With the season preview in the print edition streamlined, we don't have team-by-team breakdowns anymore, but here's a capsule rundown of the Porter County Conference and some other teams from Porter and LaPorte counties who provided information.
Porter County Conference
New coach Pat Antone has the Wolves thinking big. "We feel really good about the team and the group of guys we have," he said. "It's a good mix of returning upperclassmen and young guys who are ready to contribute. IU commit, senior Ty Bothwell, leads a pitching staff that will also feature senior outfielder Taylor Piazza and third baseman Austin LeMar. Other prominent players in the lineup are senior middle infielder Tanner Barron, senior first baseman/catcher Charlie Hoskins and sophomore middle infielder Elijah Covington.
The Hawks (29-4) graduated some huge hitting and pitching punch from a roster that went to back-to-back semistates, sending four players, including Times Player of the Year Hunter Ryan, to college. Seniors Travis Patrick (.476, 43 RBIs) and Logan Ryan (.420, 50 runs) will be the anchors of a lineup that will be more oriented toward speed than power. Sophomore Jake Friel and junior Jacob Wheeler also saw playing time. Jake Monachino, Friel, Michael Briggs, Ethan Drook, Hunter Riley, Austin Chas and Brenden Vaupel will all get the chance to absorb the available innings behind Patrick (6-1). Despite some inexperience, Hawks coach John Steinhilber has the same expectations. "Why not?" he said.
The Mustangs took a baptism by fire last season, when they regularly fielded two freshmen and five sophomores. They return six starters and, for the first time in five years, a coach in Jim Tucker. "We hope to build off the momentum and progress we were seeing toward the second half of the season," Tucker said. Kouts returns over 90 innings pitched and 100 hits. "We're aiming to take another step in the right direction to rebuild the program," Tucker said. Top returning players are junior pitcher-infielder Zac Nomanson (.300, 25 SB) and sophomore catcher Will Carpenter (.308, .471 OBP, 14 SB).
New coach Eric Tucker has high hopes for the Tigers. "We should have a solid group of pitchers. We have solid infielders. They're very talented. We need to keep working on fundamentals and all the little things that associate with them. I'm very confident this group will compete for (the) PCC championship as well as the sectional championship." LaCrosse is led by Wes Brust, junior Bradley Tucker (its top returning hitter), junior infielder Kaleb Frazier, sophomore infielder Zach Brust and its top pitcher, Mitchel Brown."(Wes) never fails to give 110 percent, no questions asked," Coach Tucker said.
After a 15-3 start, the Cherokees staggered to the end of the season, losing numerous close games due to a dearth of clutch hitting. The good news is Morgan returns eight starters and has a roster of eight seniors. "We were extremely inexperienced last year," coach Cory Mack said. "We should be able to apply what what we have learned." All-PCC picks Colin Mack, an IUSB commit, and Colton Rosenbaum lead the lineup. Mack is 26 hits away from the school career record held by Jake Koselke. Luke Lemmons and Cody Maxwell share catching responsibilities. "We saw most teams' No. 1 and No. 2 pitchers so we are more prepared than ever to be on the attack at the plate," coach Mack said. "If the boys can apply past learning to present play we will be a very tough team to beat." Coach Mack calls the pitching staff of Mack, Tyler Bush, Jeremy Landgrebe and Hunter Swivel "The Four Horsemen." "These four boys have been spectacular in the new pitch count era," he said. "They give us seven strong innings regularly and they are re-charged to go for their next scheduled start. They are the cornerstone of our success and warriors on the mound. They are the single biggest reason we can compete with the 4A and 3A schools."
The sectional and co-PCC champion Satellites (18-9) graduated five starters, but aren't short on talent with all-PCC and all-state outfielder, junior Carson Husmann (.478, 3 HR, 15 2B, 28 RBIs, 35 R, 596 OBP, .846 SLG), an Illinois State commit, and junior Kyle Schmack (.362, 18 RBIs, 19 R), a Valparaiso commit, and junior BJ Intagliata (.314, 14 RBIs). Seniors Bradley Eaton (.241, 14 RBIs) and Kyle Sample (.259) will take on bigger roles. With a big chunk of pitching graduated, it will be up to Schmack (2.10 ERA, 30 IP, 31 SO) and sophomore Trent Smoker (0.46 ERA, 15 1/3 IP, 19 SO) to stabilize the staff.
The Senators return six three-year starters from a Class A sectional champion team — pitcher/shortstop Jake Nelson, pitcher/shortstop Hunter Hachey, outfielder Dylan (Bubba) Clem, outfielder Brock Pappas, first baseman-pitcher Kyle Guenther and left fielder Cole Augle — but coach Randy Roberts isn't ready to make any bold predictions. "We have lots of experience," he said. "However, we don't feel like we played any better last year than we did as freshmen, so improving is our goal."
New coach Chris Piasky, the third coach in the last four years, hopes to bring some stability to the program. "I was blessed to play under Rich Wendt at Wheeler and my dad for South Haven (American Legion) Post 502 who knew the game," Piasky said. "There was always stability. You knew what was expected. All I want to do is teach them everything I've taught since (coaching) middle school. We all see what's happened with the (Westville) basketball program. Can we do it this year? Probably not, but I just want to get their confidence up and put a winning team on the field. I want to be where Washington Township, South Central and Hebron are at." Piasky will be assisted by LaPorte grad Brady Kutch and hopes his background with the Slicers will have a positive influence with the Blackhawks. Westville will be led by seniors infielders/pitchers Trent Hisick and Brady Albert, senior infielder/outfielder Owen Payton, junior infielder/pitcher Jackson Nowatzke and junior outfielder Preston Lake. Piasky considers pitching and chemistry the strengths of the team. "(We were) picked at the bottom of the conference, but hope to be in the middle of the pack," he said. "(We) would like finish .500 or better. (We) would love to see 15 (to) 19 wins heading into sectionals. (We) want to be very competitive in every game."
Duneland Athletic Conference
A wealth of experienced arms gives the Trojans a chance every game, though they'll have to prove they can score enough runs. The group features Purdue commit Austin Peterson (7-0, 1.38 ERA; .359, 17 RBIs), Chris Torres (1-0, 1.53 ERA; .333), Grant Brunt (1-1, 4.74 ERA; .316), Brayden Cortwright (1-0, 1.31 ERA; .444) and Steve Gilbertson (0-2, 2.24 ERA). Other returning lettermen are catcher Brett Roeske (.381, 15 RBIs), second baseman Logan Lawson (.375), outfielder Patrick Sosby, catcher Zach McKenna and outfielder Tyler Nelson. The balance of the roster is comprised of juniors: second baseman Jeremy Krantz, infielder David Mahaffey, shortstop Garrett Fairbanks, third baseman Chris VanEekeren, outfielder Kolton Cardenas, first baseman Haydn Malackowski and pitcher Chad Dzierba. Chesterton will have to replace plenty of sock at the plate with the graduation of three all-conference players in outfielder Owen Hallas, third baseman Ethan Conway and first baseman Anthony Kurek, the offensive MVP in the DAC.
The Slicers (22-9) lost some horses in Andy Samuelson and Jon Williams to graduation, but return 11 pitching wins among three seniors — Ball State recruit, lefty Chandler Banic (6-1, 2.92 ERA; .353, 18 runs); righty Nolan Lorenz (3-0, 2.65 ERA; .303, 10 doubles, 22 RBIs); and lefty Noah Mathias (2-3, 4.20 ERA). Senior Lee Timmons has just nine varsity innings pitched, but is already committed to Trine. They'll throw to veteran backstop, senior Will Malekovc (.416, 9 doubles, 30 RBIs), LaPorte's top returning hitter. "Just like any high school team that is looking for success, we will have to throw strikes, stay away from freebies, and be able to pick it defensively," coach Scott Upp said. Other position returnees are senior outfielder Jose Ochoa (.279, 11 RBI) and senior utility man Drake Vergin. Newcomers who could contribute are juniors, middle infielder/pitcher Brock Lipscomb, middle infielder Josh Trim, first baseman Jacob Spencer, first baseman/pitcher David Applegarth and sophomore outfielder Grant Collins. "Some of these seniors have experience from 2017 to work with while other only saw limited action last year as juniors," Upp said. "A small junior class (only four) will provide us a little punch but they have not had any varsity time to speak of yet. Offensively, our guys have worked hard to develop sound mechanical swings but we will have to wait for the umpire to say 'Play ball' to see how it all plays out. It's a good group of hard-working kids in the offseason and preseason. We are looking forward to see how it translates this year."
Coach Bob Dixon looks for the Indians (11-14) to improve enough to compete for conference and sectional titles with a core of experienced pitchers in junior Jack Dickson (3.95 ERA), senior right fielder Kale Nelson (.388), senior Josh Oliver and junior Jeff Stanley (2-3), who logged over 90 innings among them. Other returning bats are sophomore Scotty Hansen (.300), senior first baseman Jimmy Craven (.303) and senior shortstop Bryce Kissinger (.300). "We are also looking for breakout seasons from several other players on our roster," Dixon said.
The Vikings have 10 seniors with seven returning starters, including all-DAC shortstop/pitcher Gunnar Pullins (Olivet Nazarene), second baseman/pitcher Nick Caputo (Wabash), and center fielder Marcus Gholston (Arizona Western). A committee of arms will be employed to try to replace Derek Lasky (Indiana Wesleyan) and Ray Kreloff, who absorbed 90 percent of the team's innings pitched in conference play last season. The group includes seniors Matthew Jindra, Connor Brinson, Alex Coil and Logan Spillers, and juniors Zack Zborowski, Noah Comstock, Michael Jovanovic, Ronny Morey and Ryan Troxel. "Early on, we will look to our bats and gloves to carry us while we figure out what our arms are capable of on the mound," coach Todd Evans said. "This team is focused on winning and doing whatever it takes to be successful. They have some high goals for themselves and it is going to be fun watching them achieve those goals one by one."
Greater South Shore Conference
It's all about the arms for a Bearcats team with plenty of sock and just as many questions on the mound behind Xavier commit, outfielder-pitcher Jake Armentrout (.448, 4 HR, 23 SB; 3.19 ERA), as they graduated 11 wins. Wheeler will look to shortstop Adam Wagoner (.309) and third baseman Sam Beier (.500, 3 HR) to pick up some innings slack. Catcher Mason Diaz (.392, 3 HR) is another strong bat. "If pitching can hold out and some young players step up, we will be looking for another solid performance this year," coach Kyle Becich said.