Alum returns as coach

These seniors and returning letter-winners will form the nucleus for first-year baseball head coach Luke Moore. This is the second year Hillsboro and Peabody-Burns have joined forces on the diamond. Kneeling are (from left) Jorge Hanschu, Chance Elliot, Brooks Gardner, Ben Koop. Back row: Tyson Reimer, Kaden Kleiner, Braden Vogt, Austin Purk and Jacob Funk. Not pictured: Marcus Sanders, Zach Baatrup and Bryant Young.
These seniors and returning letter-winners will form the nucleus for first-year baseball head coach Luke Moore. This is the second year Hillsboro and Peabody-Burns have joined forces on the diamond. Kneeling are (from left) Jorge Hanschu, Chance Elliot, Brooks Gardner, Ben Koop. Back row: Tyson Reimer, Kaden Kleiner, Braden Vogt, Austin Purk and Jacob Funk. Not pictured: Marcus Sanders, Zach Baatrup and Bryant Young.
It’s a mix of familiar and new for the Hillsboro baseball program this spring.

In the second year of a cooperative agreement with Peabody-Burns, 12 of the 20 players on the Trojan roster played together last season. Of those, nine return with varsity experience.

Aside from the five freshmen on board, the biggest “new” this year is the coach. Luke Moore, a 2012 graduate of Hillsboro High, begins his coaching tenure at his alma matter, hoping to build upon last season’s 5-13 record.

“We’re excited about playing our first game,” Moore said. “It’s been a good group to work with. I am trying to change some things from the past. It’s exciting to see the kids wake up a little bit.”

Moore himself was a latecomer to the program, with contract approval Feb. 13, two weeks before the official start of spring-sport practice. Lyman Adams of Hills­boro and Jonathan Rich­statter of Peabody are first-year assistant coaches.

Moore had been attending Greenville College in Illinois before transferring after the 2016 fall semester to Tabor College, where he intends to complete a degree in strength and conditioning.

“When I was in Illinois, I heard that the (baseball) position was open and they were having trouble filling it,” Moore said. “When I knew I was going to come back (to Hillsboro), I joked to my parents that maybe I’ll take the baseball job.”

Moore expressed interest in the position to the administration. He eventually heard back, was interviewed and then received a contract from the school board.

“It’s been kind of crazy,” Moore said about his preparation for this new challenge. “There are some things, even in these past three weeks (leading practices) where I’ve said I’ve got to get better at that.”

Pitching prospects

Moore’s lineup will include several familiar faces. Gone is Trojan pitching ace Austin Cross, but Moore feels he has some good arms to fill the void.

Heading that list is junior Kaden Kleiner.

“Kaden looks really good,” he said. “Right now he’s our best pitcher.”

Two more candidates, sophomore Jorge Hanschu and senior Braden Vogt, look to be the team’s No. 2 and 3 options.

“Jorge and Braden are really good, but because of basketball they got out a week and a half late—which is fine, but I didn’t see them right away,” Moore said. “They will probably be starters and middle relievers for us.”

As a veteran, Vogt may be called upon to pitch “in the tough spots.” Moore sees sophomore Brooks Gardner as a candidate for closer.

Senior Jacob Funk, junior Chance Elliott and freshmen Jaxton Tracy and Caleb Potucek likely will see time on the mound as well.

Pitch-count rule

Moore is grooming several pitchers in part because of a new state rule that regulates the balance of work and rest for high school pitchers.

The rule states that a pitcher who throws 30 or fewer pitches in a game is not required to rest a day; pitchers throwing 31-45 pitches must rest one day; 46-60 pitches requires two days rest; it’s three days for 61-75 pitches and four days for 76-105 pitches.

No pitcher will be allowed to throw more than 105 pitches in an outing.

“Most kids probably shouldn’t be throwing over 105, but sometimes it happens—especially when you have a really good pitcher,” Moore said.

“We have a (pitching rotation) plan, but if that plan breaks down we’re definitely in trouble,” he added with a smile.

Infield candidates

Moore said Hanschu and Gardner will be sharing catching duties this season.

“If we have one doubleheader, one will catch one game and the other one will catch the second game,” Moore said. “If we have two doubleheaders, the doubleheader Jorge pitches he won’t catch, probably. We’ll try to give them equal reps.”

Freshman Jess Philpott will provide backup as needed.

In the rest of the infield, Moore is looking to Jacob Funk, a 6-foot-3 senior, to cover first base with sophomore Avery Unruh and Tracy coming in as strategy dictates.

The rest of the infield may be comprised of interchangeable candidates.

Moore said Potucek and junior Bryant Young are his top two candidates at second base.

“Actually, Caleb’s going to play all over the infield—second, short and third,” Moore said. “He’s going to be a filler guy for us. Bryant’s more of a true second baseman.”

Hanschu is the lead candidate at third base with Potucek, Tracy and Vogt rotating in as needed.

In the outfield, senior Tyson Reimer has secured left field, Kleiner will play center when he isn’t pitching, and senior Ben Koop will return to his spot in right field. Also contending for playing time are Elliot and seniors Austin Purk and Marcus Sanders.

Strengths, challenges

Moore cites athleticism and speed as team strengths.

“I haven’t been around high school for a little while, but I think we’re fairly athletic, so base running will be our advantage.

“I don’t know that we’re young, but we are still learning things,” he added. “We’re lacking some basic fundamentals like throwing correctly, fielding and things like that.”

Whether the Trojans improve their season record may depend on how quickly they embrace the fundamentals of hitting, which have been slow to develop thus far.

League outlook

Even though this season will be Moore’s first exposure to the Central Kansas League since his own senior season at HHS, he has a hunch who the big dogs will be.

“I know Larned and Pratt are always ridiculously good,” he said.

Both had 19-4 records a year ago. The only other league team with a winning record in 2016 was Nickerson at 11-9.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m whining, but half of our teams are 4A schools,” Moore said. “We’re a 2A team—we’re a big 2A, but it’s not like we combined with another big 2A. (Peabody-Burns is) small, too. It can make it tough, but I’m excited for the schedule.

“I see us, hopefully, middle of the pack.”

Hillsboro was scheduled to open the season March 28 with a doubleheader at Nickerson.

Hillsboro’s first home games will be April 7 when Hoisington comes to Memorial Field with a 4 p.m. start time.