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.
Here’s a closer look at all the area baseball teams for 2016:
Coach: Tyler Millward (1st season)
Top returners: Braxton Rivera (sr., shortstop/pitcher), Andrew Gordon (sr., 1B/OF), Mason Mears (sr., OF), Steven Waring (sr., OF/C), Jacob Martin (jr., 3B/P)
Outlook: Athens will look to improve on last year’s sub-.500 record with first-year head coach Tyler Millward leading the way. The Indians will be looking to a solid group of seniors, who have played a lot of baseball together for the program and during the summer. That group is led by senior shortstop Braxton Rivera, who earned all-conference honors last year and is expecting to walk-on at Grand Valley State University next year. Senior outfielders Andrew Gordon, Mason Mears and Steven Waring also will be looking to take the next step.
“I’m a new coach with a young, athletic, and talented group of student-athletes. Five out of eleven rostered varsity players have played summer ball for years, which can be a good indicator of this year’s talent. What makes a first year coaches’ job easier is having a humble, dedicated, and hard-working group of seniors,” said Tyler Millward, head coach of Athens.
Coach: Jay Magro (2nd season)
Top returners: Garrett Waterbury (sr., SS/P), Noah Briggs (jr., 3B), Nathan Bessey (so. 2B)
Outlook: Bellevue will be looking to improve on last year’s sub-.500 mark with a group of eight players returning with varsity experience. The Broncos will rely on all-conference shortstop Garrett Waterbury, who led the team in hitting last year and was the team’s top pitcher. Underclassmen Noah Briggs and Nathan Bessey each hit over .300 last year also.
“We’re going to have much more depth this season. As a coaching staff, we have really put a focus on improving our pitching and fielding the ball as we struggled in those areas last year. If we can consistently throw and catch the ball this year then we think we’ll be able to compete and give ourselves a chance to play in some meaningful games,” Bellevue coach Jay Magro said.
Coach: Matt Watkins (9th season)
Top returners: Daniel McMichael (sr., P), Tyler Roussey (sr., OF/P), Noah Roberts (sr., C)
Outlook: After finishing under .500 last year, Bronson is looking for a winning season with a wealth of experience that includes seven of nine starters returning, including senior pitchers Daniel McMichael and Tyler Roussey as well as catcher Noah Roberts.
“I expect us to be in every game. We have a great amount of experience. We return all of our pitcher from last year. If we hit the ball like we should, we will be tough this year,” Bronson coach Matt Watkins said.
Coach: Kevin Langs (2nd season)
Top returners: Brandon Haynes (sr., shortstop/pitcher), Adam Audette (sr., 1st base/pitcher), Zach Harris (sr., infielder), T.J. Gibson (jr., 3rd base/pitcher)
Outlook: After sharing the league title in the South Central Athletic Association and going on to win district and regional titles under Kevin Langs in his first year as head coach, Climax-Scotts is looking to defend those titles with a good core group of seniors. The Panthers feature a senior-laden infield, led by Brandon Haynes, who was second-team All-State at shortstop last year. Also returning in the infield are all-conference players Adam Audette and T.J. Gibson.
“We have some young men who really enjoy our nation’s pasttime and enjoy competing, so we will see where that takes us. We always compete first for the SCAA championship and work from there,” Climax-Scotts coach Kevin Langs said.
Coach: Randy Spangler (28th year)
Top returners: Brandon Lewis (sr., P/IF), Brendan Spangler (sr., IF), Austin Krzeminski (sr., C/OF), Brayton Rzepka (sr., P/1B), Nick Shaw (sr., P/OF), Sean Printke (P/OF), Bryce Barringer (jr. IF)
Outlook: After finishing first in the Interstate 8 Conference last year and winning an eighth straight district title, Coldwater expects success. This team will be no different as the Cardinals return seven starters and have other players ready to step up from a 30-win junior varsity squad. Coldwater will be led by four-year varsity players Brandon Lewis and Brendan Spangler in the infield and three-year varsity player Brayton Rzepka at first base.
“The Cardinals are excited for the season. The team will have to replace a closer, but have guys ready to fill the void. Five left-handed pitchers creates a plus for the Cards and a start team that plays solid defense should make a good season,” Coldwater coach Randy Spangler said.
Coach: Rocky Alva (1st season)
Top returners: Brandon Hinkley (sr., SS/P), Gabe Keeley (sr., OF/P)
Outlook: Led by first-year head coach Rocky Alva, Colon is looking to lean on a core group of six seniors who helped the Magi to a 14-7 record last year, including returning starting shortstop Brandon Hinkley and returning centerfielder Gabe Keely.
“I am excited about this team. I have seen a lot of enthusiasm. We have a lot to learn, but the outlook for these boys is bright,” Colon coach Rocky Alva said.
Coach: Jesse Lyons (3rd season)
Top returners: Josh Lyon (so., SS/P), Noah Leinaar (sr., OF), Cole Leinaar (sr., OF/C), Tyler Risner (sr., P/OF), Danny Gilbert (Sr. P/1B), Sammy Morgan (P/2B), Dayman Haight (sr., P/C), Joey Zito (jr. IF)
Outlook: After going through a sub-.500 season last year with only two seniors, Delton Kellogg will have 11 seniors this year on the varsity and has raised expectations because of it. Nine returning players have pitching experience, giving D-K some depth on the mound. Key senior returners include Noah Leinaar, Cole Leinaar, Tyler Risner, Danny Gilbert, Sammy Morgan and Dayman Haight.
“Delton Kellogg should be very competitive this year with our depth and we should be able to compete for a division crown and a district championship,” Delton Kellogg Jesse Lyons said.
Coach: Ken Duchene (3rd season)
Top returners: Zach Reisterer (P), Kaleb Hinton (OF), Trevor Patterson (SS), Jacob Walker (INF)
Outlook: Galesburg-Augusta has suffered through back-to-back single win seasons, but the Rams have a young group of players on the varsity that give the program some high hopes.
“I’m very excited about this year. We are young, but talented. We had a good freshman class that we push the returning players for playing time. This year’s team will compete in the conference. I’m looking forward to getting the season started,” Galesburg-Augusta coach Ken Duchene said.
Coach: Bill Blakely (24th season)
Top returners: Drew Blakely (sr., C), Caleb Scoles (sr., P), Alex Janssen (sr., OF)
Outlook: Gull Lake is loaded with two seniors who have already signed to play Division 1 baseball in Drew Blakely (Virginia) and Caleb Scoles (Toledo). The Blue Devils shared the league title last year in the Southwestern Michigan Athletic Conference East Division and expect big things with eight returning varsity players. Blakely was an All-State and Dream Team selection last year and Scoles earned all-conference honors and that duo will be joined by three-year starter Alex Janssen in the outfield.
Coach: Scott Salow (16th season)
Top returners: Brock Ridgeway (sr., 1B/P), Alex Butler (sr., IF/OF), Remington Hayes (sr., OF), Caleb Chamberlain (jr., C/P), Cody Turner (jr. ,OF)
Outlook: Homer had another standout season last with 26 wins, however the Trojans graduated nine seniors from that squad and only return five players with only one starter. Homer does bring back all-district player Brock Ridgeway, who went 7-2 on the mound last year and hit .380. Beyond that, Homer will be looking to fill some holes if it want to compete in the Big Eight after going 11-3 in conference last year.
“Our strengths this year will be our athleticism and commitment to a team-first approach. Outstanding team chemistry and a strong and passionate commitment to excellence, in the classroom, and on the playing field, will need to be contributing positive factors for a successful season,” Homer coach Scott Salow said.
Coach: Bryan Carpenter (15th season)
Top returners: Jacob Brighton (jr., SS/P), Payton Rourke (sr., 1B), Jace Heinze (jr., OF/P), Brock Weiler (sr., OF/P), Drew Allen (jr. IF)
Outlook: Maple Valley is defending champs in the GLAC Conference after a standout 20-plus win season last year. If the Lions hope to defend their title, they want to get big seasons out of returning seniors Payton Rourke in the infield and Brock Weiler in the outfield. Junior pitchers Jacob Brighton and Jace Heinze will also be asked to step up to expanded roles.
“We hope to develop our pitching staff throughout the season and compete in the GLAC conference race. We feel like we can score runs and play defense, we just need to develop as the season goes along,” Maple Valley coach Bryan Carpenter said.
Coach: Tom Sharpley (1st season)
Top returners: Mitchell Blank (sr., IF), Drew DeVine (sr., IF), Trevor Greenwood (sr., P/C), Scottie Reagle (sr., IF/OF), Kyle Veich (sr., OF/P), Tyler Weck (sr., OF/P), Andrew Shippell (sr., IF)
Outlook: Tom Sharpley, a longtime youth baseball coach in the area, has taken over the varsity job at Marshall as the Redhawks will look to improve on its 18-win season from a year ago that saw them finish in the middle of the pack in the Interstate 8 Conference. Marshall has one of the top players in the area in shortstop Drew DeVine, who has signed to play at Western Michigan University. Overall, the Redhawks have a lot of experience with 13 returning varsity players.
“The team is very excited for the start of the upcoming season. We have a very challenging schedule. But with a hard working group of 13 returning players from last year’s varsity team and many of them being seniors, we believe we can compete with anybody on our schedule,” Marshall’s Tom Sharpley said.
Coach: Bill Whitely (1st season)
Top returners: Sam Hoag (sr., OF/P), Troy Saxman (sr., OF/P), Jordan Kring (sr., 1B), Freddy Fuentes (jr. OF), Delbert Redfield (P/OF), Wyan DeGroot (3B/P), Parker Smith (so., C)
Outlook: Bill Whitely is in his first year as head coach at Olivet, but coached for 24 seasons as varsity coach at Sturgis and Charlotte. He comes in leading a young team, looking to learn his players as they learn his coaching style. The Eagles will lean on seniors Sam Hoag, Troy Saxman and Jordan King.
“We are an extremely young team, but we hope to contend for a league title,” Olivet coach Whitely said.
Coach: Tim Brockway (3rd season)
Top returners: Hunter Haylett (sr., P), Josh Clark (sr., OF/P), Noah Winans (sr., C), Braden Rubin (sr., OF), Kalen Stahl (sr., IF), Jake Modert (sr., IF)
Outlook: Quincy was a senior-laden team last year and the result was a standout season with 26 wins and a district title. Heavy graduation losses, however, have Quincy looking to rebuild. Leading the way will be senior pitcher Hunter Haylett and Josh Clark.
“Quincy will be looking toward its youth to fill in holes left by a senior dominated team in 2015. A few sophomores are expected to join the six seniors and eight juniors to complete the Oriole squad. Solid defense, timely hitting and smart base-running are qualities the team is working toward. This is a hard working group and are dedicated to improving every day,” Quincy coach Tim Brockway said.
Coach: Lonnie Newland (6th season)
Top returners: Connor Jenkins (jr., C, P, INF), Andy Galliers (jr., P, INF), Jordan Vandenberg (jr., INF, OF), Dwight Devenney (jr., OF), Bobby Stanley (jr., OF), Ty Hawkins (so., C, INF)
Outlook: With a good core group of players coming back, including four returning starters, Tekonsha is hoping for a winning season and looking to compete for the top half of its league.
“We have four kids returning who saw the field a significant part of last season. But this year their roles will grow & more will be expected of them. Along with other guys we are hoping to plug in and have them step up. How we handle that bigger responsibility will determine our level of success this season,” Tekonsha coach Lonnie Newland said.
Coach: John Bain (8th season)
Top returners: Seth Bruce (sr., P/1B), Eli Way (sr., IF/P), Cody Link (jr., OF)
Outlook: Union City only lost two starters to graduation, so hopes are high for the Chargers as they will look to get back near the top of the Big Eight after finishing in the middle of the pack last year at 7-7 in league play. Union City will look to one of the top pitchers in the league in Seth Bruce, a returning all-conference player, as well as senior Eli Way and junior Cody Link, both of which earned all-conference honorable mention recognition a year ago.
“We believe we will be competitive on the field. It really just depends on the players and their level of commitment. Our strengths will be fielding, pitching, bunting and team speed,” Union City coach John Bain said.
Contact Bill Broderick (269) 966-0678 or email@example.com . Follow him on Twitter @billbroderick