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County baseball teams relying on durable pitching


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Rich with pitching talent, Johnson County high school varsity baseball coaches, generally speaking, hope their bats come through with enough run support to help the arms translate into wins.

“If we can pitch well and get guys out, we’re going to be in games, and that’s all I can ask for — that we have a chance to win at the end of the day,” said Indian Creek baseball coach Adam Blackburn, echoing the sentiments of other Johnson County coaches.

Meanwhile, Franklin returns six regular contributors from last year’s team that won county, Mid-State Conference and sectional crowns. Center Grove will look to defend its Metropolitan Conference titles, while Greenwood, Indian Creek and Edinburgh, all of which contended for conference crowns last year, hope to take the next step.

“Johnson County baseball is very healthy and very competitive,” Grizzly Cubs’ coach Ryan Feyerabend said. “You can’t take any nights off.”

Here’s a look at this year’s county teams.

Center Grove

A new era begins in one way for the Trojans’ program, as coach Keith Hatfield takes over for longtime mentor Dave Gandolph, who retired from his teaching position at Center Grove last year and will coach at Scecina this year.

Despite that, Center Grove hopes to continue its recent impressive run in MIC play. The Trojans will aim for their third straight league championship this season.

“We have four pitchers who can throw more than one pitch for a strike,” said Hatfield, who coached at Roncalli before taking the Center Grove job. “We had seven guys run under seven seconds in a 60-yard dash, so we have some speed. I think we’re going to hit, but last year’s lineup lost a lot.”

Hatfield and the Trojans will count on senior Jay Prior, a fourth-year varsity player and third-year starter, to lead the pitching rotation, along with fellow senior Zeke Howie, who also ranked second on last year’s squad in batting average. Juniors Josh Hart and Austin Shelton, along with sophomore Joey Drury, also figure to log innings this season.

Senior Patrick Norris (outfield) and juniors Nathaniel Coy (catcher) and Devon Hensley (outfield) will likely be fixtures in the lineup, Hatfield said.

“We’ve talked about three-peating in the MIC,” Hatfield said of the Trojans, who finished 16-9 overall and 11-3 in conference play last year. “Most of these guys have experienced at least one of those (titles). It’s a very talented group that is pretty far away from its potential right now, but if they get there, we could be a solid team to deal with in the (state) tournament.”

The Trojans open the season April 8 at new MIC rival Lawrence Central.

Edinburgh

With more players on the roster and more games for those players to play, Lancers coach Cole Zook hopes to see Edinburgh improve upon last year’s 8-8 record and challenge again for a Mid-Hoosier Conference championship.

“We have 28 guys in the program this year, which is a lot more than in the past, so we’re going to have a lot of competition for spots,” Zook said. “Defensively, we’ll be pretty solid, but a lot of our guys haven’t seen live varsity arms. Hopefully as we see more of them, our hitting starts to come around.”

The Lancers feature just one senior, outfielder Dakota Dayton, who Zook said could pitch as well. Junior Kevin Johnson will lead the pitching staff, while sophomores Kinser Bryant and Connor Goddard and freshmen Kyle Armel, Camron Craves and Camron Moore could pitch some as well, according to Zook.

Junior center fielder Elliott Parmer and his .300-plus batting average return from last year’s lineup, and Zook said juniors Eric Cravens (infield), Blake Fisher (catcher) and Doug Scrogham (outfield) will all compete for starting spots.

“I wouldn’t say we have an overpowering pitcher, but they’re all unique in their arm angles and velocity,” Zook said. “We haven’t won a conference championship in a long time, but we’ve been right there the last couple of years, so that’s always a goal.”

The Lancers open their season Tuesday (April 1) at home against T.C. Howe.

Franklin

The Grizzly Cubs won county, conference and sectional championship in the same season for the first time last year. Feyerabend, the Cubs’ first-year head coach, believes they return enough talent from that squad to at least challenge for all three titles again.

“With the county as healthy as it is in baseball, we’ve got our work cut out for us,” Feyerabend said of the Cubs, who went 18-7 overall and 9-3 in Mid-State play. “I’m very confident we have an opportunity to do exactly what we did last year.”

Franklin returns seniors Jacob Baldridge (shortstop), Ross Barr (third base), Cody Fowler (first base) and Dillon Christie (designated hitter). Junior pitcher Evan Giles, an Indiana State recruit, will also play some outfield, while fellow junior Ryan Torrance (outfield) also returns. Feyerabend said sophomore Andrew Hartkorn, who also played varsity last year, might log some innings this season as well.

The Cubs add several newcomers to the varsity mix this year, including seniors Brandon Reel (outfield), David Stier (infield) and Victor Brown (pitcher); junior pitchers Kyle Thompson and Tristan Hensley and sophomores Zach Lee (catcher), Dylan Drybread (infield) and Austin Frankl (pitcher).

Despite the Cubs’ success last season, Feyerabend views their strengths and weaknesses similar to the other county schools.

“It seems like the last three years, every ballgame we’ve played has been a one-run game,” said Feyerabend, who was an assistant coach for three seasons at Franklin before taking the head-coaching job. “Our biggest area of (needed) improvement is that we weren’t consistent with our hitting. We might have relied on our pitching too much. That’s what we’ve tried to really drive home.”

Franklin opens its season April 3 against Greenwood, Ky.

Greenwood

“We’re going to be inexperienced, but a lot of those kids would have been playing varsity last year were it not for the seniors we had,” Bass said. “Once they get their feet wet and lose the jitters, they’ll be all right.”

Greenwood returns a pair of experienced seniors in Mitch Caster (starting pitcher/shortstop) and Marty Underwood, who figures to play second base, outfield and pitch this year, according to Bass. Juniors Tanner Skeel (catcher, first base, pitcher), Sam Orem (third base, pitcher) and Brayton Buchanan (catcher) along with sophomore Lucas Marko (catcher), also will see significant playing time.

“We lost pretty much our whole offense,” Bass said. “Although we lost our two biggest arms from last year, we’ve got quality pitching coming back. We’ve got some defensive ability, but early in the season, pitching’s going to be huge. I don’t think we’re going to win a lot of shootouts.”

The Woodmen open their season April 8 at Mid-State rival Mooresville, and Bass believes they will sneak up on some teams throughout the campaign.

“I kind of like the underdog role we’ll be in,” he said. “We talked about that the other day. It’s time for these seniors who have been stuck in the shadows to go out there and shock some people.”

Indian Creek

The Braves represent the opposite end of the experience spectrum from Greenwood. Indian Creek boasts 10 seniors, all with varsity experience, leaving Blackburn confident the Braves can improve upon last year’s 13-10 overall record and 7-1 Mid-Hoosier Conference mark, which was good for second place.

“Everybody has varsity experience, so that puts us ahead of a lot of people,” Blackburn said. “This is my second year as head coach, and it’s amazing how much the boys retained over the course of the year. Last year, we started from step one. This year, we’re starting from step five.”

Blackburn lists seniors Brenden Smith (pitcher-shortstop) and Hunter Abrams, a transfer from Martinsville, as the Braves’ top two players. Abrams will pitch, catch and play third base and shortstop, while Smith will be their ace pitcher and bring a .400-plus batting average from last season to the lineup.

Senior center fielder Ryan Decker will bat near the top of the lineup and occasionally pitch as well, Blackburn said.

“Our biggest strength is our pitching,” Blackburn said. “We’ve got three or four really good hitters, but we’re going to have to play some small ball with the lower half of our lineup.”

Indian Creek opens its season April 4 at Bowling Green, Ky.

“We’re definitely well ahead of where we were at this point last year,” Blackburn said. “Within Johnson County, we want to put Indian Creek baseball on the map. We don’t want people to be glad they drew Indian Creek.”

Whiteland

Warriors coach Scott Sherry believes increased numbers in the program and on-field experience will lead to improved results this season.

“We bring back five or six guys who played a lot of innings, and we return a couple of our better pitchers,” Sherry said. “We have a little more depth than we’ve had in the past. One injury could really affect our roster in the past.”

Sherry said five seniors would play big roles on this year’s squad, including Jackson Tinkle (left field, third base), Jared Adkins (pitcher, outfield), Codey Stewart (pitcher, first base), Wyatt Chitwood (catcher) and Austin Fields (outfield). He expects juniors Austin Browning (first base, catcher), Dillon Dickens (outfield) and Branton Sanders (shortstop) to also log significant playing time.

Junior Chris Piper (outfield) and sophomores Christian Curry (pitcher-third base) and Caleb Deiter (infield-pitcher) will also be key contributors, Sherry said. The Warriors open their season April 5 at the Ben Davis Invitational against the host Giants.

“We have good numbers in our freshman class, and the development of some of our returning guys should help,” Sherry said.

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