Several baseball teams armed with leadership

Heather Rousseau/The Herald
Southridge’s Jacob Brewer celebrated a run with Dillion Ramsey, left, during a 12-0 rout of Washington in the sectional championship last June. Brewer was the winning pitcher in a sectional semifinal triumph over Jasper and is part of a strong 1-2 punch of returning left-handed pitchers for the Raiders along with senior classmate Luke Stetter.

Herald Sports Writer

Scouting this year’s local baseball teams:


Jasper Wildcats

Last season
Finished 24-7 overall and 6-0 in Big Eight Conference; lost to Southridge 4-1 in sectional semifinals.
Returning players
Austin Alles, Sr. (first base/third base/catcher)
Tyler Begle, Sr. (shortstop)
Tyler Haskins, Sr. (center field)
Cody Jacob, Sr. (outfield)
Zach Keusch, Sr. (infield)
Gavin Lorey, Sr. (catcher)
Ben Moore, Sr. (outfield/pitcher)
Brandon Bayer, Jr. (pitcher/infield)
Tate Blessinger, Jr. (catcher/outfield)
Cal Krueger, Jr. (pitcher/infield)
Craig Shepherd, Jr. (second base/pitcher)
Evan Aders, Soph. (outfield/first base)
Grant Theil, Jr. (outfield)
Logan Mathies, Jr. (pitcher/first base)
Notable: Don’t tell Terry Gobert how good his team is.
In his 28th year in the Jasper pinstripes, the coach has learned a few things. Namely, past success, and even failures, don’t mean squat once the new season rolls around. So even while returning a team that graduated just four seniors, boasts four players with at least three years of starting experience and a pitcher committed to a Division I university, Gobert can say with all seriousness “there’s so much to work on it’s ridiculous.”
Priority No. 1 is determining not necessarily who will play, but where they will play. Several Wildcats can shuffle around multiple positions, including on the mound, where Krueger (3-4, 2.24 ERA), who has committed to play at Indiana University, heads the pitching staff along with Shepherd (7-2, 1.70 ERA), Moore (5-0, 2.50 ERA) and Bayer (4-1, 0.75 ERA).
All four of those guys can double as position players when they’re not pitching. Pitchers splitting time isn’t an ideal situation as “it’s hard to warm a guy up if he’s out there on the field,” Gobert said, but when players like Shepherd (team-high .416 batting average last season) and Moore (.350, 28 RBIs, 13 doubles) are so productive elsewhere, it’s hard to limit anyone.
Other guarantees are that  four-year starter Alles (.372, 25 RBIs), Begle (.368), Haskins (.364) and Aders (.354, 22 RBIs, three home runs) will boost the lineup with experience. Blessinger is positioned to become the primary catcher after seeing some time there last season, and Lorey could fill in as well and Alles might even see some time behind the plate, too.
As Gobert explained, on paper, it’s a team primed with enough experience and talent to shake off last season’s sectional exit to Southridge.
Quotable: “The biggest thing we’ve got to do is just have leadership,” Gobert said. “Just because you return a lot of guys and you look better on paper doesn’t mean you’re going to be a good team, and last year’s seniors did a good job of leading and this year’s guys are going to have to find a role and embrace it, but you’ve got to be really hungry. Just because you return doesn’t mean you’re any good. ... We’re looking for people in that third, fourth year to find that role and step up and lead by example.”

Herald File Photo
Tyler Haskins returns in center field for a Jasper squad that won 24 games last season before falling to Southridge in the sectional semifinals. The Cats have won 20 or more games in 10 straight seasons.

Southridge Raiders

Last year
Finished 20-5 overall and 7-1 in Pocket Athletic Conference to tie for league title; won program’s third sectional title before falling 2-1 to Silver Creek in the first round of the regional.
Returning players
Jacob Brewer, Sr. (pitcher/first base)
Connor Craig, Sr. (shortstop)
Neil Messmer, Sr. (pitcher/infield)
Jeremiah Mundy, Sr. (outfield)
Brett Nordhoff, Sr. (catcher)
Guadalupe Perez, Sr. (outfield/pitcher)
Dillion Ramsey, Sr. (outfield)
Andrew Recker, Sr. (second base)
Luke Stetter, Sr. (pitcher/center field)
Payton Mattingly, Jr. (pitcher/third base)
Chad Meyer, Jr. (infield)
Matthew Tretter, Jr. (outfield)
Nolan O’Brien, Soph. (outfield)
Coleman Gerber, Jr. (designated hitter)
Gaage Fetter, Jr. (pitcher)
Brandon Oxley, Jr. (second base)
Notable: After last year’s Raiders captured the program’s first sectional title in 32 years, the question for the 2015 Raiders is can they assemble a sectional streak of two years?
After that, Raider coach Dave Schank has mostly answers. Southridge graduated just three seniors and returns the core of last season’s championship squad, including the left-handed pitching combo of Brewer and Stetter. After posting a 0.74 ERA with 65 strikeouts in 47 innings last year, Brewer committed to play for West Virginia University in November and returns to practice “bigger and better” by Schank’s estimation. Stetter (4-1, 1.47 ERA) follows close behind while Mattingly (3-0, 1.03 ERA) will serve as the team’s No. 3 starter. Messmer, besides serving in the infield and likely starting the season at shortstop as Craig finalizes his return from a torn ACL during football season, will also join the mound to “gobble up a lot of innings,” Schank said, and Perez and Fetter will contribute to a group of pitchers that “we can throw out there at any given time and feel pretty good about,” Schank said.
Hitting won’t be much of a question mark either. Mattingly (.397) returns as the top batter for a team that hit .328 collectively. Craig, who Schank said “at 90 percent, he’s still the best shortstop I’ve seen in a while,” batted .382 and Stetter (.362), Brewer (.364), Ramsey (.364), Recker (.333) and Mundy (.323) all boast averages above .320.
The only question on Schank’s mind is can the Raiders maintain their offensive production against local aces like Cal Krueger from Jasper and Tyler Ward from Heritage Hills? That, and is one sectional championship enough for a gifted group?
Quotable: “Are they satisfied? Do they do everything they hoped they would do? Is that good enough? That’s the question I’ll be asking them throughout the year. ‘Do they want it as bad this year as last year?’” Schank said. “It’s all up to them. They’ve got all the talent in the world.”

Herald File Photo
Ben Wendholt is the top returning pitcher for Forest Park, which graduated eight seniors but returns five players with varsity experience.

Forest Park Rangers

Last year
Finished 8-13 overall and 2-6 in PAC; lost to South Spencer 9-2 in sectional opener.
Returning players
Damon Wilmes, Sr. (shortstop/second base/pitcher)
Jaxon Cronin, Jr. (third base/pitcher)
Eli Knust, Jr. (catcher)
David Lusk, Jr. (utility/pitcher)
Ben Wendholt, Jr. (pitcher/shortstop)
Bailey Hoffman, Sr. (outfield)
Zach Brosmer, Jr. (outfield/pitcher)
Noah Lindeman, Jr.. (infield)
Aaron Meyer, Jr. (utility)
Andy Schlachter, Jr. (centerfield)
Trever Zink, Fr. (utility/pitcher)
Notable: As far as last season goes, Forest Park is hoping an underwhelming campaign was just a small drop in what’s been a large, successful bucket.
It’s been mostly wins for Ranger coach Jared Howard who has a career .683 winning percentage during his 14-year stint with Forest Park. With all that success, “you don’t go changing things that have worked over the long haul. … We just try to get after it in practice,” Howard said.
These first few weeks will go a long way to determine the makeup of a team that graduated eight seniors from last season. Defensively, Wendholt and Wilmes will hold down the middle infield, Cronin will return at third base and Knust, the highest returning hitter from last season at .375, will reprise his role as catcher after subbing occasionally behind the plate last season. After that, Howard doesn’t necessarily care where his players are positioned, just as long as they can hit or provide some pitching relief.
Howard expects Wendholt (3-4, 2.31 ERA) to serve as his top hurler, with Wilmes, Brosmer, Lusk and a handful of others all expected to provide innings. A couple call-ups from last season’s strong JV team, Schlachter and Lindeman, could contribute right away. Zink, who emerged as a primary player on the Forest Park basketball team, will likely see varsity time as well.
Quotable: “We kind of know what (Wendholt is) going to give us,” Howard said. “It’s just a matter of finding some other guys on the mound. We’ve got a bunch of guys that can throw. I think they’ll throw strikes. It’s just a matter of can they compete on the mound and win for us?
“I think we’ll be fine defensively, I think we’ll be fine at the plate. The key will be finding a second pitcher.”

Herald File Photo
Reid Haas is part of a six-man senior class at Northeast Dubois, which expects to compensate for the graduation of last year’s leading hitter with a stronger defensive unit.

Northeast Dubois Jeeps

Last year
Finished 11-12 overall and 5-2 in Blue Chip Conference; lost 6-4 to Tecumseh in sectional championship.
Returning players
Evan Bauer, Sr. (outfield)
Eric Dodson, Sr. (first base/pitcher)
Jacob Gress, Sr. (center field)
Reid Haas, Sr. (pitcher/outfield)
Nolan Rasche, Sr. (catcher/infield)
Brayden Wineinger, Sr. (outfield)
Jaxon Denu, Jr. (middle infield/pitcher)
Drew Jacob, Jr. (middle infield/pitcher)
Cayden Knies, Jr. (pitcher/infield)
Zach Bleemel, Soph. (outfield/pitcher)
Jaden Brosmer, Soph. (infield/pitcher)
Peyton Hurt, Soph. (pitcher)
Parker Zehr, Soph. (second base)
Notable: Change is not necessarily a bad thing for the Jeeps.
After their two-year run as sectional champs was halted last season, coach Brian Kirchoff’s most glaring hole is the production of graduated senior Cameron Riecker, who hit .611 with six home runs and 31 RBIs in only 18 games.
But as Kirchoff noted, just because you’ve been successful one way, doesn’t mean you can’t be successful another.
This team may lack the pop offensively, but it also has the potential to make an upgrade defensively, Kirchoff feels. Denu and Jacob return to the middle infield and Rasche (.329 with 18 RBIs) returns behind the plate and could receive time at third base, too. Gress, who “plays all his sports pretty much the same way: full out, 110 percent,” Kirchoff said, will again anchor the outfield. Bauer, who played sparingly before starting at center field in the postseason, is a “highly intelligent” player and “a big reason why we’ll be a little bit better on defense,” Kirchoff said.
Haas (2-2, 3.50 ERA with 25 strikeouts) will take up the duty as the No. 1 pitcher, and Kirchoff will also look to a trio of sophomores to contribute on the mound — including Hurt, who could be one of the mainstays on the mound before the season is over. Knies can provide pitching depth as well.
Gress (.323 average, .500 on-base percentage) and Haas (.333 average) will be the catalysts at the top of the order. After that, Kirchoff may have to try a few unorthodox strategies to generate runs — something he’s actually looking forward to.
Quotable: “I think what it does for me personally, is when we’re on offense, it kind of opens us up a little bit,” said Kirchoff, in his 12th season with the Jeeps. “I can be more risky because we do need to be more flexible in how we approach hitting and it actually makes my job more fun. ... You kind of get a little more creative and see what you can create that way.”

Heritage Hills Patriots

Last year
Finished 15-12 overall and 4-4 in PAC; lost to Jasper 11-1 in sectional opener.
Returning players
Corey Ebelhar, Sr. (pitcher/outfielder/first base)
Cordell Miller, Sr. (catcher/third base)
Cody Seifrig, Sr. (first base)
Nick Waninger, Sr. (catcher)
Tyler Ward, Sr. (pitcher/shortstop)
Logan Wilkerson, Sr. (infield/pitcher)
Mason Becher, Jr. (third base/first base/pitcher)
Kenton Crews, Jr. (outfield/pitcher)
J.D. Davis, Sr. (outfield)
Tyler Waggoner, Sr. (second base)
Bryer Bryant, Jr. (infield/pitcher)
Casey Miller, Soph. (outfield/pitcher)
Notable: From Greg Gogel’s viewpoint as a Heritage Hills assistant coach last season, he saw a team with no shortage of talent but with a fair share of “blah” baseball.
A team that was either too high or too low — from beating Jasper 11-6 in April to being 10-runned by the Wildcats one month later — the Patriots “never really (were) a predictable team in what kind of effort we were going to get,” said Gogel, a 2003 Heritage Hills graduate who takes over as head coach for the Pats this season.
Now, Gogel has a little more say in matters. He’s installed more structure into practices and daily routines, and the team is learning “to transition a little bit to me and my level of expectations for them,” he said.
He’s hoping a little order will go along way to maximize talents like Ward, the team’s ace and leading hitter at .451 with 25 RBIs. Ward, who committed to Indiana State last fall, leads a seven-man senior group with its fair share of returnees and new contributors. Wilkerson (.366), the team’s Swiss Army knife, will rotate around the infield and likely see time on the mound, and Waninger renews his spot at catcher and as a valuable offensive asset (.408 average). Those three, along with Crews (.372 average), are the Pats’ strongest returning bats from last season.
Like a few other area teams, the next step for Gogel is filling out his pitching rotation after Ward and Ebelhar. The starting lineup will typically hinge on who is starting on the mound, but if Gogel’s approach to this year’s team works, he thinks a little roster chaos shouldn’t be much of a problem.
Quotable: “We’ve tried to create a little more structure. From a standpoint that we can be fundamentally sound in all phases of the game and kind of create an approach to that,” Gogel said. “We’ve got guys that can play a little bit, but if you can play a little bit and you don’t have any structure in how you’re going to do things, you’re going to have your ups and downs. We’re going to have our hiccups just like everybody else, but we’re going to try and minimize those and try to keep getting better as we move toward sectional.”

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