Normally a man of answers, composed and assured in his element, Sacred Heart coach Steve Goodwin looked like a fish out water on Monday afternoon at Centennial Park.
Just a week-and-a-half after watching his boys basketball team get bounced for the fourth-straight time in sectionals, the 13th-year baseball coach was late to practice. And once he arrived, he took a few moments to get the team organized, along with his thoughts, and get his bearings on the diamond.
With the basketball season spilling into the postseason and the weather being uncooperative, it was just the team’s third day of practice on the season.
But Goodwin isn’t using excuses. With the season-opening matchup against Otterville scheduled for Monday, he can’t afford to.
Unable to pinpoint the make-up of the rotation or list the order of the lineup yet, Goodwin is hoping the momentum will carry over from last year’s 16-11 campaign that produced a district championship.
The expectations of defending that crown may be tempered a bit with the new district alignment. Competing against Santa Fe and defending state champion Concordia in Class 1, District 15, the Gremlins know they’ll have to raise their level of play.
“We got the state champ and Santa Fe was No. 1 all of last year,” Goodwin said. “They’re really, really good teams and hopefully we’ll get better every game and at the end of the season, we’ll be playing our best baseball.”
In order for that to happen, all-conference and all-district catcher Wes Register will have to duplicate, if not surpass, the hitting display he put on in 2009 and 2010. As a sophomore, he hit .609. He then one-upped himself as a junior, hitting .612 with four home runs and 27 RBIs.
“He’s far and away our best player, and in my opinion, he should have been all state with his numbers last year,” Goodwin said. “It’s the second consecutive year he’s hit over .600 and he led his team to the playoffs, which not very many teams did around here.”
Register, though, would trade the numbers for another district title.
“It’s always nice to have individual accolades, but I’ll give up my .600 easy,” Register said. “I’ll drop down to .200 as long as we can win districts and sectionals.”
Joining him will be a solid supporting cast. Led by first baseman Caleb Morrison, who homered twice in the district championship game last year, the Gremlins return third baseman Rock Curry, second baseman Cale Spangler, outfielders Chris Pottorff and Nicolai Cox, shortstop Nik Langston and designated hitter Ryan Gerrish.
The fresh faces will include pitcher and utility man Caleb Tanguay — who Goodwin is impressed with so far and believes can push other players for playing time — Clint Spangler, Conner Simon, Cody Schibi, Blake Nichols, Brenden Wissman, Lakin Kehde and Brannon Oesterle.
“We’re a really young team, got a lot of freshmen coming in, but I think they’ll help us out,” Register said. “I think our goal is just to get better every game, just to keep progressing and play our best ball in districts.”
While Goodwin at least has an idea of who is assured a spot in the lineup, the rotation is a different story after losing the one-two punch of Sam Liston and Jacob Harlan. Spangler, Langston, Tanguay and Curry are the early favorites to earn some starts, but everyone — and Goodwin emphasized “everyone” — will get a chance to compete for innings.
Asked how he’s going to work with the inexperienced pitching staff, Register replied, “A lot of patience. It’s not that they’re bad, it’s just they haven’t pitched and they’re just not used to it. But they’ll get thrown into it and it will be kind of a trial by fire.”
AT A GLANCE
Opening day: Otterville at Sacred Heart, 4:30 p.m. Monday, Centennial Park
Road opener: Sacred Heart at St. Paul Lutheran, 4:30 p.m. April 4, Concordia
Key date: District tournament, May 14-21, TBA
Key players: Wes Register, Caleb Morrison, Chris Pottorff and Caleb Tanguay