Posted Online: March 25, 2014, 6:13 pm

Spartans hope for repeat performance in loaded LTC baseball race

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By Terry Duckett, tduckett@qconline.com

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Photo: Todd Welvaert
Ridgewood's Ridge Greenman tries to make the catch on throw during a game last season against Mercer County. Greenman is a candidate to pitch today's Class 1A Champaign Super-Sectional against Argenta-Oreana.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Members of the Mercer County baseball team celebrate as they pile on each other at second base after player Tanner Matlick hits a ground rule double in the 7th inning sending base runner A.J. Line in for the winning score against Orion Saturday May 18, 2013.
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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Annawan-Wethersfield base runner Trey Hannam (5) slides in safe at third base missing the tag by Mercer County's third baseman Ryan Garrett (33) during a stole base attempt in the sixth inning Thursday May 23, 2013.
After enjoying a history-making season in the spring of 2013, the Ridgewood Spartans baseball co-op is ready for an encore performance in 2014.

But in the wake of a 24-7 campaign that included a Lincoln Trail Conference championship and their first Class 1A regional-title trophy, the Spartans also know that the challenge of a repeat performance will be a major test.

"People are going to be gunning for us, which will be a big challenge for the guys,'' said Ridgewood coach Seth Spivey, "but I think they guys are pretty excited for the season. I like the group we have; it's as veteran a group as we've had. We'll play primarily juniors and seniors this year, and this is a comfort level that goes with this group.''

Although Ridgewood does have to replace such graduated standouts as P/3B Nick Ragan and outfielder Dusty Werner, it still returns a plethora of talent, beginning with a senior quintet led by pitcher/infielders Noah Shannon (8-0, 1.31 ERA, 48 strikeouts) and Andrew Steider.

Among the underclassmen, junior P/IF Ridge Greenman and P/OF Nate Humphrey (.380, 28 RBIs; 5-2 with 1.57 ERA) add further depth to the Spartan lineup.

"This will be a typical Ridgewood team,'' said Spivey. "We'll pitch and field well, and if we can score enough runs, we should be all right. We return three of our top four pitchers, and we're pretty solid up the middle.''

As for Ridgewood's chances at an LTC title repeat, Spivey says: "It should be an exciting race. We have to take a different approach mentally; we were the ones chasing people for the last few years.''

Among those teams giving chase to the Spartans will be Mercer County (19-6), which finished second in the LTC and won its first Class 2A regional crown; and perennial conference power Annawan-Wethersfield, coming off a 26-8 season in which it advanced to the 2A sectional finals.

The Golden Eagles do lose some big guns in 3B/P Tanner Matlick and pitcher Darrin Harrison, but are bolstered by a strong senior class led by shortstop Tyson Nylin (.420, 23 RBIs) and first baseman Ryan Garrett (.459, 35 RBIs).

"We've got a lot of guys who've been with me for four years now,'' said Mercer County coach Nick Basala. "They've gained that experience, and now they've got to take over as leaders. I think after last year, the guys are hungry for more. They've been successful in their youth organizations, and they're always striving for more.

"I think the LTC will be a dogfight, with A-W, Ridgewood and ROWVA. Our expectation is to be the best team in the conference, but we have to play our best game to compete with those other teams.

A-W's Titans graduated several standouts, a group led by 2013 Dispatch-Argus Area Player of the Year and outfielder Trey Hannam. Also gone are such key contributors as catcher Kegan Jacobson, P/3B Tyler Litton, P/2B Cody Phillips and first baseman Zach VanWassenhove.

"We lost eight quality seniors who are going to be irreplacable,'' said Annawan-Wethersfield coach Jeff Parsons. "But, we feel like we've still got some pieces. No question, it's going to be a learning process for us, with guys filling those spots. But our senior class, people are doubting them now, so they're out to prove what they can do.''

Among the top returners for the Titans are senior pitching ace Matt Jenkins (9-2, 1.31 ERA, 92 strikeouts). "We expect these guys to put out a good product and be a tough team to beat,'' said Parsons.

Yet another LTC club with strong title aspirations is Galva-Williamsfield, coming off a 15-8 season in which it advanced to the 1A Elite Eight for the first time. However, several key losses to graduation have the Wildcats in retooling mode.

"We're realized this year that we've got to do it in different ways,'' said G-W coach Charlie Sams.

At United, first-year coach Ryan Molek begins the rebuilding process with a team that slipped to 4-12 in the LTC last spring after having won the conference title just a few years before.

"We're up in numbers with 25 guys, which I'm happy about,'' said Molek. "I definitely think we'll play solid defense, we've got six or seven guys who can throw strikes, and we're going to rely on our speed, putting the ball in play.''



2014 LINCOLN TRAIL CONFERENCE BASEBALL CAPSULES

Annawan-Wethersfield Titans
Coach: 
Jeff Parsons (8th year).
2013: 26-8 (14-4 LTC)
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Matt Jenkins (P/1B/OF), Trevor Lay (P/SS), Jake Bennett (P/IF), Dylan Buckley (C/IF). Jr.: Bo VanOpdorp (IF/OF/C).
Newcomers -- Srs.: Gunner Ince (OF), Alex Brunson (OF), J.T. Lewis (OF), Cameron Gilbraith (IF/OF). Jrs.: Braeden Winter (P), Tanner Vershaw (1B), Bailey Jagers (OF). So.: Tucker Nichols (1B/P), Ian Wirth (OF).
Galva-Williamsfield Wildcats
Coach: Charlie Sams (3rd year).
2013: 15-8 (10-6 LTC)
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Parker Wight (P/1B), James Sams (SS/C), David Jeffries (OF), Donovan Benson (DH), Austin Gladfelter (2B). Jrs.: Colin Landis (3B/P), Timmy Lynn (2B), Tyler Jones (OF), Easton Beard (P). So.: Billy Comer (OF/Utility), Garrett Wight (P/Utility).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Hayden Swanson (C). Jr.: Travis King (C). Fr.: Trey Kazubowski (P).
Mercer County Golden Eagles
Coach: Nick Basala (5th year).
2013: 19-6 (15-3 LTC)
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Tyson Nylin (SS), Treyten Hileman (1B/OF), A.J. Line (OF/P), Ryan Garrett (3B/P), Tyson Russell (OF), Trenton Higgins (C). Jrs.: Dalton Howard (P/1B), Blake Dillavou (P/3B). So.: Connor Sharp (P).
Newcomers -- Jrs.: Kale Moreland (OF), Blake Russell (2B), Austin Smith (P/SS), Brenton Stropes (P/1B), Jesse Hanson (1B). So.: Ashton Klingaman (OF), David Brooks (C). Fr.: Jacob Dellitt (2B).
Ridgewood Spartans
Coach: Seth Spivey (5th year with Ridgewood co-op; 9th year overall).
2013: 24-7 (17-1 LTC, 1st place)
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Noah Shannon (P/IF), Blayne Street (C), Cole Colburn (IF), Joe Chiolero (OF), Andrew Steider (P/IF). Jrs.: Ridge Greenman (P/IF), Nate Humphrey (P/OF), Joey Lambin (IF/OF).
Newcomers -- Sr.: Derrick Barth (OF). Jr.: Evan Curry (OF). So.: Garrett Adamson (P/IF). Fr.: Preston Anderson (P/OF).
United Red Storm
Coach: Ryan Molek (1st year).
2013: 7-12 (4-12 LTC)
Returning letterwinners -- Srs.: Lance Sperry (P/1B/3B), Riley Whitsitt (OF/IF/P). Jrs.: Jack Whitsitt (OF/P), Austin Marshall (SS/P), Dalton Frieden (1B/3B/P), Austin Rutledge (OF).
Newcomers -- So.: Eli Olin (2B/OF). Fr.: Kal Youngquist (C/P).