Coaches Duane Higgs at Brownstown Central and Eric Hilton at Crothersville will be looking for their veterans to lead the way when they open their schedules later this week.
The Braves will host South Decatur on Thursday while the Tigers will travel to Cannelton Saturday for a doubleheader.
The Braves will be young with just two seniors and three juniors. The seniors are Carson Darlage and Ethan Fultz, and the juniors are Ethan Garland, Trent Lowery and Chick Tiemeyer.
Higgs said he has a veteran infield with Pierson Wheeler at third base, Garland at shortstop, Tiemeyer at second base, and Lowery at first base.
“The infield I expect to be pretty strong,” Higgs said, and added that Fultz is in the mix.
Darlage returns in centerfield and Higgs said, “He is really good out there. We’ve got some young guys that we expect to make some strides” at the corner outfield spots.”
Dalton Reedy is expected to be the starting catcher, but Higgs said, “Dalton is also a really good pitcher so we’ll have to be very cautious and smart how we use him. Grayson Cassidy may be in there and possibly Jaxson Johnson.” Both Cassidy and Johnson are freshmen.
Lowery pitched some last year. “Lowery and Garland look good, and hopefully Darlage will be able to help us on the mound, and Fultz,” Higgs said and added that all the pitching prospects are also position players.
“It’s figuring out who is on the hill and who is going to replace them.” Lowery and Darlage are left-handers and the others throw right handed.
“Out of my two seniors I expect great leaders, great kids, and good baseball players. I expect Ethan and Carson to have great years all around the game. They’ll be batting at the top of the order. Garland had a stretch last year where he was as good as anybody. He had a great summer, so I expect good things form him. Tiemeyer looks good.
“We have some other guys that you would call younger, experienced guys.”
The Braves were 15-13 last year.
Higgs said the Braves need to stay away from injuries.
“What hurt us last year when we hit our stride in the middle of May, we had some injuries that really kind of hampered us. It’s not so much about the record as it is making sure we stay healthy and hit our stride.”
He said three key members of the team were on the basketball team and didn’t get to start baseball practice until March 20.
“That also allow you to put some of these younger guys in there to build depth. With the pitching rules and such, we can’t afford to go win a game early at the expense of not having their health later. We want to make sure we’re at full strength come the end of May.”
Higgs said Silver Creek is the favorites for the Mid-Southern title again. The Dragons have won 55 straight MSC games.
Special award winners returning for the Tigers are Lucas Hilton and Dirk Crater.
Hilton, son of the head coach, was the Tigers’ most valuable player last spring. He pitched 32 innings and set a modern season strikeout record with 63 strikeouts. He batted .275 and had 32 stolen bases.
He will again pitch and play infield and outfield.
“He was more of a utility player whenever he wasn’t pitching,” coach Hilton said. “Where ever I needed him is where we placed him at.”
Crater was the Tigers’ most improved player last season. He had five hits and seven RBI.
Senior returnees are Devin Morgan, who will do some pitching and play on the left side of the infield, and Caden Lewis, who will play centerfield and some at shortstop and second base.
Hunter Day is a senior who is in his first year playing baseball.
Nolan Brandenburg and Cash Sawyer are other juniors who return. Brandenburg will play the corner outfield positions while Sawyer will be a pinch-hitter.
Sophomores who played some varsity last spring are catcher/second baseman Corey Reynolds, outfielder Corey Kelshaw, pitcher Dirk Crater, and pitcher Blake Robinson.
Coach Hilton looks for his son, Reynolds, Morgan and Lewis to lead the offense, and his son, Morgan, Robinson and Beau Napier to lead the pitching.
“We do have a lot of speedsters this year so we’re probably going to play a lot of small ball, bunting to get on base and have our other hitters push them through, so it’s kind of exciting to have three or four kids that can make good contact, and be able to hit the ball out of the infield and produce some runs,” he said.
Hilton looks for the outfield to improve as the season goes along.
“Out outfield is going to be a learning process. We return some outfielders and they are a lot improved from last year. In the infield we’re pretty solid with senior leadership and the juniors out there so there is a lot of maturity in the infield.”
The coach also looks for the pitching and hitting to be improved, and those are the reasons the Tigers can finish .500 or above after going 1-20 last spring.
Hilton said, “We should be a lot more solid in pitching than we have been for the last four or five years. We also should have more mature bats, so we’ll be a lot stronger than we have in past years, and be able to drive a ball further than we have.
“To get to .500 or better, a lot of it is going to have to go through the pitching. We’re going to have to make sure Lucas stays on point. Last year he had a lot of full-count walks that got us into some trouble through some fielding errors after that.”