Experience won’t be lacking in the dugout for 10th-year Gibsonburg baseball coach Kyle Rase.
Back for the Golden Bears are two first-team all-Toledo Area Athletic Conference selections in seniors Andrew Cantrell (first baseman) and Sam Kohler (catcher). Sophomore Brent Hayward, who was second-team all-conference last spring, will be the No. 1 starter again and play the outfield when not pitching, while senior Gabe Hickman, who was honorable mention all-conference last season, is also back at third base and will start on the mound.
Eighty-five percent of last year’s innings pitched return for Gibsonburg, which was 18-9 and 5-7 in an ultra-competitive league.
“That’s probably the most I’ve ever had back,” said Rase of pitching. “It’s just nice having experience. You know what you’re going to get with the guys you’re putting out there. It definitely makes things in the preseason a little easier knowing that we have plenty of arms.”
Hayward went 4-1 off the hill and posted a 2.89 earned run average as a freshman. Hickman threw 40 innings and tallied 35 strikeouts.
Senior Matt Lutzman was 4-2 as a junior, posting a 3.27 ERA. Andrew Dellinger, a junior, is another key arm back after he recorded a 4-0 record and 3.03 ERA mostly in relief work.
Junior Bryce Ernsthausen and sophomore Preston Arriaga will be added into the mix this year.
“With the numbers of guys we have back, all of them are pushing each other right now,” Rase said. “As a coach, you always like seeing good competition amongst the team.
“Like any high school team we hope defense becomes our strength, but that’s still to be determined.”
Rase will have to replace four defensive starters from a year ago. Second baseman Tristain Palmerton graduated, as did Dennis Shammo at third base, Bill VanDerLaar in center field and Tyler Witte in left.
“Usually that stuff works itself out,” Rase said. “We’ll figure it out as the spring develops.”
Cantrell has earned three letters at first base, the same as Kohler behind the plate. Cantrell hit .354, while Kohler was a .338 hitter.
Hickman finished with a .427 average.
“We’ll have the three, four and five hitters in our lineup all back, which will be nice for us offensively,” Rase said.
Others seniors back include Cyrus Foos and Jacob Auld. Junior Jordan Kreglow returns after lettering as a sophomore.
“This a great group of seniors,” Rase said. “They’ve set the bar high with their effort at practices so far. It’s a group that has played in almost 10 postseason games in their four years.”
Rase expects Ottawa Hills and Cardinal Stritch to be two of many TAAC teams competing for a league title this spring.
“We lost some close games in the league last year,” Rase said. “There were a couple where we had the lead and we couldn’t finish it off. I’m hoping another year of experience, whether it’s our pitching, defense or all-around, will help us finish off those games this time around.
“But that’s what is fun about the TAAC, it’s competitive every night.”
While some key pieces moved on, the cupboard won’t exactly be bare for first-year softball coach Martin Brown, either.
Brown, a varsity assistant for former coach Kyle Leatherman, has taken control of the reins this spring for a squad that features six returness, including five seniors with batting averages of .327 or better from a squad that went 20-7 and won the TAAC with a perfect 12-0 mark. Junior second baseman Lindsay Perales returns a .382 average.
The headliner of the senior group is 2013 TAAC player of the year Filomena Mendoza, who shifted from second base to right field halfway through last season. A second-team all-conference pick in 2012, Mendoza flirted with a .500 batting average for most of the season, before finishing at .480. She also contributed three home runs, three triples, 14 doubles, a school-record 48 RBIs and scored 43 runs.
Joining Mendoza as returning seniors are centerfielder Marisa Alvarado (.361 average), pitcher Alyssa Escobedo (.441 average), third baseman Samantha Hannigan (.327 average) and catcher Elena Mancha (.446 average).
“Indoor practices have shown that we have a lot of talent,” Brown said. “Knowing what we were able to accomplish with the bats last year, we’re very excited about the prospects of the new season.”
The Golden Bears’ roster will feature six new freshmen — Abby Cantrell, Madison Lee, McKenna Mendoza, Shiley Schmeltz, Mariah Smith and Allie Teeple. Seniors Shelbi Fisher, Brook Reed and Abby Roberts are other newcomers, as are juniors Claire Kirwen, Nina Mancha, Alyssa Ridgeway and Brittany Smith.
Sophomores Samantha DeAnda, Ashley Hasselbach, Baily Miller and Katy Roberts will also be first-year varsity players.
DeAnda and Escobedo will be the ones looking to replace the loss of Danielle Fisher in the circle. Fisher was one of four players lost to graduation, along with Lauren Rahe, Lexi Busdeker and Sadie Sneider.
“Both of them are showing lots of promise,” Brown said. “They’ll give us a good mix.”
As for the prospects of repeating as league champion?
“I don’t know that we’re a TAAC favorite, but we expect to compete for it,” Brown said. “It should be a fun year.”