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The Elsberry Indians will kick off the 2013 baseball season on March 19 with a 5 p.m. game against Palmyra.
This year’s team is younger and smaller due to the absence of last year’s seniors but Indians Head Coach Shannon Wells is confident they have the tools to overcome their youth and inexperience.
“We lost five seniors last year. They were the backbone of our line-up,” said Wells. “I’m looking at Jay Ogden, Kyle and Caleb Eisenbath and many others to fill their shoes.”
Wells went on to say it’s the responsibility of returning players to provide leadership for the team.
“Michael Ligon and Kyle Bange are two players who have past experience and who we will lean on for leadership,” said Wells.
Ligon, a senior, has worked during the off season and pre-season to prepare for a leadership role.
“I’ve been working hard on my hitting,” said Ligon. “I’ve always been a decent hitter but I really want to be able to lead our team a lot more than I have been.”
Ligon feels the team’s strength this year will be hitting.
“From what I’ve seen down in the batting cages our team has really good mechanics,” said Ligon. “There’s a lot of power on our team now.”
Ligon believes pitching is also a strength this year, but said fielding is still a weakness.
Wells is optimistic about the team’s pitching as well, but doesn’t see fielding as the weakness it was when practice first began.
“I look for our pitching and defense to be our strengths this year,” said Wells.
Faith in the Indian pitching staff seems to be unanimous.
“I’d say our strength would have to be the depth we have on our pitching staff. I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the number of guys that can throw and throw pretty well,” said Indians Assistant Coach Brian Keim. “We lack experience at the varsity level but the more arms the better!”
Although this is technically a rebuilding year for the Indians, Ligon is so confident in the pitching staff he’s not afraid to think big.
“We’re going to win state,” said Ligon.
Keim is expecting big things from experienced seniors such as Ligon and Ogden but he sees a role for younger players as well.
“We’re going to be looking for some young guys to step up and fill some big shoes left by our senior class last year,” said Keim. “It’ll need to be a collective effort.”
There will be plenty of opportunities for less experienced athletes to step up this season, as only three of the 31 players on this year’s roster are returning starters.
Coach Wells hopes the team will benefit from an influx of underclassmen and the acquisition of two former Troy Trojans.
“We have had several freshmen join the team this year,” said Wells. “In addition, Kyle and Caleb Eisenbath have moved into the district.”
Kyle Eisenbath, a senior pitcher, is looking forward to playing his first year as an Indian.
“I came from Troy so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can do here,” said Eisenbath. “Hopefully we can win districts and go to state.”
Like Ligon, Eisenbath has spent time during the off season trying to improve his game.
“I’ve been working on my curveball and I picked up some speed over the summer,” said Eisenbath. “I’ve also been working on my legs so that I have more power on the mound.”
Eisenbath also shares Ligon’s confidence and optimism with regard to the upcoming season.
“I’m ready for the competition,” said Eisenbath. “Bring it on.”
Wells was quick to point out the possible disadvantages of new talent, no matter how confident and optimistic it is.
“I believe our greatest challenge will be to come together as a team,” said Wells. “Anytime there is a large turnover in players it takes a while for the athletes to learn how to work together.”
Coach Keim has other concerns when it comes to this young team and believes consistency is the key to success.
“For a lot of our guys going through the everyday grind of baseball will be a new experience. It will especially be tough when we hit a couple of weeks of rain outs and we’re stuck in a gym or in the weight room taking batting practice every day,” said Keim. “Those days wear on you but it’s something you have to deal with and stay focused on the task at hand.”
Keim also sees big changes ahead if the Indians are going to be competitive this season, and he doesn’t necessarily share Login’s view of the team’s hitting skills.
“Our style of play will have to change. Last year we had a great mix of power hitters and high on base guys,” said Keim. “This year it looks like we’ve got maybe one guy with power and hopefully a bunch of on base guys.”
In Keim’s experience, there’s only one way to compensate for a lack of power.
“We’ll have to be a station-to-station type of team. That means putting the ball in play, making the defense work and executing at the plate,” said Keim. “We’re just going to have to grind out at-bats and execute on every pitch.”
Fortunately an aggressive style of play is right up Keim’s alley.
“I like kids to be aggressive at the plate, aggressive on the base paths and aggressive on the mound,” said Keim. I want to see them attack hitters with tons of strikes, put pressure on the defense by stealing bases, bunt and just keep the other team on their toes.”
Although the methods and the strategies may change, Wells and Keim see no reason to alter their ultimate goals.
“Our goal is to prepare ourselves to compete for a district and conference title,” said Wells. “Our focus is always to win championships.”
Keim also wants the team to be conference and district champs, and then to make a run at state.
“I think you have to have those goals going into every season,” said Keim. “That’s why you play-to win.”
As lofty as those post-season goals are, Keim is humble with regard to the hurdles he and Wells face this year.
“Coach Wells and I are very excited and anxious to see what kind of team we turn out to be this year,” said Keim. “We have so many unknowns. As a coach it makes you nervous to realize this. At the same time it’s an opportunity to mold this group of guys into something special.”
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