Baseball teams start practice, despite winter conditions
When practice was over March 1, Dunlap baseball coach Tom Wooden opened the gym door and a violent burst of frigid air almost blew the door right back in his face.
The temperature outside was in the teens and the extended forecast did not look promising.
“Looks like we’ll be in the gym for a while,” Wooden said. “But, we’ll deal with that. It’s actually been going well for us. The players have been building camaraderie, and everybody has been working hard. Even though we’d rather be out in the field, we’ve been able to work on some things in here (the gym). Every team is dealing with the weather this year. There’s not much we can do about it.”
Richwoods coach Dave Webb and Peoria Notre Dame coach Ryan Williams said they are also feeling claustrophobic inside the gym, but the harsh winter has not dampened their optimism that comes with the start of a new season.
Peoria Notre Dame
Williams, who lost six position players and two top pitchers from last year, said his players are focused on a Mid-State 6 Conference championship and a shot at winning their Regional.
“We have some good team speed, so we’ll have to throw strikes and play good defense,” Williams said. Even though we lost some starters, I like the talent we have coming back. The conference title is always our goal, and that’s what we’ll be trying to achieve again this year.”
Williams said returning seniors Jake Alexander, Anthony Yezek, Ted Ralph, and Danny Warbritton will play important roles this season.
Alexander, a left-hander, will be the opening day starting pitcher.
“He has good movement on his pitches. He’ll throw a change-up and a curve ball to keep hitters off balance,” Williams said. “Plus, he’s a competitor. He expects to win every time he pitches.”
Ralph said he and his teammates are eyeing a conference championship and a long run in the postseason.
“Our starting pitching is deep, and our lineup is solid,” he said. “The conference will be competitive, but we’re all focused on winning it.”
Webb is in his first season as head coach after taking over for Jack Lang, who is now the head football coach for the Knights.
“Coach Lang allowed me to do a lot when he was here. I’m not jumping into this without knowing what I’m doing,” Webb said. “We’re going to play hard and we’re going to play as a team. Those are the main things Coach Lang emphasized, and I will continue that message.”
Webb said his team’s pitching and defense up the middle are solid, but scoring runs might be a challenge.
“We don’t have a lot of power, but, if we can manage to score some runs, we’ll be a good team,” he said. “Right now, I don’t have our lineup finalized. We’re still deciding where we are going play some of our players.”
Seniors Ben Hogan and Andy Luiten will anchor the pitching staff.
Senior center fielder Matt Perez, junior catcher Dan Ardis, senior second baseman Jeff Crusen and sophomore shortstop Peter Cunningham make up the defense up the middle.
“Matt (Perez) and Jeff (Crusen) will give us good leadership,” Webb said. “Jeff is the spark plug of our team.”
Wooden said the Eagles are young, but talented enough to compete in the Mid-Illini Conference race.
Dunlap finished tied for fourth place (6-6) in the conference last year.
“We have some sophomores and juniors who have played at this level, and we have very high expectations,” Wooden said.
Junior Joe Cloud and senior Steven Gates will lead the pitching staff. Senior captains Cory Hammerton (first base) and Andy Anderson (shortstop) will provide a lot of the run production.
Hammerton said, even though the team has been stuck inside the gym, players are getting things done in practice.
“We have a lot of smart players on this team,” he said. “We’ve been able to work on fundamentals, which will help us be ready when we get into game action.”
Anderson said the players have been thinking about baseball since last season ended, and they are looking forward to hitting the field.
“We might surprise some people in the conference,” he said. “The atmosphere is more positive this year. You can tell that every player on this team expects to win this year.
Now, we just have to wait for some nice weather, so we can get out on the field and play. We can’t wait for that. It’s going to be a fun year.”