Fielding, fiesty offense help Karns City while pitchers make progress in new roles
Graduation depleted the Karns City baseball team's vaunted pitching corps, but the Gremlins retained a mixture of fielders that might allow the squad to grind out win after win.
Seasoned, speedy position players will guide the way for the Gremlins this season, particularly early in the schedule. Six seniors departed after last year, including Derek Sadowski, the team's ace as well as its top batter. Several multisport stars, contributors on the 2012 District 9 Class AA finalist team, are prepared to step into the vacancies and shoulder increased responsibilities.
“I think we do have the potential to get back (to the district finals),” said junior Tyler Kepple, who started last season as well as in 2011, when Karns City won the district title. “With Derek, we lost a key pitcher. But the fielding and the hitting is still there.”
Kepple and sophomore Matt Yough comprised the back end of Karns City's pitching rotation a season ago. With Sadowski and Ethan Williams no longer around, they shift up to the top two spots.
“We're going to try to step in and take hold of the ace job,” said Kepple, who also started at several infielder spots. “We're going to compete for the spot, but at the same time, looking at the big picture, we're on the same team and want what's best for everyone.”
Kepple continues to recover from a right shoulder injury he suffered midway through the football season, when a strain left him weakened and with limited throwing range. The rehabilitation need is the biggest hurdle for a player who, after starting at quarterback and point guard the past two seasons, is mentally ready for another spotlight role.
“In all the sports, I try to be a leader,” said Kepple, who hit .383 and stole 17 bases. “A lot of the other guys look to me, and I'm used to that.”
Yough, who burst on the district baseball scene with a freshman season in which he hit .388, looks to build on his burgeoning legacy. Pitching well is one of his top priorities. To that end, he has dedicated much of his offseason to developing a quality changeup to go with his fastball and curve.
“Having more pitching responsibilities, I think it'd be good to have a third pitch,” Yough said. “It's going to be tough to replace (Sadowski) — you really can't replace that. But we're going to do our best to fill in.”
Kepple and Yough will throw to junior catcher Nathan Weckerly, who returns after a season in which he had a .492 on-base percentage and stole a team-high 23 bases.
Also back in the infield is senior Scott Kiser, who batted .289, stole five bases and maintained a perfect fielding percentage at second. He has moved to third base this spring.
Junior Wyatt Everetts leads an athletic outfielding unit that lost just one starter. Everetts finished with a .417 batting average and a team-high .722 slugging percentage as a sophomore. Senior Nick Ganter aims to build off season in which he hit .400 with four triples.
Worries about the opening at first base disappeared for the most part during open gym practices in January and February, when junior Mike Riley proved himself plenty capable at the position.
“I think we're a pretty well-rounded team,” Yough said. “I haven't seen any real weaknesses yet.”