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GNADENHUTTEN -- After concluding last season with a trip to the Division II District Championship Game, the Indian Valley High baseball squad will look to pick up right where they left off.
The Braves finished last season 11-14 overall and 4-8 in the Piricipals Athletic Conference, but picked up the pace towards the end of the year and earned them a trip to the district finals where they fell just short to Steubenville in a close game.
"We struggled during the regular season last year," said Indian Valley coach Shannon McComb. "but we were playing some younger players and it was nice to see them progress and improve as the year went on. We got a lot better towards the end of the year and they got a lot of experience through it all, so I expect big things out of them this year."
McComb, who is entering his 11th year coaching the Braves, will have Jamie Burcher as an assistant coach and they are both excited to start the season and have high hopes for this year's team.
"We have some seniors who are going to be our team leaders," said McComb. "We also have six or seven sophomores who received a lot of varsity experience last year that will be battling for open spots. Then we have a couple of incoming juniors who will be looking to make an impact for us, so there are a lot of openings and a lot of position battles and we will see where we go from there."
Looking to lead the way for Indian Valley this season will be seniors Jarrett Helter (outfielder), Wyatt Garabrandt (outfielder/pitcher) and Brennan O'Connor (catcher).
"Not only did some of our younger guys start to improve towards the end of the year, but our seniors really stepped it up late last year, too," said McComb. "With the way we ended last season, I expect some really good things out of this group of guys."
Other returning letterwinners for the Braves include sophomores Dalton Burcher (second baseman), Cade Williams (third baseman/pitcher), Braeden Lehigh (outfielder/pitcher) and Karson Hartrick (first baseman/catcher).
Top newcomers for Indian Valley will be juniors Mason McKeown (outfielder), Mason Shlemmer (pitcher/catcher), Colbey McBeth (first baseman), Evan Miller (pitcher) and sophomore Kyle Enos (shortstop).
Also fighting for varsity time will be juniors Koby Shepherd (outfielder/pitcher), Jake Armstrong (infielder), Aaron Mizer (infielder/pitcher) and sophomores Ryan Berger (outfielder) and Tanner Myers (outfielder/pitcher).
Slated for junior varsity time this season for the Braves will be sophomores Grayson Wagoner and freshmen Ty Myers, Thayne Stocker, Cody Bowe, Noah Wells, Nolan Hagan, Alex Tice, Ryland Sciarini and Kolby Hartrick.
Coach McComb noted that his squad has plenty of pitching and the significance of having multiple arms with the new pitch count rule enforced for high school baseball.
"Wyatt is our only senior pitcher," said McComb. "but our pitching staff is really deep. We have seven our eight different guys who can consistently throw strikes, which is great because of the new pitch count rule put in place for this season."
McComb is also confident that is team will be able to hit for power and score a lot of runs.
"We had a lot of young guys get their first experience with varsity pitching last year," offered McComb. "They really struggled with it at first, but caught on towards the end of the year so hopefully they can make the proper adjustments and make some major strides.
"I just want to see the guys grow from last year," concluded the IVHS coach. "I want to see them improve and to build upon how we finished last season. The PAC will be very competitive again this season, but I am confident we will be successful this year."