Some of the best high school baseball in the state will be played right here in the Battle Creek area with Division I-caliber players dotting many of the rosters throughout the region.
Lakeview features two players who are heading to Eastern Michigan University to play baseball in brothers Nick and Nate Jones. Gull Lake is loaded with two seniors who have already signed to play Division 1 baseball in Drew Blakely (Virginia) and Caleb Scoles (Toledo).
And both of those teams will battle it out in the same division in a loaded Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division.
City teams Harper Creek, Pennfield and St. Philip also are used to success on the diamond as all either won a conference crown, won a district title or played in a district title game last year, with each program hoping for more of the same success.
The goal for these teams and all the other squads in the area is to still be playing by the middle of June as they hope for a spot in the state finals at Michigan State University on June 16-18 after the tournament was moved from Battle Creek a year ago.
Here’s a closer look at all the area baseball teams for 2016:
Battle Creek Central
Coach: Casey Bess (2nd season)
Top returners: Austin Johnson (Sr.), Dallas Gillum (Sr.), Riley Cramer (Jr.)
Outlook: In his second year as head coach, Casey Bess is hoping to see some improvement in the Battle Creek Central baseball program after the Bearcats struggled with single digit wins last year. BCC will rely on experienced returners in seniors Austin Johnson and Dallas Gillum and junior Riley Cramer.
“We are excited for this year to see the improvements we have made as a program. Wins will be tough to come by playing in arguably the strongest baseball conference in the state. We will not judge our season on wins and losses, but based on the improvements we continue to make. The wins will come in time. I am itching to get to work with a great group of guys and continue to rebuild this program,” Bess said.
Coach: Chad Dishaw (18th season)
Top returners: Jeremiah Davis (jr., C/P), Dawson Bartlett (so., IF), Zach Smith (sr. P), David Thompson (sr., IF/P)
Outlook: Expectations are always high at Harper Creek as the Beavers have won five district titles in the last eight years and with a balanced team with five seniors, five juniors and four sophomores, Harper Creek is hoping to improve on last year’s 16-12 regular season mark and move up in the Interstate 8 after going 7-6 in league play last year.
Seniors David Thompson and Zack Smith give Harper Creek some depth at pitching, with underclassmen Jeremiah Davis and Dawson Bartlett both returning after hitting over. 300 a year ago.
“We have a good mix of younger guys and a few veterans. They have been working hard and are ready to start a new season. Our goals are to compete for a league championship and be playing our best baseball as we enter the postseason,” Harper Creek coach Chad Dishaw said.
Coach: Jeff Sovern (12th season)
Top returners: Nick Jones (sr., 3B/C), Travis Snyder (sr., C/P), Gavin Homer (sr., SS), Skyler Nichols (sr., 2B), Nate Jones (jr., P/CB), Ethan Eldridge (P/OF)
Outlook: Coming off a 23-win season and a first-place finish in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division, Lakeview is loaded with returning players and has high expectations. The Spartans return four-year varsity senior Nick Jones, who has signed with Eastern Michigan. Lakeview also brings back three-year varsity junior Nate Jones, who has verbally committed to join his brother at Eastern Michigan. Beyond those two Division I players, Lakeview has experience returning in three-year varsity players Travis Snyder, Gavin Homer, Skyler Nichols and Ethan Eldridge.
“We are extremely optimistic about this year. We have six returning starters and hopefully will be in the hunt for a league title. We have a great group of young men who are hardworking and enjoy each other a great deal,” Lakeview coach Jeff Sovern said.
Coach: Rob Moran (12th season)
Top returners: Jeremy Cook (sr. P), Tyler Eddy (sr., IF), Logan Saxton (sr., IF), Max Jackson (jr., P)
Outlook: Pennfield is coming off a standout season where it won 23 games and advanced to the district finals. However, the Panthers suffered heavy graduation losses and will rely on young players to get up to speed at the varsity level quickly. Pennfield does return seniors Jeremy Cook on the mound and senior infielders Tyler Eddy and Logan Saxton as well as junior returning hurler Max Jackson.
“This year is about youth. We will have four sophomores on the varsity. All are talented and look to contribute in a big way. With the majority of the roster being first-year players we will have to get on the job experience. The blend of second-year players will help everyone adjust quickly,” Pennfield coach Rob Moran said.
Coach: Anthony Moreno (1st season)
Top returners: Brendan Gausselin (sr., P/IF), Ian Mullis (jr. P/IF), Zach Nelson (P/IF)
Outlook: After earning a share of a league title, but falling short in the districts, St. Philip will be led by first-year head coach Anthony Moreno, who has been given a young team that is light on senior leadership. The Tigers do bring back one of its top pitchers in senior Brendan Gausselin, while featuring younger quality arms in juniors Ian Mullis and Zach Nelson.
“We are a junior heavy team with three high quality returning starting pitchers. We lost a lot of speed from last year, but return enough pitching and hitting that we should look to compete for another league title and hopefully move further in the post-season,” St. Philip coach Anthony Moreno said.
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick