GNADENHUTTEN -- Looking to rebound from what veteran coach Shannon McComb called a "very disappointing season," the Indian Valley Braves will begin the 2013 campaign with high hopes that they can radically improve upon last spring's 13-13 record.
"We want to show that last season was not typical of Indian Valley baseball," the eighth year Braves' mentor commented. "It was even more discouraging in that we started the year 7-1. In the second half of the season, our defense let us down."
Adding to the challenge for McComb this season is that he will have to replace eight graduated seniors, including a trio who had earned two varsity letters.
Dusty Byers, Holden Fellers and Kyle Lehigh were key varsity players for two seasons. Fellers hit a team-high .403 last spring and was a first team all-PAC selection as well as a first team, all-Eastern District honoree; Lehigh batted .312 with 23 RBI and sported a 6-4 pitching mark with a 2.86 ERA and was named to the honorable mention all-Eastern District team; and Byers batted .294 and knocked in 18 runs.
The other senior letterwinner lost was Mitch Kennedy, who batted .276, while also graduated were Alex Bear, Chase Gibson, Jeff Gibson, Dusty Nicholas and Brennan Rentsch.
Among the notable returnees are senior Brandon Fox (infield/pitcher), junior Brady Byers (outfield/pitcher), senior Nolan Rennicker (infield/pitcher) and junior Shawn Mills (infield/pitcher).
A three-year letterman, Fox batted .364 last year with 16 RBI, for which he was rewarded with second team all-Eastern District and honorable mention all-PAC status. Two-year letterwinner Byers finished with a .314 average with 27 hits and 16 RBI.
Rennicker and Mills have each earned one letter. Last spring, Rennicker posted a 3.22 ERA with 27 strikeouts and a 4-1 season record. Mills fanned a team-high 44 batters, but finished with a 2-5 mound mark.
A pair of one-year lettermen also return in junior Garron Fawcett (outfield) and sophomore Jake Davis (catcher/outfield). The speedy Davis led the team with eight stolen bases last spring, while as a catcher, he threw out 13 opposing runners attempting to steal.
Andrew Mann (catcher) rounds out the team's seniors while other juniors are Konnor Cool (infield/pitcher) and Kordell Sellards (first base).
In addition to Davis, the sophomore class includes Coby Eckstein (first base), Colton Fink (infield/pitcher) and Caden McGuire (outfield/pitcher).
Four freshmen dot the 2013 varsity roster including Koby Cool (infield/pitcher), Brady Cotsmire (outfield), Easton Guspyt (infield) and Jayden Helter (outfield). That quartet will probably get extra seasoning in some JV contests.
Coach McComb pointed to pitching as a potential strength for the Braves.
"With Mills and Rennicker, we have two of our top pitchers from last season returning," the IV coach related. "We fell we will have six to seven guys capable of pitching well for us. Our mound depth is pretty good.
"Our overall team speed is good and I think our hitting will be OK," he continued. "The big point of emphasis for us will be defense. We'll have to improve a lot defensively over what we showed last spring. Finding a shortstop will be key to that."
McComb feels that the PAC will be very balanced again this spring, with Cuyahoga Valley Christian Academy as the team to beat.
"The whole league got hit pretty hard by graduation," he stated, "but we want to improve on our 7-7 league mark from last spring. A big key to our success will be how our young players adjust to varsity competition."
The schedule is challenging according to McComb with the usual PAC foes and non-league encounters with the likes of Claymont, Hiland, John Glenn, Ridgewood, Tri-Valley, New Philadelphia, Zanesville, Dover, Canton Central Catholic and St. Thomas Aquinas.
The 13-player jayvee roster includes sophs Coltin Frink (shortstop/pitcher), Jack Bierbower (second baseman/pitcher), Jarrod Byers (outfield), Cameron Parish (outfield), Brock Weber (third baseman/pitcher) and Brandon Anderson (catcher/outfield). Of that group, Frink will likely see varsity action as well.
The freshmen include Dalton Bolon (utility/pitcher), Connor Ferguson (first baseman/pitcher), Tobie Myers (outfield), Allija Lanzer (first baseman/pitcher), Brett Rentsch (third baseman), Dillon Berger (outfield/pitcher) and Jadaen Hartzler (outfield/first baseman).
McComb's coaching staff includes Jamie Burcher, Kyle Myers and Blair Emler.
The Braves kick off the 2013 campaign on Monday, April 1 with a PAC home game versus Tuscarawas Valley.