PREBLE COUNTY — Baseball diamonds have been left untouched for two years after the cancellation of the 2020 spring sports season, but coaches and players are ready to return to the field after that long absence.
Baseball is scheduled to begin this Saturday, March 27, and county teams are raring to go.
Eaton returns with young group
The Eagles, led by coach Patrick Flanagan in his sixth season, will look to returning starters Travis Pittman, Brady Davis and Dawson Blaylock to lead the team out of its long break.
“Pittman returns as our workhorse on the mound and center fielder,” Flanagan said. “Blaylock will return and a key contributor on the mound and at third base. Brady Davis started at shortstop as a freshman and will be at the shortstop position this year.”
Flanagan said multiple sophomores and juniors will see varsity playing time and play key roles for the Eagles.
“I am looking forward to getting the season going with this group of young men,” he said. “It is a great group, with a good mix of returning talent and new talent. I look for us to compete every game and give ourselves plenty of opportunities to win ball games.”
He added that if the Eagles can throw strikes and not make errors, they should put themselves in a good position to win every game.
Eaton finished with an 11-10 record in 2019.
“It feels extremely good to get out and be able to play some baseball after last season getting cancelled,” he said. “It gives us a sense of normalcy in these crazy times we are living in. The boys have adjusted very well to the new guidelines and precautions the state of Ohio have implemented. Baseball is such a great sport and it will be a good feeling to get back to competing and playing ball.”
Eaton will take home field for the first time on Monday, March 29 against Franklin. First pitch is set for 5 p.m.
Harrison, Webb looking to lead National Trail
After a 21-7 finish in 2019 that included a CCC Championship, sectional title and a district runner-up finish, National Trail will face a challenging title defense.
Coach Tyler Luce, who was named CCC and Miami Valley Coaches Association Coach of the Year in 2019, said seniors Cam Harrison (2019 CCC Player of the Year, Division III Honorable Mention All-State) and Cody Webb are the Blazers’ only returning starters from their 2019 squad.
“We are looking forward to watching these new guys step up and produce for the team,” he said.
Luce said this year is different than any other, but the team’s goals and expectations have not changed despite significant roster turnover.
“They have to understand that because we are defending champs, we are going to get every opponent’s best effort every game,” he said. “I am excited to see them respond to this challenge and compete each and every day.
He added that the Blazers will continue to get better with more experience, and while experience cannot be made up from missed games last season, all they can do is prepare to try and close that gap.
“That is on our coaching staff to accomplish this,” he said. “My expectation as their coach is to compete each and every day and play under the backbone/principles that we preach. We believe if we do this we will give ourselves the best chance to be successful.”
Luce said he is heartbroken for the 2020 seniors who never took the field.
“Unfortunately, this won’t change but it feels extremely good to get back after it this year and get back to some kind of normalcy,” he said.
National Trail is set to begin its season at Dayton Christian this Saturday at 11 a.m.
Tri-County North looking for strong finish in final year of CCC
Returning starters from North’s 2019 team, which finished 16-10, include seniors Cooper Cole and Wyatt Royer as well as juniors Hunter Harry and Luke Eby.
Senior Ty Cross and freshmen Hunter Gray and Colton VanWinkle are also joining the team this season.
“We will be very competitive in our league and looking to finish in the top 3 if some things go our way,” North coach Roger Davidson said.
Davidson said the Panthers will keep improving to get ready for a deep tournament run.
“Over the last six years it’s an expectation to get to a district game, and we fully expect that again,” he said.
Davidson it will be great to be back in the field and competing again.
North will open its season at home against Wayne, with first pitch set for 12 p.m.
Twin Valley South: “Our goal is to be the very best baseball team that we can be”
South co-head coach Cory Bassler, alongside father and co-head coach John Bassler, will contend with significant roster turnover as the Twin Valley South Panthers look to improve on their 9-15 (5-7 CCC) record from 2019.
The lone returning starter from 2019’s team is junior infielder/pitcher Grant Ulrich.
Sophomore catcher Kasey Blair, sophomore shortstop/pitcher Brayden Burkett, sophomore 3B/pitcher Gage Miller and senior outfielder Mikey Crews would have taken the field in 2020, but their season ultimately was cancelled.
Joining the team is senior outfielder Brayden Marker, senior outfielder Levi Gearhart, sophomore utility Eric Allison, junior 3B Riley Maggard, junior first baseman/pitcher Logan Clark and freshman utility Brayden Koeller.
“I feel we have a solid group of guys that can go out there and compete with anyone on any given day,” coach Cory Bassler said. “Due to 2020 being a lost season, the league is very much a mystery this year and we don’t really have any set expectations about where we should finish in league. It’s just hard to say, but our goal is to be the very best baseball team that we can be and to go out and compete hard every night.”
He added the Panthers should be able to have quality innings on the mound, and a defense that should get some outs.
“Hopefully we can generate solid contact at the plate and force teams to make plays to get us out,” he said. “Our success in 2021 will depend on whether or not we can dedicate ourselves to really understand the game and how each situation calls for a high level of awareness, whether at the plate, on the mound, in the field, on the bases, etc. Essentially, can we do all of the little things to win games?”
Given the disappointment of the cancelled 2020 season, Bassler said this year brings a stronger desire to get out onto the field and play baseball.
”I’m just excited for our guys to have the opportunity to go out and play the game that many of them love,” he said. “I’ll never forget 2020, but 2020 will make me appreciate each year more than I normally would have.”
South will begin its season with a home double-header against Dixie on Saturday beginning at 12 p.m.
Preble Shawnee finished 6-19 (3-9 SWBL) in 2019 and will begin its season Saturday at home against Tri-Village. First pitch is set for 12 p.m.
Reach Braden Moles at 937-683-4056 or on Twitter @BradenMoles