Touted Raider youngsters validate their potential

By JOE JASINSKI
Herald Sports Writer

HUNTINGBURG — For the seventh time this season, the Southridge baseball team run-ruled an opponent, curtailing its Wednesday melee with Pocket Athletic Conference foe Tecumseh to five innings.

Perez


After a six-run first inning that chased the Braves’ starting pitcher from the game before he could record three outs, and a third inning in which the Raiders batted around for a second time in the game en route to seven more runs, Southridge closed the door on the Braves at League Stadium in Huntingburg.

A seemingly conventional 13-0 thwarting.

The Raiders are fueled, no doubt. But in taking a closer look at the squad’s anatomy, youth becomes the thematic fiber.

Similar to what he’s done the majority of the season, Raider coach Brad Wibbeler penciled six sophomores into the starting lineup against Tecumseh. At some points this year, he’s selected as many as seven. The nine listed on the team’s roster make it the group’s most sizable class, one fewer than its juniors and seniors combined.

With a class crop as adept as these sophomores, many of whom were instrumental components of last year’s 19-3 junior varsity squad, Wibbeler knew it was a matter of when, not if, they would etch their marks on this team.

Brewer


“We saw it coming,” Wibbeler said of the class’ impact. “I don’t want to say we knew they would be this good, but you see the talent and you hope it develops. There are still a lot of things that they have to learn, and the only way they’re going to get that is from game experience. And it’s not like we’re just sticking them in there for no reason. They’ve earned their playing time and they’ve earned the right to be there, and tonight’s game proves it, too.”

Of the baker’s dozen that crossed the plate for the Raiders (11-7, 5-2), 10 were sophomores. Of their 12 hits, nine came from sophomores’ bats. Seven of their 10 RBIs? OK, point taken.

“A lot of us knew we’d have a shot at playing,” said Guadalupe Perez, who logged a pair of singles, scored twice and drove in a run. “Just give it all we’ve got for this year and see what happens.”

So far, so good. But just how good had to have come as a bit of a surprise, right?

Not exactly, Perez said with a sheepish grin.

“We’re a pretty talented group.”

And driven, Wibbeler added. The class reached the Little League state championship three consecutive years, winning the title the second year as 11-year-olds. Their desire for success hasn’t waned.

“They’ve got the team aspect where they’ve got high expectations for themselves and they’ve got high expectations for their teammates and us together as a team, too,” Wibbeler said. “And they’ve kind of gained that through their past experiences.”

The list of faces is bountiful, each accepting substantial roles on a team that had eight seniors graduate last year.

Connor Craig (RBI double), Southridge’s typical leadoff hitter and shortstop, is “that guy that everybody kind of turns to and tries to feed off,” Wibbeler said. The outfield duo of Luke Stetter (2-for-3, two RBIs, two runs scored) and Dillion Ramsey (2-for-3, two runs scored) provide highlight-reel material running down assumed extra-base hits, while Stetter has become a threat on the mound as well. Cleanup hitter Jacob Brewer (two RBIs, two runs scored) furnishes a “good, solid stick in the lineup,” his coach remarked, while continuing to sharpen an astute baseball brain. Perez acts as another threat on the basepaths, and despite a bit of streakiness, “when he makes contact and hits the ball, it’s usually in a big situation,” his coach said.

The other sophomore starter for Southridge on Wednesday was catcher Brett Nordhoff, whose work behind the plate typifies exactly what’s permitted the team to realize success this season. It’s being done together.

Nordhoff, in his first year as Southridge’s full-time catcher, has an uncanny ability to handle the pitching staff, Wibbeler said. If a hurler is struggling and needs poise and calm, Nordhoff provides it. A pitcher’s energy seems diminished, Nordhoff fires him up.

Therein lies the key. Upperclassmen toeing the rubber — whether it be Chad O’Bryan (4-1) or Cody Moesner (4-0), who fired four shutout innings Wednesday — listen to the younger catcher, which isn’t always easy with seniority.

As Brewer acknowledged, the senior support hasn’t surprised him at all. The binding thread? The desire for success.

“Actually, it was exactly what I expected,” Brewer said of the upperclassman backing. “They’re doing what it takes to win. And it’s paid off.”

“We have a good senior group, and I knew that they were going to support us whenever,” Perez added. “I just knew that they were going to be there for us.”

Wibbeler can think of two other classes during his 11-year coaching tenure that compare to this brigade of sophomores: the Class of 2002, which heralded David Marcum, Kyle and Brandon Frick and Jesse Hall, and the Class of 2007, which blazoned the likes of Brian Buening, Andy Holzbog, Cody Sanders, Mark Riehle, Matt Grass, Phil Sollman, Brad Seger and Robert Meiring.

Wibbeler rifles off the names with ease, evincing the impact of such collections of talent.

“There have been a couple that compare and come close,” he said in comparing past and present, “but this is one of the best.”

And just like the upperclassmen, the sophomores are hungry for success. And soon.

“We know what we can accomplish, but we know we have to work,” Brewer said. “So we’re willing to work as hard as we can to get the job done here, later in the season and in the playoffs.”

Contact Joe Jasinski at jjasinski@dcherald.com.




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