ORIGINALLY WRITTEN BY DON RATZLAFF
Even though the Hillsboro baseball team returns eight of the 11 players who saw significant action last season, there’s still an air of youthfulness about this year’s squad.
It starts at the top, where Tyler Marsh, a December 2004 Tabor College graduate, is taking on his first high school head coaching job. Bluejay classmate Brent Brockmueller is his assistant.
Though it’s Marsh’s first year of coaching, he is more than familiar with the game. As a senior at Tabor, Marsh was a first-team pick on the All-KCAC team and led the Bluejays in most offensive categories.
The following summer, Marsh played at the entry level of professional baseball.
Marsh is the third head coach in three years for the Trojan juniors and lone senior.
“This being my first year out there, to be honest I don’t necessarily know what we’ll face,” Marsh admitted. “But I’m excited about the opportunity.”
Marsh inherits a team that completed a 3-16 season in 2004 after the program lost a large and talented senior class following the 2003 season.
Even with the departure of last season’s seniors-Jared Fish, Michael Bookless and Brandon Moss-the Trojans are still a young club, with only one returning senior in Tyler Goldsby.
But that also means the Trojans return several players who saw significant varsity action last season as sophomores and freshmen.
Heading that list is Adam Scheele, who receive honorable mention for the all-league team as an outfielder.
In his first varsity season as a sophomore, Scheele led the team in hitting (.466), hits (27), doubles (10), triples (2), runs batted in (12), on-base percentage (.551) and slugging percentage (.759). His fielding percentage was .962.
The rest of the outfield spots are “a little up in the air,” Marsh said. A leading candidate for one spot is sophomore John Vineski, who played in only two varsity games last year but is showing promise in practice.
The other outfield spot is still up for grabs, Marsh said.
The infield appears to be more solidified. Junior Chad Hughbanks will anchor it at shortstop. Last season Hughbanks posted a .793 fielding average. At the plate he hit .358, drove in seven runs, had an on-base percentage of .397 and a slugging percentage of .509.
Returning at third base is junior Justin Moore, a .282 hitter last year with a fielding percentage of .795.
Competing for the second-base position early in the season are Jesse Boucher, a sophomore who hit .300 in 13 games and had a fielding percentage of .737, and classmate Aaron Stepanek, who hit .240 in 16 games and had a fielding percentage of .794.
With Moss having graduated, the leading candidate for the first-base spot is sophomore Lucas Hamm, who played in nine games last season and hit .111.
Goldsby, meanwhile, will start again at catcher, where he had a .943 fielding average a year ago. At the plate, Goldsby batted .302 and tied for the team lead in RBIs with 12. He registered an on-base percentage of .362 and a slugging percentage if .397.
Sophomore Troy Frick will see a lot of playing time as well, having played in 10 games last year as a freshman. He struggled at the plate, though, finishing with an .087 average in 24 plate appearances.
Marsh said he likes the athleticism of his team, which has 23 players on the roster.
“I think we have good enough athletes that they might be playing out of position occasionally,” he said. “For instance, if we have two guys who can play shortstop, I’m not going to have one guy on the bench. I’m going to put him in somewhere else.”
The biggest question mark for the Trojans again this season will be pitching. Last year, nine players tried their hand at it and combined for an earned-run average of 11.62, easily the highest team ERA in the six-year history of HHS baseball.
Moss, the ace of the staff with 32 innings and an 8.53 ERA, is gone, as are fellow seniors Bookless (151/3 innings and a 15.07 ERA) and Fish (11 innings and 16.55 ERA).
Hughbanks is Marsh’s most effective returning hurler. The right-hander pitched 29 innings last season and posted a 1-3 record with an ERA of 8.93.
Marsh said he’s looking to Hughbanks, R.J. Toal, Aaron Stepanek, Justin Moore and Adam Scheele to form the core of his staff. All of them except Moore have had at least some varsity experience on the mound.
“We’ve got some other guys in the mix, too, but everything is new and we’re just trying to feel things out, I guess,” Marsh said.
The rookie coach said he is still learning about his team. He likes what he’s seen, but he said it’s too early to know what its strengths and weaknesses might be.
“I haven’t necessarily seen anything in particular,” Marsh said. “One thing, regardless of who’s out there, we want to be aggressive, especially running the bases, and put a lot of pressure on the defense.
“I don’t know that we have a specific strength, but hopefully base running will be a place where we can put a lot of pressure on people.”
Marsh said all he knows about the other teams in the Mid-Central Activities Association is what he’s heard from Phil Oelke, who was the Trojans’ head coach for the first four years of the program and has been helping in the preseason with pitchers and catchers.
“It’s definitely going to be learn as I go,” Marsh said. “From talking to Phil, I know Lyons will be tough, since they won it last year, and Collegiate’s going to be tough. And everybody else-I don’t necessarily have any idea.”
As for goals, Marsh said he’s looking for game-by-game consistency.
“Baseball’s a game where, if you let things get to you, it can just snowball in a hurry,” he said. “One of our team goals is keep our total number of walks and errors to under five a game.”
If the Trojans can do that, Marsh said he feels his team has the talent to be successful.
“I know they won only three games last year, but we’re not getting into this to win only four or five or six games, or even go .500,” he said.
“We’ve got good enough athletes, from what I’ve seen, that as long as we make the routine plays on defense, and on offensive we get guys on base and do what we’re supposed to do as far as bunting and hitting them over-I don’t think there’s any reason why we can’t compete for the league title.”
The Trojans will open their season April 1 with a long road trip to Hoisington, a new member of the MCAA this season. The doubleheader with the Cardinals will begin at 4:30 p.m.