By CHIP CIRILLO
Summit hopes to make another deep run after finishing one win short of the state tournament last season.
The Spartans lost to Beech 7-1 in a Class AAA Sectional after sweeping the Region 5-AAA and District 11-AAA titles with shutout victories.
Summit made it to state the previous year.
Junior pitcher Chris McElvain, a Vanderbilt commit, will lead the way.
LSU, Clemson and Tennessee have shown interest in Spartans sophomore pitcher Blake Money.
“We expect 11-AAA to be another competitive season,” Summit coach Chad Kirby said. “Each night throughout the season there will be several D-I caliber players on both teams.”
Kirby is 132-80 in seven seasons at Summit.
Other top returnees include Trevecca signee Davis Jackson (pitcher-shortstop), outfielder Reid Petersen and outfielder Nick Johnson.
Pitching figures to be the main strength for the Spartans, who went 25-12 in 2017.
Independence returns eight starters from last year’s 28-9 team that saw its season end with a 12-0 loss to Summit in the District 11-AAA championship.
Pitcher Robert Hassel, a Vanderbilt commit, is the main headliner after going 5-1 with a 1.30 ERA and 67 strikeouts last year. The outfielder also hit .407 with 29 RBI.
“It can be another good year if the team stays focused and does the little things to win,” said coach Mike McLaury, who went 66-67 in his first four seasons at Independence.
Other top returnees include third baseman Caleb Reed (.302, 18 RBI), center fielder Dillan Saunders (.371, 23 stolen bases), shortstop Sam Molnar (.295, 21 RBI), second baseman Shawn Wallwork (.455, 28 RBI), first baseman Noah Haynie (.309, 18 RBI), pitcher Chayton Gray (2.20 ERA), pitcher Taylor Massey (2.05 ERA, 7 saves), pitcher Ethan Small (5-2, 2.10 ERA) and catcher Beaux Escobar (18 RBI).
Sophomore outfielder Brian Pierce is likely to be one of the top newcomers. Pitching depth is a concern.
Inexperienced Centennial will try to improve on last year’s fourth-place finish in District 11- AAA.
Pitcher/infielder Brad Mills (3-3, .295), outfielder Brady Weihe (.275) and Bryan College commit Rives Marshall (.295) form the nucleus for the Cougars, who went 15-16 in 2017.
Newcomers Bryson Sweeny (infield/pitcher), Solomon Washington (infield/pitcher), Jack Woods (catcher) and
Alec Beaman (infield/pitcher) should give the Cougars a lift.
Centennial is expected to be strong defensively even though the Cougars lack varsity experience.
“I am looking forward to this season because this will all be a new bunch of kids,” said coach Rob Baughman, in his 15th year with Centennial. “For the past few years, we have had a lot of kids play for three years or more. This year we really don’t have that. My hopes are that we improve consistently through the season and be a factor when the tournament rolls around.”
Franklin is long on pitching and short on experience as it tries to improve upon last year’s 13-18 record.
Trey Breetz (2-3, 4.3 ERA, 35 strikeouts in 38 innings) and Alex Disney (3-1, 3.25 ERA) anchor the Rebels’ pitching staff.
Other top returnees include catcher Gavin Pulliam (19 RBI, Ohio Wesleyan commit), third baseman Luke Giles and first baseman Alex Ray.
“We will have a lot of new faces in our lineup that have potential to be very good, but they will have to really help out our pitchers by playing good defense and coming up with timely hitting when we get guys on,” Rebels coach Jon Whipple said. “I’m very excited about the potential we have, but we need that potential to come through. The offense has a chance to be solid if we can start to get things clicking once we hit our stride.”
Page brings a veteran team into its first season in District 11-AAA.
Purdue signee Blake Schmitt (catcher/third baseman), Trevecca signee Ben Pickman, Roan State signee Nick Spardone, left-handed pitcher Tristan Carson and first baseman Christian Tidmore should lead the way for the Patriots.
Sophomore utility man Cade Walker is expected to make his presence known for Page, coming off a 12-21 season.
“We return 13 seniors, seven or eight of which were everyday players last year,” Patriots coach Kenny Roeten said. “This group has been playing together for a long time and work well as a unit. We have a ton of talented ballplayers with three already committed to play college and a handful of others still getting college looks. We have depth and experience on the mound and in the field.”
Roeten, in his third year at Page, went 30-35 his first two years with the Patriots.
Offense is his chief concern entering the season.
“We need to hit the ball better,” Roeten said. “In the past couple of years, we have lived on pitching and defense with an anemic offense. Combine this with our moving into District 11-AAA and scoring runs will be challenging.”
Roeten knows things will be difficult in the new district.
“I expect to see the best competition in the state every single game in district play and I expect my guys will compete every single pitch and concede nothing,” Roeten said.
BATTLE GROUND ACADEMY
After turning a rebuilding year into a sub-state appearance last spring, the BGA Wildcats return a strong corps of players in 2018.
Seniors Tyler Sills (pitcher/middle infielder) and Matthew Ligon (second baseman) and juniors Wyatt Greenewalt (first baseman) and Teddy Holloway (catcher) are expected to lead the charge for a Wildcats team that finished last season with a 16-16-1 record and a Division II-A East/Middle Region title.
“While many felt that last year would be a rebuilding year after having graduated seven of nine starters, the guys came together and were able to play well in the post season and win a region championship,” BGA head coach Jonny Hackett said. “This proved to the guys that they can have success and it gave them incentive to work even that much harder this off-season.”
Sophomore outfielder/pitcher Aidan McLay and sophomore Mitch Petzelt (catcher/third baseman/pitcher) are newcomers expected to make an impact.
Hackett said while this year’s squad possesses strong team chemistry and work ethic, it still has some holes left by graduated players.
“While we have some gaps to fill, I am optimistic about the season,” he stated. “Our guys have worked extremely hard in the off season and I am excited about what we can accomplish as a team in 2018.”
GRACE CHRISTIAN ACADEMY
Grace Christian Academy looks to build on its 20-13 record from a year ago.
The Lions welcome back pitchers Zac White and Austin Kasick, catcher Carson Ford and infielders Baylor Jones and Kitch Cash.
Kasick is verbally committed to Tennessee, while Ford is being recruited by a handful of college programs.
Grant Solomon and Blake Barton are also expected to make an impact for the Lions.