Times Sports Editor
The Clay City Eels have designs on breaking a 14-year sectional title drought this season as the squad returns a pair of all-conference players and six starters from a squad that reached the championship game last year. Clay City knocked off host Shakamak last year before falling to eventual state runner-up North Central (Farmersburg).
With the Thunderbirds bumping up to Class 2A this season, Eminence moves into the Shakamak Sectional along with Union (Dugger), White River Valley and the host Lakers.
Four seniors return to lead the team as pitcher/third baseman Brylan Jones and pitcher/left fielder Kole Smith are looking to repeat as all-conference athletes. Classmates include shortstop Ben Denker and catcher Zach Boggs.
Jones was the team's leading pitcher last season, compiling a 9-1 overall record. He also topped the squad in strikeouts and had an ERA close to 2.50.
Coach Vance Edmondson feels that his team is going to have added pitching depth this season, which should be key to the team's success.
"Last year we were kind of searching for some guys to go to after Brylan (Jones). We've done some offseason work and we feel like we have three or four guys that we can go to for that No. 2 or No. 3 spot and some spot innings here or there," Edmondson said of his pitching depth.
A couple of newcomers to the team should also be important as freshman Seth Barrett will see time on the mound as well as at third base or shortstop depending on who is pitching on a given day.
"Seth Barrett is going to come in and give us some quality innings. Ben Denker will also see some pitching time," Edmondson said. "Kole Smith can also give us some innings and we might even throw Blake Cesinger in there some. He's got a nasty little knuckle ball when the wind is blowing pretty good. We feel more comfortable depth-wise at the pitching spot."
Power numbers are expected to be down this season as the IHSAA has adopted bat rules that mirror the NCAA, which outlaw composite bats. The new Batted Coefficient of Restitution (BBCOR) standards have been implemented to make non-wood bats more comparable to wood bats. Accordingly, Edmondson believes his team is going to be putting an emphasis on station-to-station baseball.
"We've just got to manufacture runs. The long ball has kind of been taken away with the BBCOR bats. Not that we were a big home run hitting team last year, but you always had that capability with (Tyler) Bridgewater in there," Edmondson said. "This year I think we have to use the team speed that we have to manufacture some runs and have (the top of the lineup) set the table to get some key hits down the line."
Cesinger is one of three juniors expected to get regular time and should start in centerfield with Colton Harbour returning at first base and Mason Persinger in rightfield.
Three freshmen got the start during a pair of close weekend losses at the Barr-Reeve Invitational. Trevor Smith will start at second base with Easton Booe playing a utility role at first base and catcher. Barrett and potentially Logan Cesinger could also see some time as well.
With pitching taking a step forward this year, Edmondson feels the key to his team will be how the offense and defense can perform.
"The key for us this season is going to be hitting and defense. After this weekend I feel pretty good about our hitting," Edmondson said. "We put the ball in play. I think we're just going to get better as the year goes on.
"The guys really enjoy being here and they work well together. Fundamentally they are solid. They know what to do with the ball when it is hit to them situation-wise," Edmondson added. "That is just because they have played a lot of baseball. The coaching staff put in a lot of hard work with them during the off season getting them ready. They listen and they come in every day focused and ready to play."
2012 Clay City varsity baseball schedule
|Sat. March 31||at Barr-Reeve||10 a.m.|
|Tue. April 3||at Northview||5 p.m.|
|Sat. April 7||at Sullivan||10 a.m.|
|Mon. April 9||vs. N. Daviess||4:30 p.m.|
|Tue. April 10||at N. Central||4:30 p.m.|
|Thur. April 12||at WRV||4:30 p.m.|
|Mon. April 16||vs. Eastern||4:30 p.m.|
|Thur. April 19||at Linton||4:30 p.m.|
|Sat. April 21||vs. Turkey Run||11 a.m.|
|Mon. April 23||at Vincennes Rivet||5 p.m.|
|Tue. April 24||vs. Bloomfield||4:30 p.m.|
|Thur. April 26||at Rockville||4:30 p.m.|
|Fri. April 27||at Eminence||4:45 p.m.|
|Mon. April 30||vs. Shakamak||5 p.m.|
|Thur. May 3||at Union||4:30 p.m.|
|Mon. May 7||vs. Riverton Parke||4:30 p.m.|
|Tue. May 8||vs. Cloverdale||(@ ISU)||4:30 p.m.|
|Thur. May 10||vs. West Vigo||5 p.m.|
|Tue. May 15||vs. Owen Valley||4:30 p.m.|
|Thur. May 17||at Wash. Catholic||5 p.m.|
|Tue. May 22||vs. South Putnam||4:30 p.m.|