Experience key for success

Second-year coach Luke Moore will look to this sizeable group of returning letter-winners and seniors for leadership and production this season. Pictured are: front row (from left), Jorge Hanschu, Brooks Gardner, Caleb Potucek, Hunter Hein, Bryant Young; second row, Luca Franken, Jack Parks, Jacob Funk, Kaden Kleiner, and Chance Elliot.<p>
Second-year coach Luke Moore will look to this sizeable group of returning letter-winners and seniors for leadership and production this season. Pictured are: front row (from left), Jorge Hanschu, Brooks Gardner, Caleb Potucek, Hunter Hein, Bryant Young; second row, Luca Franken, Jack Parks, Jacob Funk, Kaden Kleiner, and Chance Elliot.<p>
Hillsboro baseball coach Luke Moore enters his second season with expectations to improve on last season’s 6-16 record.

A year ago, Moore accepted an invitation relatively late in the process to coach the combined Hills­boro/Peabody-Burns team.

“Last year was challenging,” he admitted. “We kind of said as a coaching staff we didn’t spend enough time with it. We felt like we were spending a ton of time on defense, just working on how we want to do things.”

Moore sees a huge advantage with a full season of coaching experience under his belt, plus a positive summer baseball experience with a county-wide team.

“It’s crazy how much difference a year makes in terms of confidence—just the comfort level of the guys about (the coaching staff) and what we’re trying to do,” he said.

“I love it, it’s a lot of fun. I can’t believe I’m going to talk about Hillsboro baseball when I was playing only six or seven years ago,” Moore said. “I’ve got to pinch myself sometimes.

“When I played, it was so much fun, and now to be a part of it—I like the kids a ton. This year I’ve had a lot of time to build a relationship with the guys, which helps so much.”

Pitching prospects

Last year’s pitching staff combined for a 7.21 earned-run average, and Moore believes his new pitching corps can improve on that mark with seasoned senior Kaden Kleiner (5.75 ERA) returning.

“Kaden’s our ace,” Moore said. “He struggled down the stretch (last season) but he’s been looking really good this spring.”

The Trojan coach sees Jorge Hanschu as his No. 2 starter, who is back after injuring his knee in the final game of last season.

“(Jorge) has a very live arm, but we caught him so much last year that he wasn’t able to pitch,” Moore said. “Now with his knee injury, we’re trying to limit how much he has to catch. Last year he kind of caught everything.”

Rounding out his four-pitcher starting rotation are Bryant Young, who registering a 0.75 ERA in six appearances in 2017, and Jack Parks (4.90 ERA).

“Honestly, Bryant might be our No. 2,” Moore noted. “He pitched at our scrimmage Saturday and looked really awesome. He’s just matured and has improved mechanically.”

Moore will call in position players as needed to serve as relief pitchers.

“We have about 10 guys we can throw,” he said. “I told them if you can throw strikes for an inning or two, that helps us out a ton. Last year, we were piecing stuff together.”

Among the relief options are Caleb Potucek, Jacob Funk, Brooks Gardner, Hunter Hein and Landon Roberts.

“Landon is a freshman who is very talented,” Moore said. “He’s not as good as Caleb yet, but he has a very good skill set. For him, it’s a matter of maturity.”

Defensive lineup

Anchoring the defense behind the plate is a group of potential candidates led by Hanschu, Gardner and possibly Roberts.

Jacob Funk will be the team’s primary first baseman. The 6-foot-4 senior received all-league honorable mention at first base in 2017. He hit .281 with 18 hits in 64 at-bats. He scored eight runs and drove in 11.

“Defensively, he’s looked really good,” Moore said. “Jorge will play a little first base when he’s not catching. He’s the backup right now.”

Young, a .256 hitter last season, is projected to be the starter at second base, with Hunter Hein, Parks or Roberts stepping in as needed.

Kleiner, when he’s not on the mound, will help fill the void created at shortstop following the graduation of Braden Vogt, a CKL second-team all-leaguer. Potucek, Roberts and Hein may see time there, too.

“Caleb will play either short or third for us all the time,” Moore said. “He’s really good and a fun kid to watch play baseball.”

Gardner will play third base as he continues to heal from a collarbone injury, with Potucek, Parks, Roberts and Hein ready in the wings.

Among the candidates for outfield are Kleiner, Hein, Parks, Elliot and Gardner.

If Moore’s lineup seems somewhat fluid, it is by intention.

“At the end of last year we felt like we didn’t do a good job of playing our best,” Moore said. “We just kind of pigeon-holed guys into positions last year. This year, we’re going to let people do infield, outfield and we’ll see what happens.”

Season outlook

Moore said the biggest benefit from the summer team was to see what it takes to learn to be a winner. He credited the involvement of Marion High School players who were members of the Warriors’ state runner-up team last spring.

“Having success in the summer got the guys really excited about baseball,” he said. “The whole environment about baseball is good for us right now.”

As he looks to league play, Moore said the first five doubleheaders on the schedule happen to be against what he considers to be the top five teams in the Central Kansas League: Nickerson, Larned, Hoi­sing­ton, Haven and Pratt.

“I think Pratt is going to be really good,” Moore said. “Their three best players were sophomores last year.”

The remaining regular-schedule includes Lyons, Kingman, Hal­stead, Hesston and Smoky Valley. The Swathers will be fielding a baseball team for the first time.

Moore acknowledges the early-season challenge, but he is hopeful his team could sport a .500 record by the end of the regular season.

“That’s realistically possible for us,” he said.

The Trojans were scheduled to open the season March 27 at home against the Panthers from Nicker­son. The team will be hosting Larned April 3 beginning at 4 p.m. at Memorial Field.