Just it has in recent years, getting out of sectionals in Southern Indiana could be quite a chore this season.
“Basketball gets a lot of attention,” said New Albany coach Chris McIntyre. “But in terms of talent, baseball doesn’t take a back seat to any (other sport).
“In the (Class 4-A) sectional, you’re going to face a (NCAA) D-1 pitcher. You have to have someone who will put some zeroes up there to have a chance.”
Here’s a rundown on some of the area’s top teams:
Jeffersonville (19-8): The Red Devils, ranked No. 8 in Class 4-A in the coaches’ preseason poll, should boast one of the top pitching staffs in the area, featuring Indiana University commitment Gabe Bierman (5-2, 2.16 ERA last season), as well as seniors Ian Ellis and Dawson Willis.
At the plate, one of Jeff’s top hitters will be Kentucky Wesleyan signee Joe Burke, a third baseman.
New Albany (16-15): A year ago, the Bulldogs had some pitching woes. This year, they’ve got 6-foot-4 Austin Dickey, who has signed with the University of Louisville.
“He throws it well,” McIntyre said. “That makes a difference. But we’ll have to pitch it better than we did last year.”
Dickey returns to the mound after having to sit out last season because he transferred from Providence.
Now, McIntyre will be looking for depth on the mound and the next three candidates are Chase Rudy, Ryan Robison and Justin Striegel.
“I guess that’s what the next three or four weeks are for,” he said.
The Bulldogs also will get a lift with the return of Matt Sogge, a senior shortstop who sat out last season after a shoulder surgery.
New Albany’s solid group of returners include three-year starters Timmie Redford (catcher), A.J. Nixon (outfield).
Floyd Central (27-4): The Highlanders – 81-12 over the last three seasons – lost a bulk of last year’s senior-dominated team, and coach Casey LaDuke said Floyd Central could have a slow-starting season.
“We are very, very inexperienced,” LaDuke said. “It could take a while, not two or three weeks but maybe four to six.”
On the mound, LaDuke will count on Philip Archer and Chas Adams.
Besides the pitchers, Floyd Central will be led by shortstop Dalton Drexler, third baseman Evan Jewell and outfielder Chase Smith.
Silver Creek (21-7): The Dragons, ranked No. 3 in Class 3-A, will be anchored by solid pitching from Logan Murphy and Sam Burnett.
Senior Cody Razer should provide plenty of offensive punch.
A year ago, the Dragons lost to North Harrison in the sectional finals, snapping their four-year string of sectional titles. Silver Creek has won at least 20 games six straight seasons.
Charlestown (21-7): The Pirates – loaded with 11 seniors – return plenty from last year, including two pitchers who will play college baseball next season.
On the mound, Charlestown will feature Kelly Rider, a Kentucky Wesleyan signee, and Austin Smith, who will go to Earlham College.
Charlestown’s top returning seniors include Tanner Wesp, who plays first base, and Dewey Cardwell, who can play both infield and outfield.
Borden (19-10): The Braves return eight starters from last year’s Class A regional finalists, including top returners senior Caleb Hart, junior Brandon Thompson, Dawson Nale, Noah Nart, Travis Konermann and sophomore Lucas McNew.
Borden coach Eric Stotts said he returns four quality pitchers.
“Pitching is so important we have an abundance of it,” he said. “It’s almost an abundance of riches.
“We like our chances against anyone, and that’s not just (Class) 1-A schools.”
North Harrison (17-8): The Cougars lost eight starters from last year’s team but first-year coach Cody Johnson said he remains optimistic.
“It’s a learning curve,” said Johnson, a 26-year-old North Harrison product who played collegiately at Oakland City. “I do know we have a lot of young talent.”
The Cougars will count on senior shortstop Alex Flock, who has signed to play college basketball at Brescia.
In addition, key returners include sophomore second baseman Jake Book and pitcher Konnor Voyles.