After a disappointing 5-12 season in 2005, Clay City High School's baseball Eels have gone back to the drawing board.
Gone is last year's senior foursome of Brock Dyer, Klay Knox, Derek Miller and Ben Harris, reliable hurlers who combined to pitch 423 innings for the Eels over their careers. Dustin Griffith, a key contributor for Clay City as a junior in '05, opted not to come out for his senior season. Head Coach Mike Owens has also departed, replaced by rookie skipper Ryan Swearingen.
With underclassmen accounting for more than three-fourths of their roster, the new-look Eels may be a little wet behind the ears. On the other hand, Swearingen said, the influx of new players gives the '06 squad more depth than last year's team.
"We'll definitely be a young team, but at the same time we've got some very talented freshmen and sophomores that can step in," Swearingen said.
That doesn't mean the coach doesn't value experience-- especially where his pitching staff is concerned. He said he expects juniors Andre Hayes, Tim Shaw and Austin Vansickle to assume the lion's share of pitching duties.
"We hope to get a lot of production from our juniors," Swearingen said. "It's open season from there. That's what we're really looking for: a fourth pitcher to round that out."
The Clay City roster is equally wide open on the offensive side, though Swearingen knows of at least one bat he can rely on: Hayes, a line-drive hitter who compensates for his deficient speed with blistering consistency.
"I probably trust him most at the plate to get a base hit," Swearingen said.
Even with several established players, the'06 Eels are an unknown quantity, even to their coach. But with low expectations and a glut of new talent to work with, Swearingen said his team could surprise a lot of people-- themselves included.
"I see a lot of potential," he said. "We're just trying to put that last piece in the puzzle."