EUREKA – Most of the boxes as it pertains to this spring’s Eureka baseball team can be checked. They have pitching, offense, defense, experience, versatility, speed, talent, intangibles and hunger.
“That’s the beauty of having a team that’s been around,” commented Hornets’ coach Dane Wear. “We’ve been working on the little things indoors. We’re inching to get out and get started.”
The Hornets won a regional in 2018, as they posted a 23-6-1 record. Their season ended with a 10-3 loss to Brimfield/Elmwood in the Sherrard Sectional final.
They had two players earn first team Heart of Illinois Conference honors. One of those graduated in left fielder Mike Mangold, who swiped single-season program standard 34 bases. The other returns in senior catcher Daniel Frank (team-highs in average, .407 along with 28 runs batted in). Seniors Keegan Zimmerman (26 RBIs) and Adam Anderson (22 RBIs) return at the corner spots of first and third, respectively. Classmates Austin Davis and Brady Krile will form the double play tandem at second and shortstop. Another senior, Aaron Schwab, is back in center, while sophomore Matt Martin started as a freshman and will play either in the outfield or infield depending who is on the mound. Eureka, who was not shutout in 2018, scored 251 runs for an average of 8.4 per contest.
According to Wear, he believes the offense can put up similar numbers.
“I think so. Some of these guys are three-year starters or two-year starters,” said Wear, who begins his 14th season with a 243-189-4 record. “You always look back at what is your major number to score. I think this team can put up eight runs or more.”
The pitching staff returns Krile (7-3, 1.73 earned run average, 82 strikeouts), Schwab (4-1, 0.75 ERA, 61 Ks), who was masterful in a 4-0 victory over Orion in the sectional, and junior Garrett Peterson, who was 5-0.
“I was looking back at the stats (and) I think we have all 23 wins back,” Wear stated. “That’s every win we’re bringing back plus a few guys who are getting older. It’s pretty exciting.”
Krile gave a verbal commitment back in the fall to pitch for Division II Missouri-St. Louis.
Eureka, who has 15 players on the varsity roster, should also be sound on defense with all of the returnees.
“With the juniors we have and the sophomores, there’s not a hole we’re going to have,” pointed out Wear. “It’s been that way for two or three years. We have guys who can play anywhere.”
Tremont finished 11-1 to win the HOIC by a game over the Hornets and Tri-Valley (21-9), both of whom were 10-2. Eureka’s two defeats were both by a run to the Turks (3-2) and Vikings (2-1). The Turks and Eureka figure to be two of the top contenders for league supremacy this season.
“Tri-Valley and Dee Mack (Deer Creek-Mackinaw) are in that pack,” added Wear. “We think we should be at the top, but as baseball goes, it depends on who’s pitching. We’re not really focused on the conference. We’re just focused with the end result of the regional and getting into the sectional.”
Tuesday's opener at Princeville was postponed due to poor field conditions. They'll try again March 25 at 4:30 p.m. The rest of the schedule appears below (all games will have a 4:30 p.m. first pitch unless noted & all home games will be held @ the middle school):
Thursday: @ Peoria Heights
Friday: versus Putnam County
Saturday: 11 a.m. vs. Dunlap & 1 p.m. vs. B/E both @ Brimfield
Monday: vs. Olympia
Wednesday: vs. Central Catholic
March 21: vs. Midwest Central
March 22: @ Flanagan-Cornell-Woodland
March 23: vs. Lincoln (doubleheader), 11 a.m.
March 25: @ Princeville
March 26: vs. Illinois Valley Central @ Chillicothe
March 28: vs. Roanoke-Benson/Lowpoint-Washburn
April 1: @ Heyworth*
April 3: vs. Fieldcrest* @ the middle school
April 8: vs. T-V*
April 12: vs. Ridgeview* @ Colfax
April 13: vs. East Peoria (DH), 10 a.m. @ Eastside Centre
April 15: vs. DCM*
April 17: vs. Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley*
April 19: vs. El Paso-Gridley*
April 20: vs. Tremont, 10 a.m. & vs. Spring Valley Hall, 2 p.m.
April 22: @ Fisher*
April 24: @ Tremont*
April 26: @ Le Roy*
April 29: vs. Lexington*
May 3: @ Farmington
May 8: vs. Prairie Central
May 11: HOIC Showcase, opponent, time & location to be determined
May 13-18: Regional
Notes: Eureka’s 23 victories were the most by a league team. With Blue Ridge off to the Little Okaw Valley Conference, each HOIC squad will play 11 league games versus 12.