.349), has been hampered by a sore arm. For Cook, who sees pitching as the key to the Rockets' success in 2013, that is a cause for concern, although the younger players provide cause for optimism.
"Chase is hurt, and so is (senior infielder) Colton Steele with a broken hand, so we're starting out the year hurting,'' said Cook. "I think we'll hit the ball good, but pitching is going to be our question mark. Right now, a lot of our talent is in our underclass; we've got a good freshman class and our sophomores are pretty good, too. All in all, we're going to be a pretty young team.
"One thing I like about this team is that it's a bunch of baseball players. It's their best and favorite sport. I think by the end of the year, we should be a pretty good team. I really think that.''
At Monmouth-Roseville, former Moline standout Chris Schwarz has also had to deal with early injuries as one of his senior pitchers, Tanner Woods, won't be able to take the mound due to an elbow injury suffered during the Titans' football playoff run this past fall. Junior Dalton Hottle (4-4, 1.26 ERA; .326 with 21 RBIs) is among those looking to pick up the slack.
"Anytime you have your top two pitchers back (Hottle and classmate Dillon Frieden), that's where it starts. We're looking to take a step forward as a program,'' said Schwarz. "We want to improve on last year (a 16-15 finish), and we're looking to take the next step in the conference.''
2013 WEST CENTRAL NORTH BASEBALL CAPSULES
Coach: Chris Schwarz (3rd year).
2012: 16-15 (4-6 WCC North), lost 8-3 to Alleman in the Class 2A Mercer County Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Tanner Woods (2B), Bernardo Marquez (1B/OF), Jake Brooks (OF). Jrs.: Dillon Frieden (SS/P), Dalton Hottle (P/Utility). Soph.: Josh Weber (1B), Cody Mason (C).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Vinny Boaz (IF), Korbin Bethel (IF), Jacob Winebright (OF). Soph.: Clayton Vestal (C), Tyler Temple (OF), Drew Kane (IF), Dylan Ankle (OF), Colton Neal (IF).
Coach: Alex Johnson (2nd year).
2012: 9-19 (1-9 WCC North), lost 9-8 (8 innings) to Annawan-Wethersfield in the Class 1A Orion Regional finals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Drew Amador (SS/P), Tyler Nelson (P/1B), Trent Burns (3B/P), Caleb DeHamer (2B/3B). Jr.: Benny Terronez (C). Soph.: Christian Allen (OF).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Adam Killion (2B). Jrs.: Tyler Bialobreski (OF), Clay Vanderheiden (OF/P), Justin Schultz (IF/P), Colin Lapaczonek (3B), Dakota Ditzman (C/OF). Soph.: Payton Diamond (Utility).
Coach: Glen Cook (4th year; 10 years combined at Rockridge).
2012: 17-14 (6-4 WCC North), lost 7-5 to Sherrard in the Class 2A Mercer County Regional semifinals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Mitch Woeber (C), Chase DeKeyrel (P/OF), Colton Steele (IF), Tanner Gillispie (IF). Jrs.: Nick Madison (1B/P), Alex Martin (P/OF). Soph.: Jake Foy (P/Utility).
Newcomers -- Srs.: Justin House (OF/P), Ben Havemann (OF). Jrs.: Robbie Hofer (IF), Isaiah Kistler (P/OF). Soph.: Ryan Renteria (P/C). Fr.: Tyler Ulfig (IF/P).
Coach: Sean McCollum (4th year).
2012: 30-7 (10-0 WCC North, 1st place), lost 4-2 to Alleman in the Class 2A Mercer County Regional finals.
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Brian King (P/1B), Austin Kelly (3B/P), Johnny Baumunk (2B), Nathan Fay (OF/P), Lucas Zurcher (OF), Tyler Lynch (OF), Eric Arbet (P). Jr.: Austin Hildebrant (C).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Aaron Haskins (SS/P), Broddie Davis (OF/P), Austin Krack (IF), Grant Gingerich (IF), Mitch Smith (SS/P, transfer from Moline), Shaye Mora (OF/P, transfer from Moline). Soph.: Nathan Kelly (C/OF), Ben Swanson (1B/P), Grant Morse (P/IF). Fr.: Blake Lampo (Utility).
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