Coming off a rough season, the Newcomerstown High baseball team is hoping the old saying "There's strength in numbers" holds true this year as a total of 27 players have come out for the team.
Last season, the Trojans stumbled to a 4-23 mark in Coach Adam Lefler's first season, and with the unexpected rise in players, hopes are high for to turn things around.
"We have 27 kids out this year and that's great for our program," Lefler said. "Hopefully, that is a sign that kids are buying into what we are trying to accomplish and are excited for the future."
The Trojans return seven lettermen, headlined by a pair of two-year veterans in seniors Jordan Wharff (C-1B) and Joseph Crank (P-INF). Wharff and Crank will serve as captains for the Trojans, with Lefler expecting them to provide solid leadership.
"Jordan will be our catcher," Lefler said. "He's our general out there on the field, and he will hit third in our lineup. I'm looking for him to be a leader for the team on and off the baseball diamond."
Crank will play mainly in the infield, but according to Lefler is versatile enough to move around where ever needed.
"Joseph will be our utility guy," Lefler continued. "He's a good athlete and will be able to play where we need him most. We will also need him to do some big things on the mound for us this year."
While Crank will be looked to contribute on the mound, the clear number one pitching option for the Trojans will be senior Jacob Rine (P-1B).
"Jacob is a real key for us on the mound," Lefler added. "We're going to ride his arm big time. He can be real effective when he keeps his command and throws strikes. I'm expecting big things from him."
Other options on the pitching staff will come from senior lettermen Cody Fries (RF-P) and sophomore Cole Hinton (3B-P).
"We also expect to get some innings from Cole and Cody," Lefler said. "They both got some work on the mound last year, and we will need them to contribute again this year.
"Cole also started every game at third base for us last year as a freshman," the NHC coach continued. "I'm confident all that early playing time will be a big advantage to him this year. He should be much more comfortable and know what to expect this year."
Another source for pitching help could come from sophomore Zach Gibson (2B-P).
"I'm thinking that Zach could end up throwing a lot of innings for us also," Lefler said. "He's looking pretty sharp in preseason camp thus far."
Rounding out the returning letterwinners for NHS are junior Josh Green (INF) and sophomore Jeff Baumgardner (OF-P).
"Josh came on real strong at the plate late last year," Lefler said. "He hit something like .400 over the last six games. Hopefully he can pick up right where he left off at the plate."
"Jeff is in the mix to help us out in the outfield," Lefler said. "He can also be another option on the mound."
With just six seniors, the Trojans will field a young squad and could start four sophomores, with Gibson, Hinton, Tyler Wheeler (CF), and Derek Crank (LF-P) all in the line-up.
"We will start four sophomores most of the time," Lefler said. "So they will need to grow up in a hurry and do the job for to be successful."
Completing the varsity roster will be seniors Ryan Williams (OF), Jaxon Reynolds (OF), junior Nash Kissel (SS-C) and sophomore Jared Brooks (OF)
In sizing up an area he would like to see improvement, Lefler was quick to point to the Trojans' offensive attack.
"We just have to hit the ball better," Lefler said. "That was a real problem area for us last year. We were very inconsistent in that department and need to be better.
"We need everybody in the lineup to contribute," the Trojans' boss related. "Last season, we only had two or three guys who would consistently hit the baseball. The kids have been working hard in the offseason, and I'm hoping we are much improved this year."
While his offense is a concern, Lefler has no such doubts when it comes to the defense he expects his Trojans to play.
"I feel we are very solid on defense," Lefler said. "We have a lot of guys who have some good leather out there and we
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have solid catching with Jordan and also Nash who will see time behind the plate."
Lefler not only saw in rise in player numbers, his coaching staff also increased with Matt Mathias serving as junior varsity coach along with four volunteer assistants -- Boss Gibson, Robb Hendershot, Chase Gibson, Greg Marsh and Zach Waltz -- and that's been a huge help early on.
"I can't tell you how much our new coaches have helped," Lefler said. "We are able to get so much more work done in practice and give the kids more individual attention. I really feel it's going to make a real difference this year and I'm so thankful for all their help. They have been a great addition for our program."
Players slated for the Newcomerstown JV team this year include junior Austin Porcher; sophomores Tyler Tanksley, Nick Mullens, Chase Eggleston, Corey Fox, Dustin Stringer, Kole Carpneter; and freshmen Cordell Walker, Ben Hartline, Walker McMullen, Keleal Tarrance, Heath Wilkin and Chase Hanby.
Lefler feels the familiar "Big 3" will once again be the teams to beat in sizing up the race for the Inter-Valley Conference championship.
"I see it being Hiland, Ridgewood and Garaway as the teams to beat again as usual," Lefler said. "Historically, those three programs are always up at the top of the IVC.
"I really think if our offense comes around, we can be right there," he added. "Our pitching and defense should be good enough to keep us in games if we can hit the baseball."
Last year, the Trojans finished with a 2-10 mark in the IVC, and Lefler says the goal is to be battling for a spot in the top of the standings this year.
"Our big goal is to be competitive each night in the IVC and see if we can move up in the standings," he said. "We're also due for a tournament win. It's been a long time since Newcomerstown has had one of those. Really, that's what you work all season for is to gear up for the tournament. We want to continue to work towards getting to the point where that's an every year thing around here -- a tournament run."
Newcomerstown opens the season on Saturday with a road trip to West Muskingum for a doubleheader.