ROANOKE – With bated breath, the second season of the Roanoke-Benson/Lowpoint-Washburn co-op almost ended up being in two A. The combined enrollments of R-B (172) and L-W (110) registered 282, just under the 283 cutoff. That will make the Rockets the largest squad in one A.
“(R-B athletic director) Abe (Zeller) and I talked about it,” said fourth-year head coach Wade Hunter of that possibility. “Sometimes, two A is not all bad, but it can also be a big disparity.”
RBLW graduated just one player in catcher-pitcher Kevin Ulrich (31 runs batted in), who was a first team Tri-County Conference choice. They had a 12-20 campaign that ended with a 13-3 defeat to regional host Tremont.
Among those returnees are seniors Sam Hodel (left fielder-pitcher), Nate Woodward (center) and Reed Aeschleman (third base) along with juniors Jordan Huschen (first base-pitcher), Ben Monge (first base-pitcher), Jarrett Bline, who can play second and catch, Jake Weber (shortstop), Blake Martin, who can play second or the outfield, and Jett Weer (outfield). The Rockets scored 149 runs in 2017 (4.8 per contest).
“I think we’re pretty spread out top to bottom,” said Hunter, who has a 48-46 record. “We’re implementing more of a mental approach at the plate. The biggest thing is these kids have been on the field since they were freshmen. The game has not changed and they’ve gotten a year older, which is huge.”
Depth is something RBLW has in pitching with as many as eight who could toe the slab. Monge and senior Daniel Kennell posted identical 3-2 records a season ago.
“I’d say for quality it is,” said Hunter in terms of the most arsenal of arms he’s had since he’s been the head Rocket. “Quantity is always a nice thing. Everybody’s a pitcher until they’re not.”
In’ 17, they allowed 169 runs as a staff.
With all the returnees, the defense should trend upward.
“I think it’s the same thing as the offense, they’re a year older, they’re a year smarter,” Hunter commented. “Confidence is a huge thing for them.”
According to Hunter, Bline will move from the infield to behind the dish.
Ottawa Marquette (27-5, 12-0) ran the TCC table last spring and seeks a fifth consecutive crown.
“We play competitive with them every year,” said Hunter. “You gotta win out and hope and hope and hope you split with Marquette or someone knocks them off. I like our chances when we’re healthy.”
According to Hunter, Huschen (elbow) is expected to be sidelined for at least two weeks, while sophomore Jason Tallyn (shoulder), who could play some behind the plate, could be out for up to three weeks.
The schedule is as follows (all games will start @ 4:30 p.m. unless noted):
Thursday: @ Brimfield/Elmwood
Saturday: Cougar Open @ Mason City: 12:15 vs. South Fulton & 2:30 p.m. vs. Illini Central
Monday: vs. Prairie Central @ Fairbury
March 20: vs. El Paso-Gridley @ South Pointe Park
March 23: vs. Fieldcrest
March 24: vs. LeRoy, 10 a.m.
March 27: @ Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland*
March 29: vs. F-C-W*
March 31: vs. Hartsburg-Emden, 11 a.m.
April 5: vs. Eureka
April 7: vs. Metamora, 10 a.m.
April 10: vs. Putnam County* @ Granville’s Ken Jenkins Field
April 12: vs. Putnam Co.*
April 13: @ Heyworth
April 14: @ Tremont, 10 a.m.
April 17: vs. Midland*
April 19: @ Midland*
April 20: vs. Dwight
April 24: vs. OM*@ Masinelli Field
April 26: vs. OM*
April 27: vs. Illinois Valley Central
April 28: vs. Deer Creek-Mackinaw, 10 a.m.
May 1: vs. Henry*
May 3: @ Henry*
May 4: @ Earlville/Leland
May 5: vs. Ridgeview @ Colfax, 10 a.m.
May 7: vs. Peoria Christian*
May 8: vs, Peoria Ch.* @ Woodruff Field
May 10: @ Peoria Heights
May 14-19: Regional
Notes: Seneca joins the TCC next season, meaning there will be an increase in league contests from 12 to 14. PH won 24 games last spring, capped off by a title in one A. Paxton-Buckley-Loda is off the schedule. Huschen, Kennell, Monge, junior Mason Rothgeb, sophomore Jack Weber and Woodward all bat from the left side. There is only one player out from L-W. Sophomore infielder Bryce Welsh, who did attend L-W, has transferred to neighboring Midland. According to Hunter, Woodward could be called to catch if needed.