Trojans eye return to state

Returning nine letter-winners from a team that went 17-6 a year ago and qualified for state, Doug Dick finds himself in an enviable position as he transitions into the role of head baseball coach at Hillsboro High School.

But the former assistant knows it won?t be easy to fill the shoes of Phil Oelke (131-61 in nine seasons), who stepped aside to spend more time with his young family.

?I can?t say enough good things about Phil, he?s an awesome coach,? said Dick, who assisted Oelke for the past four years. ?I?m not going to change a whole lot, obviously, because I?ve been a part of a program that?s been successful.?

One thing Dick won?t have to fret about in his new role is finding the talent to be competitive.

?I told (the players) my goal is simple: We were second in the league last year with a lot of returners?I think winning league is a realistic goal,? he said. ?As good as I think we are, and can be potentially, there?s no reason not to think about returning to that state tournament.?

Solid on the mound

Success in baseball is built around pitching, and Dick has experienced depth in that area.

Heading the staff is senior left-hander Jacob Edwards, who went 7-4 last season with an earned-run average of 3.39 with 39 strikeouts in 33 innings. He returns with a slider to add to his two-pitch, fastball/changeup combination of a year ago.

Dick expects Edwards to throw consistently above 80 mph this season, and occasionally in the upper-80s.

?He can throw,? Dick said. ?It?s just a matter of whether he?ll get ahead on hitters. If he gets ahead on hitters, he?ll have an awesome year.?

Complementing Edwards, is a pair of right-handers coming back from strong seasons a year ago: senior Tyler Ediger, who led the team in wins (8-3) and ERA (1.48) in 33 innings of work, and junior Dylan Delk (6-2 record, 2.13 ERA, 261?3 innings).

Dick identified six other players who will likely see time on the mound this season, but return with varying degrees of varsity experience.

The most experienced is sophomore Luke Moore, who threw 131?3 innings last year (4.72 ERA) and senior Jacob Fish with 62?3 innings (4.20 ERA). Junior Matt Martin appeared in one game.

Three newcomers show potential, led by freshman Kale Arnold, who could see signi?ficant innings in spot relief. Lucas Sinclair, another freshman, could be called upon in a pinch, as could Blake Crawford, a junior in his first year at HHS.

Rest of the lineup

Aaron Bina pitched 62?3 innings last season without allowing a run, and came away with a 2-0 record. But with more arms available to pitch, Bina likely will stay at catcher, where he earned second-team all-league honors last season.

?Aaron?s a heady, smart kid who knows the game,? Dick said. ?I don?t know of any catcher in the league that?s better than him (defensively), especially this year with him being stronger and a better thrower.?

At the plate, Bina hit .342 and drove in 17 runs.

When he?s not pitching, Ediger will play first base. Last year, he hit .302 with 20 RBI. When Ediger is on the mound, Dick sees sophomore Derek Kelsey (.222, 6 RBI) stepping in.

Dick?s biggest challenge will be to fill the void in the middle infield created with the loss of all-league, all-state shortstop Daniel Jost (.500, three home runs, 20 RBI) to graduation, and second baseman Chris Couts?s decision not to play this season.

The leading candidates to step in at shortstop are two newcomers, Ben Gardner, a junior who transferred in earlier this year, and Crawford.

?Ben looks like he can do a pretty good job there so far,? Dick said.

Moore (.250 in eight at-bats) will spend most of his time at second base, with perhaps some spot assignments at short.

?Luke?s done a really good job at second,? Dick said. ?I don?t think we?ll be missing anything there.?

At third base, Delk (.290, 12 RBI) will defend the hot spot in most games. When he?s on the mound, Dick has a handful of options to consider involving Ediger, Gardner, Sinclair and freshman Nathan Unruh.

In the outfield, Edwards (.375, six doubles, six triples, 21 RBI and 34 runs scored) will patrol center field when he isn?t pitching. He was a first-team all-league pick last season for his play in the field.

?Obviously, he?ll have a cannon out there in center field,? Dick said referring to Edwards? arm. ?He can put it to home plate from center field.?

Fish (.338, 17 RBI, 29 runs scored), who received league honorable mention as a utility player, will start in left field most games but will shift to center when Edwards pitches. Matt Martin will play left field in that situation.

In right field, Devin Funk (.238, 12 RBI) will get the starting nod as the season opens.

?Devin?s a senior, he?s working hard and he?s doing some good things at the plate,? Dick said. ?He?s pretty smart at the plate; last year he got on base a lot. When he didn?t get on base, he battled pretty well. He made those pitchers throw six, seven, eight pitches, which is what you want to see.?

Two sophomores, Aaron Wintermote and newcomer Patrick Adams, and junior Cory Abbott, are each working toward a spot in the outfield, but likely will contribute as pinch/cour?tesy runners to take advantage of their foot speed while their other skills continue to develop.

Freshman Dylan Jirak is another outfield candidate, but will likely see limited varsity time in his first season.

Season outlook

From his four seniors to his four freshman?and the 10 players in between?Dick likes the genuine enthusiasm his team has exhibited in early practices.

?They?re not out because they don?t want to run track?they all love baseball,? he said. ?Some?times they?re almost having too much fun, and that?s one of things I?ve got to keep a lid on?to keep them focused.?

The success the team experienced a year ago contributes to the positive atmosphere.

?The kids are excited about the season and their potential,? Dick said. ?Having a lot of returners gives us a little confidence going in.?

That said, he?s quick to say that winning the final Mid-Central Activities Association title is no sure thing.

?Our league is always pretty tough,? Dick said, listing a half-dozen schools that either are perennial contenders or positioned for improvement. ?You can?t look at anybody and say these are games we can walk through.?

The Trojans were scheduled to kick off their season yesterday (March 30) with a doubleheader at home with Little River.

With one day of rest, HHS jumps into league play Thursday against Wichita Collegiate. The twinbill at Memorial Field begins at 4:30 p.m.

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