Coach: Steve Clapp, 15th season (14-year record 292-197)
2017: 13-22, lost in Class 3A regional final
Roster: Seniors: Nick Hall, P; Djabril Thiam, OF; Keeton Upton, P-IF; Brian Jome, OF-P; Jack Henry, OF; Connor Christiansen, C; Alec Coontz, P-1B; Reid Rector, 1B-P. Juniors: Kameron Wilson, P-OF; Ethan Crutcher, IF-P; Jesse Goropesek, IF-P; Rylan Hambleton, P. Sophomores: Nick Sharp, C-P-IF. Freshman: Liam McGill, IF.
FYI: Pitching figures to be the Purple Raiders' strength, according to Coach Clapp. Upton will be BHS' No. 1 starter after a solid junior season, while Jome and Wilson return after sitting out last season with arm injuries. "We have some depth on the mound. That will be a plus," said Clapp, who could pitch 12 of the 14 players on the roster.
Rector, a first baseman who hit .482 last year and was a unanimous all-Big 12 Conference selection, will lead the offense. Other regulars returning include Henry in the outfield and Christensen behind the plate.
"Our challenge will be to score runs," said Clapp. "Rector is back and a great place to start. He's a legitimate collegiate hitter with a lot of upside."
BHS will go with a freshman at shortstop in McGill, who Clapp said is hitting like a junior or senior during practices.
Coach: Jeff Paul, 18th season (17-year record 272-253)
2017: 19-10, lost in 2A regional semifinal
Roster: Seniors: Daniel Broadbear, OF-2B; Max Moews, OF-P; Lucas Smith, P-C; Jack Gilmore, P-1B; JC Micklich, OF; Cole Hundman, 2B-P; Thomas Smith, P-1B; Juniors: Braden Glowacki, OF-P; Rece Seidel, OF; Joey Harris, P-1B; Gage Juarez, C-OF; Ethan Carr, P-OF; Michael Escobar, OF-P; Dillon Manness, OF; Patrick Namoff, 3B-P; Zach Tomerlin, P-3B; Ben Winslow, P-OF. Sophomores: Josh Weinreb, P; Nick Fisher, SS-P. Freshmen: Patrick Mulcahey, 3B-P; Sam Tallen, P-SS; David Broadbear, C; John Keefer, 2B; Conall Rhodes, OF; Owen Lucey, SS-P.
FYI: The Saints lost the nucleus of last year's squad to graduation and will be "young and inexperienced," according to Paul, as they head into their first season in the Illini Prairie Conference. Gilmore does give Central an ace on the mound. The senior right-hander was 4-0 with a 2.00 ERA last season. But after Gilmore, Paul is uncertain how his rotation stacks up.
"When Jack is on the hill, he's going to give us a chance to compete with anybody," said Paul. "I've probably got 11 guys who can throw."
The Saints return Hundman at second base and Glowacki in right field, while Juarez will shift from left field to catcher. Carr, Harris, Winslow, Thomas Smith, Tomerlin, Mulcahey and Tallen are among the players Paul believes could emerge as starting position players.
"We do have some good pieces. Our future is really bright. It's just getting that experience," said Paul.
Coach: Ryan Short, 13th season (12-year record 253-157)
2017: 20-10, lost in 4A regional final
Roster: Seniors: Christian Badorek, P; Jacob Russo, IF-P; Tyler Thierry, OF-P; Brady Fletcher, OF; Andy Strubhar, IF; J.D. Theile, P; Tyler Nolin, P. Juniors: Nick Gilhaus, IF-P; Connor Lay, OF; Caleb Zbrozek, IF; Brendan Short, P; Ethan Potts, C-UT; Sam Kahwaji, OF; Nikhil Pallem, P; Jake Jacek, P-IF; Preston King, OF; Alex Zogg, IF-P; Will Dowell, P-OF; Jacob Newberry, IF-P; Logan Fricker, IF-P; Jack Schirpke, C. Sophomore: Griffin McCluskey, IF-P.
FYI: Short likes the "solid number of position players and depth at a number of positions" with about 12 players figuring into the mix heading into the season. Returning regulars include Thierry in center field, Fletcher in left field and Gilhaus at first base or third base. Russow was a spot starter at every infield position.
The Ironmen have plenty of experienced pitchers back with Thierry, Theile and Gilhaus "carrying the load," said Short. Several juniors are in line to fall behind those three, with Schirpke and Potts catching.
Short believes the Ironmen have some good team speed which can put pressure on the defense. He said Thierry and Gilhaus ended last season hitting the ball well, but NCHS will need the varsity newcomers to make the transition quickly for early success.
Coach: Chris Hawkins, 19th season (18-year record 464-192)
2017: 22-15, lost in 4A sectional final
Roster: Seniors: Ben Smith, C-1B; McCade Brown, P-OF; Jake Marti, IF-OF; Jeremy Fischer, P-IF; Jake Rutkowski, IF. Juniors: Austin Collinson, IF-P; Dalton Corcoran, P-IF; Brandon Roth, IF-P; Brennan Diedrich, C-IF; CJ Lewis, IF-OF-P; Whitton Rice, IF-P; Cody Hardt, C-OF; Ethan Barnett, P-IF. Sophomores: Evan Wallgren, IF-P; Connor Stephenson, C-IF; Will Kafer, OF-P; Sean Shook, IF-P.
FYI: Indiana recruit Brown leads what Hawkins believes will be a strong pitching staff. The 6-foot-5, 200-pound Brown won his last four decisions last spring, including a 4-0 shutout over Moline in the Class 4A sectional semifinal. Wallgren, Shook and Collinson all got experience in the sectional final.
"They've been there. They've tasted it," said Hawkins. "Hopefully over the last 12 months they've been thinking about it and trying to get back and possibly further."
Jake Marti, an all-Big 12 first-team choice who hit .347 last season, will anchor the Wildcats' offense at the top of the order. Collinson, a defensive ace, returns as starting shortstop for the third year. Smith, who returned from a broken ankle last season to get some key hits in the postseason, will be counted on at first base and designated hitter.
Coach: Steve Paxson, 4th season (3-year record 77-23)
2017: 26-9, lost in 3A sectional semifinal
Roster: Seniors: Matt Mier, C-IF-OF; Chris Cuppini, 3B-P; Owen Martin, 1B-P; John Merna, 1B. Juniors: Parker Mathieson, IF-OF-P; Nate Hardman, 3B-P; Jack Sauser, OF-P; Bailey Klemmensen, OF-IF; Jackson Powell, OF-P; Paul Africano, 1B-C; Austin Kell, OF; Matt Taylor, OF-P. Sophomores: Jacob Mote, IF-P; Jack Feely, OF-P; Jackson Blemler, IF.
FYI: The Pioneers graduated eight seniors from last year's regional championship squad. Paxson said this year's four seniors have a lot of experience and will provide much leadership to a younger group. Cuppini and Martin combined to go 9-1 in 2017 and will be the pitching mainstays, with Hardman, Sauser and Feely also expected to contribute on the mound.
"Pitching will be our strength," said Paxson. "We have the capability to be very, very good." Mote was a starter as a freshman and could play third base along with Hardman. Merna saw part-time duty at first base, while Mier saw action in a utility role. Mathieson will be the Pioneers' leadoff hitter and play center field.
"It will take some time to figure stuff out, but I think we have a talented group that needs to grow up fast," said Paxson.