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Clark County Sports

April 4, 2014

H.S. BASEBALL SEASON PREVIEW: No. 1 Jeff expects huge challenges in 2014

Red Devils must replace top three pitchers

> SOUTHERN INDIANA — In the preseason, the Jeffersonville baseball team got a respectful, yet pressure-packed present from the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association — the No. 1 ranking in its Class 4A poll.

Now, the Red Devils must deal with an additional item that comes with the top ranking — a target on their back.

Second-year Jeff coach Derek Ellis says his players aren’t making a big deal out of the No. 1 rating, but with that ranking, they know that each opponent will be fired up to face them this season.

“They are expecting everybody’s best shot. They didn’t tweet it out or anything,” Ellis said about his players’ treatment of top ranking. “We’re going to see everyone’s No. 1 pitcher. We’re not making much out of the No. 1 ranking. It’s nice, but it is what it is. We’re got to show up every day ready to play.”

The main challenge the coaching staff is battling is to find some starting pitchers in their lineup.

Jeff graduated its top three pitchers from last season’s 23-6 squad in ace Trent Astle, No. 2 pitcher Mark Meyer and No. 3 hurler Nick Gallagher.

The Red Devils will rely on pitchers who have limited starting experience in their careers. Senior right-hander Chandler Dale is Jeff’s current No. 1 starter. He picked up the loss in a starting role in the Red Devils’ 6-2 loss to Class 4A No. 10 Fort Wayne Carroll last Monday at Don Poole Field.

Senior Drew Ellis — the coach’s oldest son — is expected to start on the mound more this season. The University of Louisville signee, whose primary position is shortstop, is currently the No. 2 pitcher on the staff.

Jeff senior Josh Burke will see some time in the starting rotation. Coach Ellis also plans on giving innings to sophomores Joe Burke, Dawson Willis and Ian Ellis, who is the coach’s second son.

The elder Ellis said the player who he needed to put in his rotation was Drew Ellis, who was the ace pitcher for the 2008 Jeff/GRC Little All-Star team that went to the Little League World Series.

“For us to compete in the [Hoosier Hills Conference] and the sectional, Drew is going to have to throw along with the younger guys. We don’t have a set rotation right now,” Derek Ellis said. “Last year was simple — you have three pitchers and draw them out of a hat on who you start.”

Another challenge the Red Devil battery will face is breaking in a young catcher.

As of now, freshman catcher Trey Dempsey will be behind the plate. He replaces junior catcher Casey Gibson, who broke his hand in the offseason and is doubtful to play this season. Gibson, who was one of Jeff’s top hitters last season, recently had surgery on his hand.

“From all the information I’ve gotten, he’s not going to play this year,” Derek Ellis said. “But with that said, Casey is going to be an integral part of Trey’s catching, because he plans to be at every game helping Trey. It’s a big blow, but Trey is doing a good so far.”

One thing that will help the Jeff pitchers is a solid defense behind them. So far, however, the Red Devil fielders have been struggling with seven total errors in the first two games.

“We have to button that up,” Coach Ellis said. “Defensively, we are not as strong as I think we can be.”

The Red Devils’ main strength is their experience. Jeff has four seniors in Dale, Drew Ellis, Josh Burke, who will play third base when he does not pitch, and outfielder Hayden Robb. All four played on the 2008 Little League World Series team.

Two juniors are expected to contribute in left fielder Nolan Fertig and second baseman Jared Burke.

“Our expectations are high — they’re always going to be high,” Derek Ellis said. “We want to win conference, win sectional and move further on in the state tournament. I’m confident that the guys we’ve got can handle it and they can do it.”

The Red Devils will be tested thanks to their always-difficult regular-season schedule. Coach Ellis expects Class 4A No. 6 Floyd Central, New Albany and Jennings County to be Jeff’s primary challengers for the HHC Tournament title.

Jeff’s nonconference schedule includes Class 3A No. 2 Jasper, Class 3A No. 3 Silver Creek, Class 3A No. 6 Charlestown, Corydon Central, Evansville Memorial and Louisville Catholic powers Trinity and St. Xavier.

“The Hoosier Hills Conference is tough every year. Our nonconference schedule is as tough as anybody’s,” Derek Ellis said. “But it’s great. You want to be challenged.”

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