Coming off a disappointing 2-17 season last spring, new Newcomerstown coach Adam Lefler has hopes of turning the program around, but it will be a learning experience for him as well.
"We have the pieces to be a good team," Leffler said, "and I hope they pull it together. The pieces we have back can work and our five seniors should lead us well. We have a good pitching staff, but defense will be the key and we preach it all the time."
Lefler is assisted by varsity assistant Zach Waltz while Matt Mathias is handling the junior varsity squad. All three are out of the Indian Valley program which has long been known for excellent baseball.
Five seniors -- pitcher/outfielder Doug Dorsey and Tyler Craigo, catcher Hayden McAfee, third baseman Nate Watson and pitcher Billy Mardis -- have departed due to graduation, but Lefler returns five seniors, five juniors, a pair of sophomores and one freshman is expected to see varsity playing time. The Trojans have 22 candidates out for baseball, including six lettermen, which means there will not be a lot of depth or wiggle room at either the varsity or junior varsity levels.
The four returning senior lettermen are Austin 'Boss' Gibson (shortstop/pitcher), Paul Matthews (second baseman/pitcher), Dustin Hickman (outfielder) and Caleb Fenton (outfielder/pitcher) and the fifth senior candidate is Eric Rose (second baseman/third baseman).
Gibson will lead the mound crew as the number one starter followed by junior letterman Joseph Crank (outfielder/pitcher), Matthews and junior Cody Fries (third baseman/pitcher) as the fourth man in the rotation. Junior hurler Jacob Rine will be utilized as the closer in late game situations.
"We have a lot of juniors and seniors on the pitching staff," Lefler pointed out, "which makes for a veteran staff. We need to make improvement defensively, but that may come with them being more experienced this year and we need more overall maturity as a team. Eight of the 22 are freshmen, and some of them are nice players, which looks good for the future.
"Offensively, we look good hitting the ball in practice," he continued, "but the change in bats is going to make a big difference. There is going to be a big adjustment for everyone with the bats and we are going to need to hit line drives."
Junior letterman Jordan Wharff will be the receiving end of the battery as the catcher. Sophomore Cole Lorenz will be at first base, and freshman Cole Hinton will nail down the "hot-corner" at third base.
The remainder of the infield will fluctuate depending on who is pitching. Matthews will be at second unless he is pitching when Crank will move in from the outfield to handle second. Gibson will be the shortstop on days he is not on the mound and on those days one of the other seniors or Hinton will probably fill in at short.
Lefler likes the fact that the Trojans will be senior dominated up the middle with Matthews and Gibson in the middle of the infield and Hickman in center. Rose can be worked in on an infield position as needed due to pitching assignments.
Matthews and Gibson are serving as senior captains this year.
In the outfield will be Crank in left field unless he is needed in the infield, the senior Hickman returning to center and Fenton will be in right field unless he draws the pitching assignment.
The other junior candidate is outfielder Ryan Williams.
Besides Lorenz, who can also catch, the other sophomore on the varsity roster is Nash Kissel who can either catch or play second base.
The junior varsity team will be comprised of sophomores Joshua Green, David Loomis and Austin Porcher along with freshmen Jeffrey Baumgardner, Jarrod Brooks, Derek Crank, Zach Gibson, Nick Mullens and Tyler Wheeler.
"The strengths of this group is their desire and attitude," Lefler stated. "They have demonstrated that they are willing to learn and have demonstrated that they want to have a better year this spring than what they had last year. The biggest concern is my being a new coach and knowing what to expect throughout the year and from game-to-game."
He points to Hiland as a perennial power in the Inter-Valley Conference and notes that Ridgewood will also be a good team.
"Hiland is always a strong team," he said, "and Ridgewood will be very good, but I believe we can compete with all the teams in the conference.. We have been blessed with good weather and have had an opportunity to get outside a lot. I am optimistic, you have to be, and am anxious to get the season underway."
Shenandoah and Harrison Central are new to the schedule this season.