Spring sports preview: Talent abound on area baseball squads
Jul 21, 2015 at 12:27 PM
Jeff Lindsey sees the perfect mix of experience and exuberance, talent and tenacity, as he prepares for his inaugural season as the coach of Spring Lake's varsity baseball team.
The Lakers return five key seniors — Cody Houts, Carter Bench, J.P. Marod, J.P. Batts and Michael Dillingham — who helped guide the team to a Division 2 district title a year ago.
Throw in a promising group of newcomers — including hard-throwing Dominican Republic native Jorge Lozano — and Spring Lake has a chance to put together a special season.
"When I look at this team, I look at our five seniors who have varsity experience, and a couple kids who are unknowns right now who will really shock some people," said Lindsey, who coached baseball at Western Michigan Christian for 10 years before taking over as the Lakers' JV coach a year ago.
"Those seniors are the backbone of our team. With their leadership and experience, we should do very well."
Houts, Batts and Dillingham will be the heart of the Lakers' lineup, batting third through fifth. Houts will also be a key on defense as he solidifies the catcher position for the third consecutive year.
Bench, Batts and Marod give the Lakers an outstanding trio of outfielders, while Dillingham will play first and third base and will also pitch.
As far as up-and-coming youngsters, Lindsey is trying to temper his expectations for Legano.
"He just moved here this semester," Lindsey said. "He's trying to adapt to this life. Where he's coming from, it's 85 degrees, and he's throwing 82, 85 mph down there. Here, it's cold, so he's got to adapt to the weather, and he's not throwing as hard."
Lindsey has Legano penciled in as his No. 2 pitcher behind Dillon Groover, who had a strong season as a sophomore on the varsity squad last year.
The Lakers' coaches are also excited about youngsters Kyle Zietlow and Kyle Houts. Houts will likely lead off for Spring Lake, play second base and pitch, while Zietlow will play shortstop.
"To be honest, this is probably the most talent I've ever had, and I've been coaching for 14 years now," Lindsey said. "That lineup from 1-9 is probably the best I've seen, and the five starters are as good as I've had. Chemistry with the team is solid, too."
BUCS LOOK TO CONTINUE DISTRICT STREAK
Back-to-back Division 1 district championships have raised the bar of expectations for the Grand Haven varsity baseball team.
"Expectations should be raised, and our kids should expect more," said coach Mike Hansen. "Winning is important, but if they play good baseball, do what they're taught, the results will come."
Hansen is excited to have senior Jeff Stevens back at shortstop. Stevens will be a four-year varsity starter at that position. He's signed a scholarship to play baseball at Hillsdale next year.
"He'll be a middle-of-the-order hitter for us," Hansen said.
Ty VanWieren, who was a closer for the Bucs last year, returns as the team's No. 1 pitcher and will also play third base.
Wyatt Suchecki will play several different positions this spring — anything, Hansen said, to keep his potent bat in the lineup.
Cody Jonas, who was brought up to the varsity team as a sophomore last year, will start at catcher and will also serve as a relief pitcher. Connor Grimes, a mid-season call-up a year ago, will start at first base and serve as the team's No. 2 starter, while Chad Mattson will lead off and play third base.
Newcomers to the team include Sawyer Jacobs, a solid outfielder with plenty of speed; Hayden Modaff, an outfielder who transferred in from Muskegon Catholic Central; and John Cahalan and John Wickey, who will serve as the team's No. 3 and 4 starters.
Jacob Miller, Adam Carlisle and Mattson will also contribute on the mound, while Dale Thielbar is another player to watch for.
The Bucs play in a loaded conference that includes defending state champion Hudsonville. While the Bucs will have a hard time matching the talent of some of these teams, Hansen hopes the intangibles tip the tables in his team's favor.
"Physically, there'll be some teams more gifted than us, but the baseball IQ of some of these players, that will offset some of that," Hansen said. "The kids need to be mentally prepared to do things right in all phases of the game. If they do that, I'll be happy.
"If they don't, the'll be sitting next to me on the bench."
REED TAKES OVER TROJANS
Nick Reed, a 1999 Fruitport High School graduate, has taken over as head coach of the Trojans' varsity baseball team, hoping to bring stability to a squad that is under its third coach in as many years.
"This has been my goal since I finished playing college ball," said Reed, who played two years of baseball at Muskegon Community College before wrapping up his collegiate career at Mid-American Nazarene University in Kansas.
Senior Justin Wierengo is one of several key returners for the Trojans. The fourth-year varsity performer will split time at first and third base.
"He's a calming voice with the guys, a quiet leader," Reed said.
Senior Tyler Fehler hasn't played baseball since his freshman year, but he's eager to return to the sport and will be a key member of the team's pitching rotation. Senior Amilio Flores will also pitch and DH for the Trojans.
Kolin Lakatos is a junior who has been on the varsity team since his freshman year, while Andrew Slocum and Mitchell Reyes are two youngsters who provides the Trojans with plenty of talent.
"Right now, we're looking at possibly starting six juniors, a sophomore and two seniors," Reed said. "We're going to be young, but we're talented. If we play up to that talent, we can be very successful, but we could also struggle at times."
Reed listed Reyes, Wierengo, Slocum and Jacob Breese as keys to the Trojans' lineup, while on the mound, Fehler, Austin Curtis and Travis Grimm will be primarily starters, with Flores coming in out of the bullpen.
"It's going to be tough for the kids because they're on their third coach in three years," said Reed, who has coached football at Fruitport the past nine years. "It's been an adjustment period, but the kids have bought in. They've handled it well."
Western Michigan Christian Warrior baseball coach Darin Waller has reason to be optimistic about the approaching season.
With a nucleus of eight returning players and the return of another key performer, the Warriors are looking to build on last season’s 11-13 record.
“God has truly blessed this group of young men with exceptional talent and values,” Waller said. “Our team philosophy is have fun in all we do, give 100 percent always and give God all the glory.”
Senior Austin Sandin returns as the top pitcher in the rotation, along with seniors Christian Brower and Bailey Heykoop. Brower will play first base and Heykoop returns after batting .385 last season.
Juniors Chad Beisel (.389) and Cord Sutter also have plenty of experience.
Sophomores Logan Waller (.333, 25 RBI), Eric Bourdo (utility player) and Matt VanderPloeg (utility player) also will be expected to make significant contributions.
The Warriors received a major shot in the arm with the return of Henry DeKam, a senior who hasn’t played since his freshman season. DeKam is expected to be a major player in the field, at the plate and on the pitcher’s mound.
Waller also is expecting big things from freshman Jared Varnado.
Rounding out the roster are seniors Nate Taylor, Jagar Kass-McGrady, Jacob Rhodes and Nathaniel Bytwerk.
“WMC is building upon our record from last year and we look forward to the challenge,” Waller said.