Top: Northview senior Graig Bass will be counted on to provide pop to the Knights' lineup.
Bottom left: Senior pitcher Nick Wells is Northview's No. 1 starting pitcher this season.
Bottom right: Northview senior shortstop Jesse Johnson will be a defensive stalwart for the Knights this season.
What a difference a year makes.
Just a season ago, the Northview baseball team was fully stocked and loaded with experience at nearly every position, returning varsity experience across the board.
The results on the field followed as the Knights drilled team after team on their way to a sectional and regional championship and a 26-4 record.
Fast forward to this season and Northview has plenty of talent, but not a lot of varsity tested experience taking the field for tonight's season opener at South Knox.
"This year's a lot more wide open," admitted coach Gary Witham who brings a 535-240-1 career coaching mark into this season. "Last year we basically had the same team on the field for two years, but these kids played behind a talented group and they are ready for their time in the sun."
The only returning regulars are shortstop Jesse Johnson, who hit .300 in 80 at-bats with 19 RBIs. Graig Bass will provide the most established power threat for the Knights. He ripped opponents for a .432 average and slugged .753 with five home runs and 15 doubles while driving in 29 runs.
"We expect Jesse to do a great job at shortstop for us," commented Johnson. "We'll have to experiment some and see where everyone fits."
While the Knights were able to outscore a lot of opponents last year, averaging over nine runs per contest, this year the Knights will have to rely more on station-to-station baseball.
"We're going to play in a lot of closer games this year," noted Witham. "We'll have to play some small ball and learn to adapt. As long as our hitters are patient, I think you'll see some of our younger kids step up."
The Knights have a pool of talent to draw from, including a 'B' team that went 18-2 last season.
The top bats from that team will need to produce at the varsity level this season for the Knights to approach their goal of 20 wins this year.
That's where the Northview summer baseball program comes to play a major role in development.
Chase Yocom, John Adam Reberger, Austin Bryan and Sean Brackney were several of the top hitters from the 'B' squad and tested their bats against some varsity pitching during the summer.
Yocom hit .328 over the summer and led the squad in stolen bases with 13. Bryan contributed a .348 average and slugged .545 with 20 RBIs and 10 extra base hits. Brackney chipped in with a .317 average and 28 total bases. "Obviously we're going to depend on Bass and Johnson," said Witham. "But we're expecting Bryan, Reberger and Brackney to step up and hit. We need those seniors to step up and hit for us."
Though there are plenty of question marks about how the Northview offense will sort out. The biggest key to success this year will likely be how the pitching staff shakes out behind No. 1 starter Nick Wells.
"Nick has been throwing well early on," Witham said of his 6'9 starter. "But the rest of the pitching is still a little unsettled. Curtis Peters could be our No. 2 and (Jesse) Johnson has threw pretty well in our scrimmage. J.J. Smerdel, Sean Brackney and (John Adam) Reberger threw some as well."
Johnson had a 1.27 ERA in three games during the summer and struck out eight over 11 innings.
"We've seen some definite improvement in our younger guys," noted Witham.
Defense and pitching will certainly be a central point for Northview's development and by extension, their success this year. A good indicator might be how the summer squad finished last year.
Though the squad finished just 12-11 overall against a solid slate that included Brownsburg (4A state champs), Lawrence North (sectional finalist), Bloomington North (sectional finalist) and New Palestine (sectional finalist), the Knights advanced to the championship game of the Continental Amateur Baseball Association Tourney to end the summer.
"I think we can still win 20 games this year (despite the inexperience)," said Witham. "It partially depends on how tough everyone else this. I still think West Vigo will be tough in our conference and Edgewood too, but I think we'll be fine."
The Knights will begin their season tonight at 6 p.m. with the first pitch against the Spartans.