By KEVIN HARRIS
> 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.”
• COACH: Brian Agnew (seventh season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 9-14.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Garrett Vick, Sr., P/SS; Brian McGee, Sr., 1B/3B; Josh Vollstedt, Sr., 2B; David Vansant, Sr., C/OF; Sam Beckort, Sr., CF; Cody Craddock, Sr., LF; Johnathan Knight, Sr., 3B; Dylan Scott, Sr., 1B/DH; Kyle Kruer, Jr., P/C/SS; Caleb Hart, So., P/1B/OF.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Travis Konermann, Fr., SS/3B/P; Brandon Thompson, Fr., P/1B/OF; Joey Vollstedt, Fr., 2B/OF; Dawson Nale, Fr., C/OF.
• OUTLOOK: The Braves do not lack experience as they have eight seniors on this year’s roster. Agnew expects to see his team improve each day and hopes he will have a competitive team by the postseason. The Borden coach also thinks the Southern Athletic Conference championship and the Class A sectional title are up for grabs. Borden faces a tough schedule, which includes New Albany, Seymour, Silver Creek, Charlestown, Brownstown Central, Corydon Central, Austin, South Central and Lanesville.
• AGNEW SAYS: “Our goal is the same every year — it is to improve on a daily basis. My goal is to teach these kids a love and respect for the game and maybe win a few games along the way. We feel that if we can put all of the pieces of the puzzle together, we will be a tough out by the end of the season.”
• COACH: Ricky Romans (11th season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 24-7.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Jordan Hensley-Cole, Sr., 2B; Alex Smith, Sr., LF; Daniel Sprinkle, Sr., C; Darren Taylor, Sr., P; Drew Reich, Jr., P/3B; Ryan Jones, Jr., SS/OF; Jason Houchens, Jr., RF; Colin Martin, Jr., IF; Tanner Wesp, So., 1B; Dewey Cardwell, So., OF; Kelly Rider, So., P/IF; Zach Ramirez, So. P/OF.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: none.
• OUTLOOK: Romans has almost everybody back from last year’s solid team. He likes his team’s depth and pitching. Considering those attributes, the Pirates have set their goals high this season. They expect to compete for both the Mid-Southern Conference and Class 3A sectional championships. Romans says Silver Creek, Brownstown and North Harrison will be Charlestown’s main competition for those titles.
• ROMANS SAYS: “With us basically returning our entire team from last year, we look to compete for the MSC and sectional championships this year. Though we are still fairly young with a lot of juniors and sophomores, all of our guys gained valuable experience at the varsity level last year, which should help our team chemistry and confidence heading into 2014.”
• COACH: Brent Falcone (first season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: N/A.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Travis Jones, Jr., C; Tim Moseley, Jr. 3B; Luke Castleman, So., CF; Joey Koenig, So., P/IF; Will Hussung, So. OF/IF; Taylor Fisher, So., 1B.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Justin Brown, Fr., SS; Matt Hamby, Fr., 2B; Dawson Dooley, Fr., util.
• OUTLOOK: The Warriors are playing a full varsity schedule this after playing a mixture of varsity and junior varsity teams a season ago. Falcone says last season taught his players many lessons about playing varsity competition. The new CAI coach likes his team’s speed.
• FALCONE SAYS: “We learned a whole lot on what it takes to play at the varsity level last year. I think [the Warriors’] awareness of the game has grown a lot. We’ve got good team speed.”
• COACH: Jamie Knight (first season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 6-19.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Nick Jones, Jr., OF/P; Wyatt Kissel, Jr., IF/P; Justin Lind, Jr., P/util.; Cody Leonhardt, So., IF.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Josh Robinson, So., util.; Jacob Costello, So., OF; Clayton Haus, Fr., IF/P; Matthew Hauber, Fr., IF/P.
• OUTLOOK: Knight, a Clarksville graduate, has a tall task at hand in rebuilding his alma mater’s baseball program. Knight inherits a program that lacks varsity experience and a difficult schedule. The slate includes Jeff, New Albany, Floyd Central, Providence, Charlestown, Silver Creek and North Harrison.
• KNIGHT SAYS: “Considering the fact that we are a fairly young team and with not very many players having varsity experience, we hope to be competitive in the [Mid-Southern] conference and to make steady improvement as the season progresses. Hopefully, we are playing our best baseball at sectional time.”
• COACH: Casey LaDuke (16th season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 29-3.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Mike Springer, Sr., SS; Trey Fulton, Jr., C; Colton Kimm, Jr., 3B; Brandon Smith, Jr., OF/P; Kyle Beach, Jr., P; Alex Koopman, Sr., P; Ross Lundy, Sr., 1B.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Phillip Archer, So., OF; Charlie Loveall, Jr., 2B; Aiden Cora, Jr. OF.
• OUTLOOK: Despite graduating eight seniors from last year’s team, the Highlanders have enough talent and experience to compete for the HHC Tournament and Class 4A sectional titles. LaDuke says the strengths of his team should be its pitching and defense. He thinks Jeff, New Albany and Columbus East will be tough to beat in the HHC. Floyd’s no conference schedule is tough as well with Louisville St. Xavier, Evansville Harrison and Heritage Hills.
• LADUKE SAYS: “We lost a lot, but we’ve got some key players back. I think our pitching is deeper now because I’ve got three sophomores who can flat out throw it. We’re excited. I’ve got some younger kids who can play. We think we’ve got a chance to compete for the sectional championship and the conference championship.”
• COACH: Jared Hill (first season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 15-11.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Cody McAfee, So., C/P; Elijah Weeks, So., IF/P; Austin Bowles, Jr., CF/P.
• NEWCOMERS: Derek Hall, Fr., P/IF; Jimmie Small, Sr., IF/P.
• OUTLOOK: Hill replaces long-time Hornets’ manager Jeff Schroeder. Hill says the Henryville pitching staff lacks experience with its current starting rotation having only five or six innings of work in their combined careers. The new Hornets’ coach likes the work ethic his players showed during the offseason. He thinks South Central, Borden and Lanesville will contend for the SAC title.
• HILL SAYS: “The kids put in a lot of time during the fall and winter months preparing for this season, and we expect to be very competitive this spring. We expect to win a lot of games, compete for a conference title and enjoy our postseason success.”
• COACH: Derek Ellis (second season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 23-6.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Drew Ellis, Sr., SS/P; Chandler Dale, Sr., P/IF; Josh Burke, Sr., 3B/P; Hayden Robb, Sr., OF; Casey Gibson, Jr., C; Nolan Fertig, Jr., LF; Jared Burke, Jr., 2B.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Drew Campbell, So., CF; Ian Ellis, So., 1B/P/util.; Trey Dempsey, Fr., C; Dawson Willis, So., P; Joe Burke, So., P/IF.
• OUTLOOK: The Red Devils have several players back from last year’s team that reached the Class 4A semi state. But they lost their top three pitchers from the 2013 squad and face a huge challenge in putting together a solid starting rotation. Jeff’s schedule is extremely difficult, but it should prepare the Red Devils for the postseason.
• COACH ELLIS SAYS: “Our expectations are high — they’re always going to be high. We want to win [the Hoosier Hills 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.”
• COACH: Chris McIntyre (20th season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 22-7.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Jarius McClure, Sr., OF; AJ Nixon, So., OF/P; Timmie Redford, So., C; Tucker Marcum, Sr., 2B; Tanner Goller, Jr., OF/P; Jack Shine, Sr., SS/P; Brady Parr, Sr., 1B/OF/P; Tanner Robison, Jr., P/util.; Joey Collins, Jr., 1B/3B/P; Brandon Johnson, Sr., OF/P.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Matt Sogge, So., IF.
• OUTLOOK: McIntyre says he is going to experiment with his lineup this season because some players lack varsity experience. That is especially the case with his pitching staff. New Albany has a strong No. 1 pitcher in Xavier University signee Brandon Johnson. But after that, the Bulldogs will be looking for pitchers to fill out the rotation. McIntyre thinks Jeff, Floyd Central and Jennings County are the top contenders to win the HHC and the Class 4A sectional.
• MCINTYRE SAYS: “For the past five or six years, we’ve kind of known what kind of team we are going to have and what kind of lineup we’re going to throw out there. But this year, at least early on, it’s going to be a game-to-game situation. We really don’t know what we have to be quite honest with you.”
• COACH: Scott Horning (20th season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 18-9.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Ben Shahroudi, Sr., OF; Jack Koetter, Sr., OF; Tyler Simms, Jr., 1B/DH; Jacob Quinkert, Jr., 2B; Ryan Mueller, Jr., P; Austin Dickey, So., P/OF; Bret Aria, So., C.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Drew Brock, Sr., OF; Tre Watson, So., SS; Jay Lorenz, So., OF; Austin Hall, So., OF; Collin Rauck, Jr., 3B; Spencer Pearson, Jr., P/OF; Nick Richard, Jr., 1B; Justin Betz, F., util.; Parker Graf, Fr., 3B/C; Cameron Harvey, Fr., P; Jake Lewis, Fr., 1B/P.
• OUTLOOK: Hornung likes his team’s pitching and overall speed. He expects the Pioneers to continue to play at a high level and contend for the Class 2A sectional title. Providence’s schedule is tough as always. The slate includes Jeff, Floyd Central, Silver Creek, Charlestown, South Central and St. Xavier.
• HORNUNG SAYS: “We’re looking forward to an exciting year with a quality pitching staff, good team speed and a balanced attack. We are very versatile and have a good mixture of upperclassmen and underclassmen. Our expectations are to compete at a high level every single game.”
• COACH: Joe Decker (12th season).
• LAST YEAR’S RECORD: 23-7.
• RETURNING LETTERWINNERS: Shae Durham, Sr., SS; Brooks Howell, Sr., 3B; Brayden Ware, Sr., 2B; Zach Spaulding, Sr., C; Cody Razer, So., CF; Cameron Cook, Jr., P/3B; Graham Jones, Sr., 1B/P.
• KEY NEWCOMERS: Dylan Murphy, So., P/1B; Brahm Whittinghill, Jr., 2B/OF; Nick Paynter, Jr., SS/OF.
• OUTLOOK: The Dragons must pick up the slack left by three three-year starters who graduated. But Silver Creek has the talent to make another run at the MSC and Class 3A sectional championships. Decker says his team will have to battle Charlestown and Brownstown for the conference and sectional titles. The Dragons play a tough no conference schedule with New Albany, Jeff, Bedford North Lawrence and defending Class 3A state champion Norwell. Plus they play in a tournament in Jasper.
• DECKER SAYS: “It is going to take us awhile to figure out who to put where and how best to try to replace those guys. But by the middle of the season, we should have a few things figured out.”