Though the Mt. Carmel baseball Golden Aces will once again be a young squad in the 2014 season ahead, don’t think for a moment that there is not plenty of experience returning.
Because there is.
“The infielders are all returnees from last year,” said coach John Copeland, set to begin his fourth season at the helm Thursday when the Aces play at Fairfield.
Pete Smith is back at third base, as is Thomas Allen at short, Cort Rodgers at second and Ian Hipsher at first. Austin Rue returns behind the plate as well.
“The experience those guys got last year will do nothing but help. They were pretty solid last year anyway, so it’s a definite positive,” Copeland said.
Add Noah Thompson, back in left field, and that brings to six the number of defensive starters back for Mt. Carmel, 6-17 last year.
The only two spots to cover with new starters will be in center field and right. Dylan Brown or Hunter Fuller will get the start in center, with Shawn Moore and Brandon Stringfellow competing for the job in right.
“We have a lot of room to cover out here at Dee White Field,” said Copeland of the Aces’ spacious home field.
“Those young guys coming in are pretty quick and have done a good job catching the ball so far.”
While pitching “is something we struggle with every year,” Copeland expects Devan Rich to be “our top pitcher coming back. He’s been throwing all winter and that’s helped him out a lot.”
Thomas Allen and Pete Smith will also “soak up some innings for us,” according to Copeland. Beyond that, he’s hoping for other hurlers to step up, from among the likes of Rue, Stringfellow, Hipsher and Fuller, the latter two the only southpaws on the staff.
Reece Metcalf chose not to return for his senior year, opting to prep for his upcoming collegiate football season at McKendree University.
That leaves the Aces with a roster of four seniors, three juniors, eight sophomores and a large group of 11 freshman.
Hitting appears to be the biggest question mark coming in.
“We’re getting ready to hit on the field for the first time today,” Copeland said Saturday, a day also devoted to getting the field ready for the home season ahead. “We’ll have to wait and see.”
Copeland expects more of the same from Big 8 Conference opponents. “It generally goes through Jasper, Vincennes or Mt. Vernon,” he said. Jasper has won the last three Big 8 titles outright.
The Aces were slated to open the season at home today (Monday) against Grayville, but that games was canceled last week. The home opener will now have to wait until after spring break, Tuesday, April 1 against Robinson.