Even with the graduation loss of his best hitter, his No. 1 pitcher and one of the most versatile players in the league, Hillsboro baseball coach Doug Dick is hopeful his team can improve on its 10-10 season in 2013.
?As far as varsity experience, we?re going to be young in some spots,? he said. ?Offensively, we?re going to have some roles to fill, but I feel real good.?
Gone are all-league and all-state performer Nathan Unruh (.317 batting average, .583 slugging percentage and team-high 18 runs batted in), Kale Arnold (8-4, 1.70 earned-run average, 49 strikeouts in 49 innings), and Lucas Sinclair (a multiple-position player with a .276 average).
Two ?new? players
One thing that brightens Dick?s outlook is the return of two baseball-savvy players who missed all of last season because of injuries: senior Cody Delk and sopho?more Austin Cross.
?We have two quality kids (joining the team) who are going to contribute right away,? Dick said.
The Trojan mentor sees Delk playing on the infield, although the position is yet to be determined. Delk could also see time on the mound.
?I?m not sure what his pitching role is going to be yet,? Dick said. ?He?s working on getting his arm strength back. How much pitching he?ll see, that?s a real question mark. But he?s going to be playing on the infield somewhere as a starter.?
Cross looked to be a force on the mound during the preseason in 2013, but a recurring back issue kept him off the field once the season began.
Dick said the 6-foot-4 sophomore is 100 percent healthy this spring.
?He pitched in the fall for a club team out of Wichita,? he said. ?Then he also went down to a showcase in Texas and they timed him at 84 (mph). If he can throw strikes at 84, that will be very effective.?
The two additions are only part of the Trojan package. Dick welcomes back four returning letter-winners, including three players who received all-league honorable mention.
Senior Jordan Faul is an infielder and pitcher who was recognized as a utility player. He batted a team-high .383 and threw nearly 32 innings with an ERA of 4.86.
?He?s just a great athlete in that he can play almost any position we put him at?infield and outfield,? Dick said.
?He?ll also be seeing some time on the mound, obviously. Last year was the first time I used him extensively as a pitcher and he did a great job.?
Junior David Dick (.321, 17 hits, 11 RBIs) was recognized at second base. This season, he?s likely to play catcher and see some time on the mound.
?David?s arm is much improved, much stronger, than it was,? Coach Dick said.
Jakob Hanschu (.232, 14 runs scored) may be playing some catcher this season and will pitch.
?Dylan (Nelson), Jordan, Hanschu, Cross?those are going to be our main pitchers as it looks right now,? Dick said. ?Catching will be split at the beginning, then we?ll see how that develops.?
In addition to pitching, Nelson (.326 in 43 at-bats), a sophomore, could see time at first base and the outfield.
Another player returning with significant varsity time is outfielder Micah Allen, who batted .241 in 15 games.
?His arm is much improved?it looks good in preseason,? Dick said. ?We?ll be better in the outfield. Micah?s obviously been a good outfield for me in the past, and so has Jakob.?
One newcomer who will impact the team is junior Justus Hilliard.
?Justus is really going to help us,? Dick said. ?It?s the first year he?s been out, but he?s athletic and quick and very coachable. He played a lot when he was younger at Peabody, and played summer league for me two years ago.
?We?ll have a spot for him on the infield somewhere. His bat?s getting better every day and he?s a strong kid, too.?
Dick also sees potential in some of the first-year underclassmen.
?Tyson Reimer (freshman) has been working at catcher and will play a little outfield. Ben Koop has been working as an outfielder. Both are very coachable kids.?
?Austin Welch is out, and Braden Vogt (both freshmen) could see some time on the mound this year.?
As a team, Dick likes the way his Trojans have been swinging the bats during preseason.
?The thing I?ve been pleased about with all those guys is how well they?re hitting the ball,? he said. ?We?re being very coachable as far as what we need to do.?
While inexperience could be a challenge early in the season, Dick sees additional positives.
?Our strength right away will be pitching, considering we?re young there,? he said. ?But I think we?ll hold our own pretty well.?
As for the Central Kansas League race, Dick sees a clear favorite.
?Pratt?s always the team to beat,? he said. ?We haven?t beaten them yet since they?ve been in the league.
?My goal for our team this year is to get a split with them. That will be tough?we go to their venue this year. It?s two hours on the road, then try to get a win or two.?
He expects Lyons to be tough again with good pitching returning. Beyond that, he likes the Trojans? chances for success.
?The rest of the league is very sweep-able,? he said. ?I think we should look to see if we can sweep them.?
With youth and only 13 players on the roster, Dick knows improving is the foundational objective.
?Our goal is to get better every day, and hopefully that happens throughout the season,? he said. ?With the youth we have, I think that will happen, especially in some positions.
?I?m excited to see what we?ll be like come postseason.?
The Trojans are scheduled to open the season Fri?day with a doubleheader at Memorial Field with Little River. Game time is 4:30 p.m.
?Little River will give us a pretty good test that first home game,? Dick said. ?They?re always a well-coached team.?