The Sacred Heart Gremlins will have a veteran yet inexperienced baseball team this season.
The Gremlins bring back most of their starting line-up from last season’s 11-6, district championship squad but lack varsity experience on their pitching staff.
Staff ace Nik Langston graduated as did Conner Simon.
“We’re really going to miss Nik as a pitching staff this year,” Sacred Heart coach Jaric Reid said. “He had that bulldog mentality that he was going to get the batter out no matter what it took, and he really hated to lose.”
Langston struck out 51 batters in 38 innings and held opposing batters to a .211 batting average.
“We’ve got to find that guy who can really be our work horse and just be able to rely on to get it done on the bump,” Reid said.
The Gremlins return three pitchers from last season. Mason Kelchner, Kolin Brace and Chance Spangler combined to pitch in 11 of their 17 games last year.
“Last year as a freshmen, Kolin was third on our team in appearances and innings pitched on the mound,” Reid said. “He posted a .122 opponent batting average, which was first on our pitching staff in 2013. I think he will really eat up some innings for us this year. Mason and Chance will see a lot more time on the mound this year.”
Caleb Tanguay, Jackson Smith, Brendan Volcko and Ben Smeltzer will also pitch.
When Kelchner isn’t pitching, he will be the team’s starting catcher.
“Mason is everything you want in your catcher,” Reid said. “Specifically, he’s a hard-nosed type of player and an excellent communicator whether is calling pitches or setting up our defense.”
Kelchner was a first-team all-Kaysinger Conference and all-district player last season.
Sacred Heart returns two of its three starting outfielders. Ben Smeltzer started in left field, and Jackson Smith was the team’s starter in center field.
“Jackson really flies after the baseball in the outfield,” Reid said. “One thing that separates him from a lot of other kids you see at the high school level is his anticipation. His ability to anticipate where flyballs will end up based on what he sees and hears when the ball hits the bat is second to none.”
Smeltzer brings speed to the Gremlins’ lineup. He not only plays well in the field, but he batted leadoff most of last season.
Brendan Volcko and Cody Schibi are in the mix to fill Blake Nichols’ spot in right field.
On the infield, first-team all-district shortstop Caleb Tanguay is back, as well as Clint Spangler at first base.
Spangler, Garrett Strange, Brace return and will complete for playing time on the infield.
Freshman Jin Jung and Zach Parson are in the mix to play second base.
Japanese exchange student Kohei Kadama, senior newcomer Michael Hohne and sophomores Janki Harada, Cal Racy and Jacob Smothers round out the team’s roster.
“Our biggest strength will be the experience we return to this roster,” Reid said. “Our core guys (have) played a lot of baseball with a lot of varsity experience. Two years ago as freshmen and sophomores, they were district runner-ups losing only to the eventual state champion, Santa Fe. Last year as sophomores and juniors, they won a (district championship) and took the eventual state runner-up (West Platte) to a 0-0 tie ballgame before losing 1-0 in the seventh. So this year as juniors and seniors, I look for them as a group to really carry this ball team and take that next step.”
The Gremlins open the season against Crest Ridge on March 24 near Centerview.