As the 2011 baseball season kicks off this week, Plymouth seniors are looking for a change in attitude.
With a deep cast of six seniors back with the Pilgrims in Damon Howe, Houston Hodges, Kyle Cartwright, Mitch Good, Richie Luva and Phil Iwinski, the team looks to bring some positive energy to the field and the dugout.
“The seniors have expressed some interest in going out there and really doing things the right way,” said Plymouth head coach Tony Plothow. “We’re hoping that you see a different type of team than you’ve seen the last couple of years as far as the excitement and energy level we hope are up there and just all-around team camaraderie. These seniors are really pushing that this year.”
Helping in this regard is new assistant coach Josh Dietz, who brings youth and energy as well as plenty of expertise both on the plate and the mound as a Bethel College and Plymouth alumnus.
“He brings a nice energy with the kids,” said Plothow. “He’s not too far away where the kids don’t remember him. He brings some good game experience and some things from the past, and he’s excited, he’s bringing in some new ideas. We’ve had some good practices at the start of the year. The kids are working hard, and I think a lot of it is the excitement that Josh brings. He’s going to be good for the program, and he’s going to be good for the kids.”
In addition to its strong senior cast, Plymouth returns eight juniors to the lineup in infielders Hayden Skirvin, Connor Flynn, Ian Smith and Jacob Segraves, as well as outfielders Cole Mann, Richie Soto and Chayse Peters.
The Pilgrims pitching staff begins with four-year letterwinner Howe and features several other hurlers with limited varsity experience on the mound in Luva and Scheetz as well as Iwinski.
While Plymouth settles in with its new assistant, Triton is enjoying a smoother start in head coach Jim Shively’s second year at the reins.
“It’s much better than last year as far as with the adjustment,” he said. “Everybody knows what they’re doing now. The older kids tell the younger kids where last year I had to tell the older kids.
“Things are a lot smoother. Now it’s tweaking and making little adjustments instead of coaching everything up.”
Rejoining the team are a trio of seniors in Victor Vuittonet, Jordan Koontz and Max Ullery as well as juniors Zak Shively and Marc Lindsey and sophomore Bryson Mosier.
With several of the Trojans just finishing up a state runner-up basketball run, the team will get off to a delayed start as it pushes back its first two games of the season against NorthWood and Plymouth.
“We slid the first two games back so it gives us a little more time,” said Shively. “The basketball kids were actually coming in and taking a little time to take some cuts and get some catch in so they’re not too far behind. Obviously there is a little bit of catch-up here for them, but I think with sliding those games back and giving us an extra five days, it’s going to help.”
Meanwhile, Culver Community boasts a veteran lineup with seniors Sam Hendrickson, Bryce Lindvall, A.J. Neace and Brian Nelson returning, along with juniors Sam Hissong and Nick Zehner and sophomores Collin Stevens, Kyle Vlach, Malici Shaffer and Allen Betts.
Senior Zoe Bauer also rejoins the squad after starting at short stop for the team in his freshman and sophomore seasons.
Offense should be a strong suit for the Cavaliers with five players returning from .300-plus campaigns at the plate in 2010. Culver started the season at 4-0 and won four of its last six outings but struggled in Northern State Conference play and hopes for a better NSC showing this season.
“The kids are really working hard this year,” remarked Culver head coach Mike Elliott. “We have a lot more depth than we have had in the past. Most of our kids can play more than one position. The key to our season will be our hitting. We had five guys hit over .300 last year but there is a lot of room for improvement. Our pitchers need to be effective at keeping opposing hitters off balance and keeping their pitches low.”
Fellow NSC squad Bremen is young with just one senior back in Jesse Glingle, but the Lions are far from inexperienced with a lineup that includes three third-year and four second-year juniors.
“We wanted to come into this year and have team chemistry be our No. 1 goal,” said fifth-year Bremen coach Bo Hundt, whose squad went 12-17 last season. “I feel like we’ve already accomplished that and we’ll continue to work on that the rest of the year.
“We have three juniors that this will be their third year on varsity, and we have four others that this will be their second year on varsity, along with Jesse,” said Bremen head coach Bo Hundt. “So it is a pretty experienced group even for having one senior.”
Glingle and Nate Leeper will be Bremen’s go-to pitchers this season and will alternate at third base depending on who is on the mound. Austin Gardner and Mitch Andrews will also see significant mound time. Bobby Cornett and Eric Knepper will also see spot duty.
Along with the Glingle-Leeper rotation at third, also in the infield will be Tyler Coffel at first base, Ben Coxey at second and Sean Knepper at shortstop. Tyler Johnson returns at catcher.
Sean Knepper will man center field, Cornett will take left field and Wes Burkholder will play right field.
Up the road in Walkerton, defending NSC champion John Glenn looks to keep things rolling despite the loss of six seniors from last year’s 16-8 squad.
While the Falcons may be a bit younger, they don’t lack much for experience with three seniors in four-year starter Brock Solmos and pitchers Ross Columbia and Sean Liedtky in addition to three juniors in Tom Knape, Jon Stewart and Charles Dreessen.
Staff writer Brent Glasgow contributed to this report