Posted on 21 February 2015.
After a few weeks of practice, Wise County baseball teams will get the chance to hit the field for games starting Monday.
Bridgeport, Decatur, Chico and Paradise are hoping to return to the playoffs as Alvord, Boyd and Northwest look to gain a postseason entry.
Here’s a brief look at Wise County’s teams before they hit the diamond.
ALVORD (9-17, 3-10)
Coming off of a 9-17 season, the Alvord Bulldogs have the tough task of replacing one of the area’s top hitters – Lane Peace.
Peace was named All-Wise Offensive Player of the Year despite missing half of the season due to a broken ankle.
In 21 games, the shortstop hit .559 with 28 RBIs, four home runs, a .966 slugging percentage and a 1.577 OPS.
That kind of production was head and shoulders above any other Alvord player in 2014.
The Bulldogs will need to increase offensive production as a whole to deal with that loss.
Luckily for Alvord, it returns six players with 31 or more plate appearances.
Seven total Bulldogs return with varsity experience, including sophomore Ryan Bartholomew who hit .308 with a .419 on-base percentage as a freshman.
Cassidy Patterson will be one of the five senior leaders on the team and an important piece at the plate and on the mound.
Patterson hit .299 in 2014 with 16 RBIs in 76 place appearances.
The pitcher also finished the season with a 3.50 ERA.
Other seniors like Bryce Bull, Troy Morales, Kory Maag and Mason Clower will also be asked to step up in the coming season.
The Bulldogs also should get a big impact from Kegan Branum at shortstop and on the mound.
BOYD (8-17, 2-12)
In his second year as head coach of Boyd, James Karcher hopes that the familiarity with his team will help the Boyd Yellowjackets improve. District familiarity, on the other hand, will take some time to develop.
“Our district has drastically changed,” Karcher said. “We’re getting away from Brock and Ponder, but we’ve added Holliday and still have Paradise and some good teams.”
Despite the realignment, Karcher has a lot of faith in his players.
“I think we have a chance to get into the playoffs,” Karcher said. “We have a chance to get in. I don’t know where. We have the possibility to do some great things.”
Brandon Hardee will be the ace on the mound for the Yellowjackets.
Center fielder Tyler Kemp will lead off the order. Colton Batterton, Cameron Clark and Anthony Spinelli should all play a role in leading the club.
Underclassman Spencer Pellegrini should also play a significant role on the team.
BRIDGEPORT (8-22, 4-4)
With a young squad, 2014 was a learning year for the Bridgeport Bulls.
But improving throughout the season, the Bulls went 4-4 in district to earn a playoff spot.
Returning the bulk of the lineup from last year, Bridgeport now looks to take a big step forward and compete for the District 8-4A crown.
“We’ll be young again. We have only two seniors,” said Bridgeport coach Ted Leps. “[Last year] will help.”
The Bulls bring back Jared Huff on the mound. Last year, her pitched several key games for Bridgeport. The Bulls will also get back Corbin Coleman. The lefty didn’t throw after Feb. 27 last year because of elbow issues. Leps said he is throwing well now.
Behind the plate, the Bulls return two experienced catchers in Mason Baker and Jake Martinez.
Bridgeport will be breaking in a new infield. Hayden Sutherland takes over at short with Travis Fuentes at second base. Jett Reynolds is expected to be at third base.
Chase Williams and Lane Morrow give the Bulls a pair of speedy outfielders.
Bridgeport hopes to get more production out of its lineup. Last year, Bridgeport lost 14 one-run games.
“We’ll be faster. Hopefully we will steal more bases,” Leps said.
Huff will hit in the middle of the order. He hit .312 last year with seven RBIs.
CHICO (23-7, 10-4)
Chico finished the 2014 season with a loss in the area round to Gorman in a heartbreaking game that went into extra innings.
This year, head coach Brian McBeth expects more out of his club.
“We’re returning a lot of quality kids,” he said. “We don’t have the excuse that we’re young anymore. We’re seasoned now, so we have to produce on the field. We have bright lights ahead of us.”
It’s understandable for McBeth to expect a lot out of his team.
He returns nine players from a season ago including two seniors, six juniors and a sophomore.
Four of his returners were selected to the 2014 All-Wise Team including Pitcher of the Year Tyler Melton who held a 2.01 ERA through 11 starts with an 8-3 record and 62 strikeouts.
Melton is half of a two-headed pitching monster with Brady North, who also was named to the All-Wise team.
North’s 3.57 ERA led to a respectable 6-3 record.
Melton and North were both thrown into the fire so to speak, having to step in as sophomores after Chico graduated three senior pitchers in 2013.
For this year’s version, McBeth wants his team to grow in the cerebral aspect of the game.
“I expect to make a deep run,” the coach said. “Something that we’ve been trying to instill this year is the mental game. I think that’s something that we’ve been lacking.”
Alvord and Graford are two new teams in a district that has been mostly in tact for the last six years. McBeth cites Olney and Alvord as tough district opponents. Poolville and Graford are expected to be scrappy teams.
Center fielder and lead-off hitter Jaston McBee should provide speed on the basepaths along with the ability to cover ground in the outfield. McBeth said that McBee can really fly and put pressure on opposing pitchers when he gets on base.
All-Wise infielder Kalen Johnson will also be returning after hitting .307 and driving in 32 runs.
The Dragons did lose All-Wise outfielder Jericoe McGuire who moved and Creese Redman who has decided not to play.
DECATUR (14-15, 4-4)
The Decatur Eagles will be under a new coach this season with Brian Tickell taking over the program.
A few weeks into workouts, the new skipper likes what he’s seen from his squad.
“We’re getting better each day,” he said. “They are buying into what we’re doing.
“We’re young. We’ll have five or six sophomores.”
The Eagles will have experience on the mound returning its top two pitchers Clayton Egle and Mason Baur. Before a knee injury ended his year, Egle posted a 2.61 ERA and 4-5 record. Baur went 5-3 with 53 strikeouts and a 1.70 ERA.
Tickell said the duo gives him a nice one-two combination.
They will pitch Michael Hicks, who split time behind the plate last year.
A.J. Johnson returns at third. Baur and Egle will split time at shortstop. The Eagles are still trying to nail down second base and first base.
Decatur also lost a pair of outfielders.
Egle is Decatur’s leading returning hitter after batting .348 last year. Johnson sported a .296 average with five RBIs.
Entering his second season with the Northwest Texans, John Herrick has higher expectations.
“It’s our second go-around. They know my expectations and what is acceptable,” Herrick said. “They know there are no days off.”
Herrick expects to field another young team.
“We’ll be starting six sophomores,” he said. “A lot of them got a look at the end of last season, and they’ve worked really hard in the offseason.”
A pair of juniors – Bailey Dovel and Dustin May – are expected to be the Texans’ workhorses on the mound.
“They’ve both spent a lot of time in the weight room and are stronger,” Herrick said.
They will be throwing to a new catcher as Dallas Vann has moved from behind the plate to center field.
“He’s too good of an athlete to keep behind the plate,” Herrick said.
Doger Gilliland will take over at catcher.
The Texans lost some pop in the lineup with Elijah Christenson graduating.
Herrick said this year’s lineup will be faster and aggressive on the basepaths.
The Paradise Panthers were Wise County’s last baseball team standing in 2014, making the area round before falling to 2A champion Sunnyvale.
In 2015, the Panthers will return several key members, including two-time Wise County MVP Dillon Meadows.
But the Panthers may not have Meadows on the mound. The TCU-bound pitcher had Tommy John surgery in the offseason and said in the fall he may not be available until district. He went 6-3 last year with a 1.79 ERA.
Meadows will bring one of the area’s top bats to first base. He hit .484 last year with 27 RBIs.
The Panthers will have other arms available. Austin Hogan posted a 2.38 ERA and a 2-0 record. Caiden Berry also worked some on the mound.
The heart of Paradise’s lineup will be loaded with Meadows and catcher Skylar Black, who hit .471 with 34 RBIs and five homers last year. Hogan hit .386 with 25 RBIs. He also stole 16 bases and scored 27 runs.