The Terre Haute Rex, a summer wood-bat baseball team loaded with Wabash Valley-born and Indiana State University talent, will begin defense of its 2018 Prospect League championship Thursday and Friday nights when it takes on the Danville Dans for two games in Illinois.

Game times are 7:30 EDT.

The Rex will play its first home game Saturday when the Cape Catfish visit Bob Warn Field for a 7:05 p.m. clash.

Fourth-year manager Tyler Wampler said the Rex has been moved from the league’s West Division to the East this season, but that shouldn’t affect the players’ desire to win.

He also said Butler and Kokomo have dropped out of the Prospect League since last season, but it gained the Normal CornBelters from Illinois; the DuPage Drones from Lisle, Illinois; and the Cape Catfish from Cape Girardeau, Missouri. The states of Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia are represented in the league.

Wampler said his 2018 team appreciated the glory of capturing the Prospect League title — the franchise’s first since 2015 — but there wasn’t much time for the coaching staff to celebrate because planning for the 2019 team needed to start almost immediately.

“It felt really good,” he reflected. “That was my own personal goal — to win the league. For the Rex organization, that’s our goal that we set out for every year. So it was nice to achieve that goal and see our guys be able to get it done.”

There are at least five returnees from last year’s team — including pitcher Colten Panaranto (Terre Haute native and Michigan State player), pitcher Clayton Mayfield of Rose-Hulman and outfielder Justin Jenkins (Terre Haute native and Iowa player).

“I think [Jenkins] is a sparkplug for any ballclub he plays for,” Wampler said. “He’s a great clubhouse guy. He was one of our first guys we really tried to get back this year. We’re glad to have him back.”

Among those new to the Rex roster are pitcher Braydon Tucker (former Northview standout and current Indiana University player), pitcher Luke Lancaster of Brazil, infielders Will Hayes and Ethan Hunter of Terre Haute, pitchers Max Klein and Jackson Pothast of ISU and catcher Paul Wendling of ISU.

“I think [Tucker] is going to be one of our top pitchers this summer,” Wampler mentioned.

Wampler and Rex assistant coach Jeremy Lucas — former assistant Scott Lawson stepped down after becoming Terre Haute North’s head coach a few months ago — must wait until ISU is finished playing in the NCAA tournament before they can utilize any of the Sycamores in game action.

Even with such a large turnover of players, Wampler believes the Rex can contend for another title in 2019.

“We feel like with our coaching staff and our organization, we put our players in a good position to develop and get better throughout the summer,” he said. “I think if guys can put the work in that we expect of them, we should win some ballgames like we did last summer.”

To see the entire 2019 Rex schedule, visit rexbaseball.bbstats.pointstreak.com.

General reporter/Sports reporter

David is a longtime Tribune-Star sportswriter whose primary duties were switched to the news department in late 2015. A cancer survivor, he enjoys hanging out with his family and staying fit with regular trips to the gym.