The Goreville Blackcats are coming off a 2018 season where they finished 26-4 and 7-1 in conference play. The Blackcats are coached by Shawn Tripp, who expects a big season from his team despite graduating eight seniors last season.
“There are a lot of pretty good teams in the area,” said Tripp. “This year it looks like it’s going to be even tougher competition with schools like Cobden and Gallatin County.”
Goreville will have senior pitcher Payton Miller back on the mound with fellow senior Connor Johnson behind the plate. Johnson will also play some third base for the Blackcats.
“We’ve got some kids who got a lot of playing time last year and expect them to step up,” said Tripp. “Three juniors to keep an eye on this year are Landon Albright, Trent Glidewell and Logan Hankins. We’re going to rely on them to pitch and do a lot of heavy hitting for the team this season.”
The Benton Rangers enter 2019 with a lot of new hopes. They finished 26-12 last season and 8-2 in the River-River conference, and already kicked things off in a big way with a 14-6 victory over Du Quoin to start 1-0 on the season.
“We play in a conference against teams like Harrisburg who’s really good, Massac County who has a verbal commit, Murphysboro has a good pitcher coming back, two of Herrin’s best kids are coming back, West Frankfort has one of their best young athletes,” said coach Brett Blondi. “Then you mix in Du Quoin, Nashville and Carterville who are all going to be pretty good as well.”
The Rangers have a handful of players returning from last year and most of them were role players. Sophomore Dillon Poe started at shortstop last season but has shown some potential as a pitcher. Junior Jared Shaw has good speed, shows good reads and is strong defensively. Junior third baseman Tyler Butler is also a starting pitcher.
“The biggest thing for us this season is having a bunch of unknowns,” said Blondi. “We have a number of talented sophomores and juniors with a lot of pitching potential. We have a returning freshman who started three games for us last season and a sophomore catcher. I have zero idea of what to expect, but when you have eight different kids hitting home runs during batting practice, it’s exciting.”
Marion is coming off a 20-7 season in 2018 where they finished 8-2 in conference play. The Wildcats are expecting big things this season despite losing a lot of last year’s starters, but have some key pieces returning.
“We’ve got a couple First Team All-Conference pitchers returning for us this season,” said coach Marty Manfredo. “We expect senior Mitchell Jackson and junior Caven Cameron to carry most of the load from the pitching mound. Junior Drake Dravatt is also a returning outfielder for us that we’re expecting a lot of big things from.”
Jackson has signed to play college ball next season at SIU.
“Top to bottom we play in a strong conference,” said Manfredo. “Things change from year to year, but Mt. Vernon is probably the best in our conference. Carbondale has a nice group of kids and so does Althoff. We’ll be competitive but we’ve got to get some of our new kids up to speed quickly if we’re going to compete.”
Getting junior shortstop Joshua Griffin back and healthy is a main priority for the Wildcats. Griffin was selected to play in the Southern Illinois All-Star Game, and made First Team All-Conference as a freshman.
“Griffin had some health issues during his sophomore year dealing with a back injury,” said Manfredo. “Getting him back to that level is very important because he has a world of talent.”
The Carbondale Terriers will look to get over the hump this season after finishing 14-14 and 5-5 against the rest of the South Seven Conference in 2018.
D.J. Brunaugh, Brenden Kellerman, Seth Germann and Alec Barrett will return for their senior season for Carbondale. The Terriers will also be returning seven of their nine starters from last season. Five sophomores started last season and the same five return as juniors this year.
“We have pretty good talent all over the field,” said coach Scott Hankey. “We have a couple of pitchers who are dealing with some arm injuries but we’re slowly bringing them back. Ten guys on this team can throw the ball so depth shouldn’t be an issue.”
Last season Carbondale was forced to start Bodie Jones at the catcher position. This year, Jones can focus more on pitching. The Terriers have a roster full of utility players who can play all over the diamond.
“They’ve worked hard all offseason and I expect them to keep working hard,” said Hankey. “We have the talent to be right up there competing with Herrin and Mt. Vernon for the South Seven Championship.”