TERRE HAUTE —
Following are previews on the Big Four squads:
• Northview — Trout is a former Northview standout. He helped current Florida Marlin farmhand Brady Shoemaker take the Knights to the 2005 Class 4A semistate.
Trout has been an assistant for the Knights in recent years and he’s added an experienced staff to help in his transition to head coach.
Mitch Lancaster, who was a varsity baseball coach at Rockville before returning to Brazil as a successful basketball coach, and Tony Trout — Craig’s father — will join him in the dugout.
“I try to surround myself with experience. Fundamentals are what we preach every day,” Craig Trout said.
Two of the keys in the middle of the Knights’ batting order are mentioned above, but a relatively inexperienced pitching staff could be key in the Knights’ degree of success this season.
“We worked really hard in off-season with building that staff up,” Trout said.
Junior Joe Ball has “good velocity, good movement,” and sophomore right-hander Nate Thomas, left-hander Damon Bass and right-hander Tucker Stewart round out the potential rotation.
Stewart will catch and play infield for the Knights. Senior Connor Ganly slides over from third base to take over at shortstop, with Stewart joining him in the middle infield at second base.
Ball will play center field when he’s not pitching and Paul Dickison will man that outfield spot when Ball’s on the mound.
Kyle Moore will play right field and Pierce is the left fielder.
Austin Butts could emerge as a power bat for the Knights’ lineup, while sophomore Dalton Shaw and junior Jake Harden could provide a boost as well.
The Western Indiana Conference and a Class 3A sectional with Brown County, Edgewood, Owen Valley and West Vigo will be tough.
“The WIC is no slouch at all,” Trout said. “If you try to take any game for granted, you’ll get beat. That’s what I’m preaching to my guys every day. It’s a grind. South Vermillion really came on strong the last couple years. They beat us last year in a tough game.”
• Terre Haute North — The Patriots have experienced and underclassmen creating the kind of dilemmas a coach doesn’t mind.
Behind ace Hicks, “workhorse” Greg Hannum and experienced guys like Nick Long and Tristan Pate, Turner has juniors Cody Maloon, Chase Jones, Brandon Taylor and sophomore Brett Herndon and Nick Rush battling for time on the bump.
“I think going into 2014, we’ve got a lot of depth on the mound. We’ve got some young guys pushing the experienced guys for some innings. It’s a real competition to see who’s in that rotation early,” Turner said. “Pitching should be a strong point for our team in 2014. Pitching and defense is where you want to begin.”
Defensively, senior Zach Milam made just two errors and started every game at third base last season for the Patriots. He also hit .366 and tied for team-high honors with 11 stolen bases.
Jonathan Eilbracht returns for a third straight year at second base, and freshman Austin Turner will step in at shortstop to make for an outstanding double-play combination, coach Turner said.
Senior Nathan Will will play first base and designated hitter, with Maloon and Jones battling for time at first.
In the outfield, senior Lane Dransfield is a third-year starter in center field, and Nick Long is a “fantastic” corner outfielder, Turner said. Hannum and Herndon will also see time in the outfield.
Offensively, Collett is the focal point, but other Patriots will have to step up after losing the all-state bat of Sam Wolf and .400-hitting Gabe Sevigny.
“Those are guys that are going to be difficult to make up, with the offense they’ve given us over the years,” Turner said.
• Terre Haute South — The Braves, like the Patriots, are in limbo as far as a conference schedule goes. They’ve been dropped from the schedules of several Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference foes and they won’t play a full Conference Indiana schedule until 2015.
Kraemer added the Northview Invitational, which will include Crown Point and Hobart, a pair of teams with some highly-touted pitching arms.
Like many coaches, Kraemer has an emphasis on avoiding giving bases away to opponents. Logan Ames logged a lot of varsity innings in 2013, and he’s joined by left-handed junior Timmy Herrin, junior righty Conner Shipley, Grant Ellis, Mitchell Clinkenbeard, set-up man Clayton Streeter and closer Jacob Johnson.
“The key is giong to be our pitchers throwing strikes,” Kraemer said. “It’s early, but I told pitchers this week I’m looking for an opening-day starter. We’ll see who commands the strike zone best.”
Johnson, the Braves’ mainstay at shortstop the past few years, hopes to take on the new closer’s role.
“I’d like to see him in the closer role if we can get to him,” Kraemer said. “He’s got that bulldog mentality and he’s got some good arm strength as well.”
The Braves’ defense includes a couple position changes, with outfielder Austin Slover moving from outfield to catcher and Timmy Herrin from first base to left field.
Sophomore Justin Jenkins returns after a big freshman year in cetner field.
Zach Donnally returns at third base, Mark Drake to second base. Jared Wolfe and Conner Shipley provide versatility, with the ability to play outfield or infield.
Mitchell Clinkenbeard will man first base and Nathan Reed, Streeter and Ryan Milsap providing outfield depth.
• West Vigo — When you consider the Vikings went 13-1 in junior varsity action a year ago — to go with the above-mentioned 21-6 varsity mark — the high school program combined for a 34-7 record.
DeGroote has a group of boys with some talent to pair with a little bit of experience. The Vikings are ranked No. 8 in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll for Class 3A.
Davey Inman leads a deep pitching staff that is expected to include starting catcher Donnie Ames, Dacoda Watson, Zach Edwards, Travis Reese, Wyatt Lowe and Lautenschlager.
“Going into the season [Inman] is probably our ace pitcher, but we have a lot of arms. Maybe more arms than we ever had. Just got to figure out what roles they’re all going to play,” DeGroote said.
As mentioned, Ames provides a veteran presence behind the plate and Alex West and Logan Klotz are battling to be the back-up catcher.
Inman will be the starting third baseman with Watson to play third base when he’s not in left field.
Sophomore Jordan Schaffer returns to start at shortstop, while Edwards and Alec Blair will share time at second base. Blair will also contribute in the outfield.
Berringer, West and Lautenschlager are all vying for playing time at first base.
Junior Justin Kump is slotted to start in center field, with the returning clean-up hitter Bennett in right field. Kyman Elkins and David Fiddler could also battle to get in the lineup in the outfield.
The Vikings are without returning infielder Braiden Cardinal, who tore his ACL during basketball season
“If everybody stays healthy, we could be competitive,” DeGroote said.
The Western Indiana Conference figures to be strong and deep, he added.
“Conference should be extremely strong. South Vermillion’s pretty loaded,” DeGroote said. “Northview has a lot coming back. Edgewood’s tough like aways. Lost ace pitcher but a lot coming back. Our league will be tough. If you don’t play well, you probably won’t win.”
• Other Wabash Valley — In Class A, Shakamak is ranked No. 2 in the Indiana Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll after a 25-4 season in 2013. … South Vermillion, coming off a 16-8, 4-2 WIC season, returns Jordan Branz, who batted .422 and compiled a 3.31 earned-run average in 2013. Nathan Luft is another top returnee after belting five home runs last spring. … Sullivan returns several .300 hitters: Luke McPhail batted .358, Cody Turner .312 and Noble Harrison .354 for the Golden Arrows in 2013.