Despite losing nine seniors to graduation, Seymour High School’s baseball program doesn’t plan on rebuilding in 2019: it plans to reload.
While some of last year’s top talent is no longer with the program, the Owls plan on continuing to surge in the right direction this spring.
The Owls finished 16-10 on the diamond in 2018, and made some noise along the way.
In total, the Owls beat seven ranked teams on its schedule.
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After defeating No.1-ranked New Albany in the first round of the Jeffersonville Sectional, the Owls fell to Bedford North Lawrence in the postseason semifinals.
On this year’s roster, the Owls have 10 seniors, 12 juniors, nine sophomores and 10 freshmen.
"We lost a lot of really good players from last year, but this senior class has stepped up. They have done a really good job in terms of leadership," Owls head coach Jeremy Richey said.
Richey said the Owls replace five regular starters going into the 2019 campaign.
One of those starters not returning, Alan Perry, finished with a 9-1 record on the mound. Perry, who made the North-South All-Star Team, is currently playing baseball at Cedarville University. At the plate, he also led the Owls with 41 hits, 21 RBI and a .500 batting average last spring.
Perry was The Tribune’s Jackson County Player of the Year in both 2017 and ’18.
The Owls will also be without stud outfielders A.J. Boshears and Michael Knecht. Boshears, who plays at Cincinnati Christian, had 27 hits for the Owls last year with a batting average of .409. Knecht, who is on Franklin College’s squad, had an .392 average with 31 hits and 20 RBI.
While the Owls have lost some production, Richey said last year’s underclassmen saw their fair share of time on the field last year and that he’s confident in his returning players.
"Our junior class, a lot of them have started in the past," he said. "Whether it was situational or every day. When you look at how many we lost from last year, it looks a lot worse on paper. We have a lot of guys that were key contributors last year. We’re not as concerned with the number of starters we lost because we try to get a number of younger kids on the field so they are ready for games that really matter."
On the mound, Richey said that returning pitchers Jayden Brown, Hunter Ahlbrand and Braden Christopher will see a lot of starts, and that Matthew Moore will also get some time on the mound.
He said that that right now the challenge is finding the right closers.
"We’re trying to see who the guy is who can throw late," Richey said. "We have lots of guys we can fill in the middle of innings if we’re up big or struggling, but we need to find which guys can come in late in the game and lock it down. You don’t really know that until you get into game situations, and that will show up in the next couple weeks."
Brown, a junior who regularly started on the mound last spring, said defense will be a strength.
"I feel like our guys have really bought in to what we’re doing," Brown said. "Our pitchers are pretty strong. I feel like we will be able to shut teams down, we just need to score runs to go along with it. Our defense is going to be pretty good, we’re going to have three returning infielders and Devin (Hill) at first. I think our outfield will be pretty strong, too. I think hitting could be our tough spot."
At the plate, Richey said the Owls have a solid top of the lineup, which includes, Takumi Nishiwaki, R.J. Kleber and Moore, and that the middle will need to produce runs.
"We have some guys at the top of the order that can get on base," Richey said. "It will come down to that middle of the lineup to produce for us. We have some kids that can get on base."
Kleber, a senior, feels the team has continued to improve throughout the preseason.
"Over spring break, the team has gotten a lot better. We’ve had quite a few practices," Kleber said. "I think we’re going to be pretty good. I think some people might think we’re really small, but I think we play baseball the right way. We do the things that it takes to win games."
Senior Ezra Barr said the seniors are leading the underclassmen, and that that the team is shaping up nicely.
"I think we’re going to be pretty decent," he said. "I think we’ll do pretty well with the hitting and have some good pitching. We’re going to work and play hard.
The Hoosier Hills Conference will be tough again this spring, but Richey is confident in his team.
"We know there will always be two, three, or four teams in the conference ranked in the top 10," Richey said. "There are (NCAA Division I) players in the conference, but not as many as years past. A lot of them are young. We’re going to go out and compete with everyone."
The Owls are looking to take the next step once the postseason commences.
Richey said that while the team has won sectional games, they need to find another gear.
"I think our biggest challenge is finding a way to win that next game. We’ve shown, over the last few years, we’re capable of beating anyone on any day, but we’ve got to keep getting better," Richey said. "The Bedford game last year, we fought all the way back and they won it late. Those are the types of games we need to find a way to win. I think we need to get better individually, and as a program, where we’re capable of winning that second and third game. In the last seven years, we’ve won at least one game in the sectional four times. We need to find a way to put two or three games together to win a sectional."
The Owls own 14 sectional title, but haven’t won a championship since 1995.
Richey, who is entering his eighth year at the helm, expects a lot from his team.
"We have a bunch of guys that play hard and do things correctly," Richey said. "As long as we continue to do that, we’re going to be O.K. I think we play an exciting style. I think we’ve created that over the past few years."
Seymour opens season tomorrow at Trinity Lutheran.