Written by Don Ratzlaff Tuesday, 27 March 2012 15:05
Losing an ace pitcher and the team’s top two hitters to graduation might rattle some high school baseball coaches, but Hillsboro’s Doug Dick feels the players he has this spring can fill the void.
That’s saying a lot considering the Trojans have qualified for state three years in a row.
“Our goal isn’t any less than it has been—our goal is to get back to state,” said Dick, who is in his third year at the helm. “Last year I felt like we were the second best team at state. We happened to play the best team in the first round.”
Pitching and catching
Dick’s ace (Dylan Delk, 6-2) and top two hitters (Aaron Bina, .544 and Ben Gardner .500)—three first-team all-league selections—may be gone from last year’s 16-6 team, but coming back are nine letter-winners.
Two of them, senior Luke Moore (4-0) and junior Kale Arnold (3-3), were second-team all-league picks in 2011 and will anchor the pitching staff this season.
“Luke did a great job on the mound,” Dick said “He’s a very good control pitcher and mixes speeds. I’m looking to him as somebody key. Kale obviously has experienced some very good success in his two years.”
Junior Lucas Sinclair, fully recovered from a back injury in football, will be throwing for the Trojans as well.
“Sinclair has pitched a lot of summer ball, but he hasn’t pitched a lot at the high school level,” Dick said. “He’s been more a utility (player); last year we used him a lot at shortstop. He’ll see a lot of time on the mound this year.”
Dick sees senior David Nelson as a potential fourth starter.
“Finding a No. 4 starter is going to be crucial,” he said. “I’m hoping Nelson will be able to step in there. He’s been looking good in the bullpen (this spring). He’s got a good combination of pitches.”
Also stepping in as needed will be a pair of sophomores, Cody Delk and Jordan Faul.
“Cody has pitched some summer league ball, but not at the high school level. Jordan will see some time on the mound as well as playing second base.”
A factor in their success will be filling the void at catcher created by the departure of Bina, a two-time first-team all-league performer. Moore and Sinclair are Dick’s top candidates.
“Obviously, we lost a really good catcher,” Dick said. “But between Luke and Lucas, I think both those boys are going to do a fine job behind the plate.
“I’m more worried about who else is going to fill a spot there for me. I don’t want to have to rely on just those two when they play other positions.”
Nelson, junior Kyle Ogle and freshman David Dick are in the mix for that fill-in role.
“I don’t know what’s going to happen back there, but I feel good about (Moore and Sinclair),” Dick said. “There’s going to be a learning curve, obviously. But as far as athleticism, we’re going to be OK.”
Arnold (.340, 10 RBIs) will be a fixture at first base when he’s not pitching, and Faul (.381, six RBIs) will take over second base.
“Jordan started as a (designated hitter) last year almost all the time,” Dick said. “He batted almost .400 as a freshman—that’s pretty impressive. He’s bigger, stronger this year. I’m excited to see what he’s going to do.”
Sinclair (.424, 20 RBIs), a second-team all-league pick a year ago as a utility player, will take the lead at shortstop. Cody Delk (no at-bats in 2011) will step in when Sinclair is pitching.
Dick is looking to Nathan Unruh (.308 in 13 at-bats) to fill the void Gardner’s departure created at third base.
“Gardner was a pretty solid third baseman, or else Nathan would have seen more time there last year,” Dick said. “As a junior, (Unruh) is going to fill in there and he’ll do a fine job.”
Two senior returning starters will anchor the outfield: Derek Kelsey (.316, seven RBIs), a second-team all-league pick at that position, and Aaron Wintermote, who played in the field but had only nine at-bats in 2011.
“I’m hoping his bat is going to keep getting better,” Dick said of Wintermote. “He’s looked pretty good in the preseason as far as contact.”
Other returning players who are expected to see time in the outfield are Moore (.326, 4 RBIs), junior Dylan Jirak (four at-bats), and Ogle, who did not play last season because of injury.
Coach Dick has five freshmen on this year’s roster of 17. Several could make a contribution in their first season.
David Dick is a good contact hitter from the left side.
“He’ll probably see some time somewhere, but how much I don’t know,” coach Dick said.
The Trojan coach describes Micah Allen as a “good, solid outfielder.”
“He might be a kid who comes in as a freshman and starts now and then,” Dick said. “Last summer he showed leaps and bounds of improvement.”
Jakob Hanschu is another candidate for some varsity time.
“He’s got a good arm and probably will see some time on the field somewhere,” Dick said. “At the plate, he’s got some power for a freshman.”
Dick highlighted the speed of Josh Funk. “If I can get him on the bases, he’s one of those kids that can move around pretty good,” he said.
Caleb Bettles may need a year to hone his skills, but “he’s a good kid; he’s going to continue to get better.”
Dick believes a year’s experience will help his team at the plate. “All the way around, we’re going to have to get better,” he said. “We have some room for improvement.
“Every year I say I don’t know how we’re going to replace four good hitters, but we seem to do that over the last few years,” he added. “So I’m hoping this year won’t be any different. These guys are going to have to step up and do the job.”
Dick likes the leadership he sees in the upperclassmen.
“The thing this team brings is real positive leadership,” Dick said. “We’ve had that in the past, but this year is an exceptional year. I see that as a real plus.”
Dick said defense will be a strength, too.
“We won’t lose anything defensively,” he said. “Obviously, we’re going to have a new face somewhere in the outfield, at third base and shortstop at times, and we lost a good catcher, but I think we’ll be fine.”
Dick describes the Central Kansas League as “brutal,” led by 4A schools Pratt, Kingman, Smoky Valley and Haven. Outside the league, the Trojans also face Marion, who Dick calls “one of the top 10 teams in the state.”
“We’ve got to work hard to finish where we were last year,” Dick said. “Somehow we’ve always managed to get better as the season goes on.”
The Trojans were scheduled to open the 2012 season with a home doubleheader Tuesday, March 27, against Little River.
Hillsboro travels to Nickerson Friday for another twinbill.