The prep baseball season opened Monday with great hope. In Class 1A, Goreville is seeking its third straight trip to state, and teams like Nashville, coming off its first super-sectional appearance in 12 years in 2A, hopes to have another good year.
Goreville (27-8) is coming off a stretch that saw the Blackcats win four straight regional titles while compiling an 88-45 record, including 55-14 the last two seasons. The Blackcats advanced to the state finals for the fourth time out of the last eight years, winning the state title in 2016 and finishing third last year.
“We’ve had a good run with a lot of really good ballplayers,” said coach Shawn Tripp. “It’s been a good four years, and while it will be really tough to replace the seniors, we are senior loaded this year, but we also have some good young kids coming up. We expect big things from three of our sophomores Connor Johnson, Trent Glidewell and Logan Hankins.”
Tripp lost only three seniors off last year’s team and returns seven starters beginning with back-to-back Southern Illinoisan Player of the Year Brodie Lenon.
The senior returns to mound after posting a 6-1 record and a 0.61 ERA with 94 strikeouts and only four walks in 45 innings while throwing at 87 miles per hour. At the plate he batted .426 with four home runs and 33 RBIs.
“Brodie is going to Murray State,” Tripp said. “We’re excited about him. He’s got one of the best arms in the state and probably one of the best bats, too.”
Back for a third crack at a state title are seniors shortstop Braden Webb (.319, 20 RBIs), center fielder Peyton Massey (.319, 20 RBIs), catcher Chance Duringer (.308, 18 RBIs) and pitcher/outfielder Peyton Geyman (.287, 1 RBI).Geyman posted a 4-1 record and a 1.37 ERA with 51 strikeouts and 13 walks in 41 innings.
“We’ve got one of the deepest pitching staffs we’ve ever had with six guys who can pitch,” Tripp said. “Peyton has three wins in the last two years at the state tournament. We also have Zane Schuetz back and he won the super-sectional two years ago.”
Also in 1A, Edwards County won its fifth straight regional title last year and Gallatin County its first since 2013 and fourth since 2011. Steeleville is coming off its first regional title since 2001 and Crab Orchard its first regional title in history.
In 2A Nashville (30-7) missed advancing to the final four by the slimmest of margins, losing 4-3 to state champion Teutopolis on a bases loaded wild pitch in the top of the seventh and leaving a runner at third in the bottom of the inning.
However, coach Chad Malawy had to say goodbye to 11 seniors who compiled a 117-24 record while winning three straight regional titles and its first sectional title since the 2005 team qualified for state.
“Those 11 seniors are the most I’ve ever had in my 20 years at Nashville and have only three seniors in the program now,” Malawy said. “We only have 26 kids in the program, which is the lowest we’ve ever had, so we’re at the beginning of a transition with only three players who had over 10 varsity at-bats last year. We’ll be young, but these guys like to play the game, so we’ll have a good time and hopefully we’ll be playing great baseball by the end of the year.”
Malawy also has six juniors to go with seven sophomores and 10 freshmen. The only players with varsity game experience are returning starters senior Cameron Parker, who will be splitting time between third base and left field, and his younger brother sophomore Carson Parker, who will split time between second and short.
“Our third contributor is our only returning pitcher Jacob Woodrome, who was our go-to guy out of the pen last year,” Malawy said. “We have other arms, but he is our best pitcher. Last year if we scored three or four runs we would win, but this year we aren’t going to shut people down, so we have to play good defense and I think our defense is going to be better that it has in the past.
" Offensively, we are going to have to manufacture runs, but we’re also going to be quicker that we have been.”
Also in 2A Carmi-White County won its fourth straight regional title, Harrisburg its seventh regional title in the last eight years and Carterville its first regional title since 2008.
Mount Vernon (26-10) has been a model of consistency with Tim Holloway at the helm posting 20 wins or more eight of the last nine seasons and winning six regional titles during that span, including finishing fourth at state in 2013.
Last year the Rams swept the South Seven and the season ended with a 4-3 extra innings loss in the sectional semifinals, but like Nashville, Holloway will have to replace nine seniors this year.
“We had a big turnover last year, but most of those kids who got to play were seniors that had been reserves,” Holloway said. “This year we have a lot of turnover. They have done well at the JV level, but it might take some time to get their feet wet.”
Holloway has some rebuilding to do with only two returning starting position players in senior shortstop Chandler Meyer and outfielder junior Parker Wielt. He also has back designated hitter junior Billy Beckham, who is moving to second base.
“We have low numbers in our junior (5) and senior (4) classes right now, however we have very big sophomore (12) and freshmen (13) classes,” Holloway said. “While we may not have quantity with our upperclassmen we do have quality. We have a lot of guys fighting it out at almost every position. We are enjoying this group and feel like they all have the potential to improve, so in my mind improvement will equate with success.”
On the mound Holloway returns junior pitcher Weston Brockhouse, who posted a 5-2 record as a sophomore.
“We lost approximately 75 percent of our innings on the mound,” Holloway said. “No. 1 on the mound will be Weston. He had an ERA under 2.50 as a sophomore and it’s nice to have him back. He threw almost 40 innings for us, so we will lean on him on the mound.”
Marion and Massac County advanced to the 3A regional finals before being eliminated.