As they have shown during a 3-0 start, the Columbia Eagles might possibly have more quality pitching than even coach Neal O’Donnell was willing to admit.
Junior Luke Watson (7-2, 3.14 ERA as a sophomore) and senior Zach Rosecrans held Belleville East to five hits Friday in a 3-2 win over the Lancers. Bryce Dell and Kyle Steve scattered eight hits and Dell struck out eight in a 3-2 win over Southwestern on Saturday before the Eagles completed a doubleheader sweep on a combined one-hit, 5-0 shutout of the Piasa Birds.
Sophomore Shane Wilhelm tossed six hitless shutout innings in that game.
Wilhelm could emerge as a potential dominant starter along with Watson while Rosecrans (0-2, 2.92 ERA) and Dell are seniors. Watson and Steve (3-1, 1.89 ERA) are both juniors.
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The Eagles return 14 players, including 11 juniors, from a team that was 20-14 last spring and won the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title in coach Neil O’Donnell’s first season.
Among the top returning position players are junior shortstop Mitch Daniels (.286, seven doubles, nine RBIs), junior third baseman Sam Spivey (.266, eight RBIs), junior outfielder Brennen van Breusegen (.268, six RBis) and Rosecrans (.375, three RBIs) in the outfield.
▪ 2016 record: 23-13, lost in regional championship.
▪ Now: 3-0
▪ Top returning position players: SS Robbie Taul, so., (.449, 12 doubles, 46 RBIs), 3B Steven Nguyen, sr., (McKendree; .417, 29 RBIs); C Steve Pattan, sr., (.351, 31 RBIs), CF Mike Hampton, jr., (.288, 19 RBIs).
▪ Top returning pitchers: RHP Gary Volz, jr., (8-1, 2.36 ERA), RHP Charlie Erler, jr., (2-0, 2.52 ERA).
▪ Outlook: Alton graduated 13 seniors, but return experience at key positions. Newcomer Simon Nguyen was 4-for-7 with four RBIs in first three games.
▪ 2016 record: 26-10, lost in 3A super-sectional.
▪ Now: 1-0
▪ Top returning position players: OF John Hilpert, sr., (Missouri-St. Louis; .361, 25 stolen bases), OF Bobby Tedesco, sr., (.382, 12 RBIs), 2B Landon Touchette, sr., (.324, 21 RBIs), OF-3B Jordan Fritz, sr. (.371, eight doubles, 19 RBIs), SS Braeden Chandler, sr., (.410, six RBIs), 3B Jack Lugge, jr., (.354, 21 RBIs).
▪ Top returning pitchers: Fritz (2-0, 1.02 ERA), Tedesco (2-1, 4.57 ERA), Hunter Borger, sr., Jakob Hoffman, jr. (2-0, 1.00 ERA(.
▪ Outlook: Fritz and Hilpert combined for eight RBIs in season-opening 14-2 win over Granite City. Midgets lost eight players to graduation but also return five starters and eight players with good experience. Fritz transitioning from catcher to more of a pitching role plus outfield and third base. Lugge takes over at third while Chandler will be a short after finishing last season at third.
▪ 2016 record: 27-7, lost in sectional final.
▪ Now: 1-0
▪ Top returning position players: IF Erik Kaiser, sr., (Vanderbilt; .306, two homers, 23 RBIs), IF Ben Maurer, sr., (Webster; .206, eight RBIs), C Quinten Albrecht, jr., (Wichita State; .259, six RBIs), 3B Hayden Bender, sr., (.294, 11 RBIs)
▪ Top returning pitchers: Kaiser (5-0, 1.36 ERA), Maurer (1-1), Danny Tharp, jr., Dylan Siebenberger, sr. (1-1, 1.40 ERA).
▪ Outlook: Kaiser, a hard-throwing right-hander who has been clocked at more than 90 mph, will anchor the staff. He signed with Vanderbilt as a pitcher, but also adds power to the lineup. Bulldogs won the Mississippi Valley Conference title last spring.
▪ 2016 record: 18-16-1, lost in regional opener
▪ Now: 2-0
▪ Top returning position players: OF Corey Price, sr., (Central Missouri; .362, 11 doubles, one homer, 37 RBIs), OF Brandon Hampton, sr., (Quincy U.; .364, 10 doubles, 11 RBIs), DH-1B Brandon Carpenter, sr., (.300, nine doubles, three homers, 20 RBIs), IF Colin Hall, sr., (McKendree; .267, 7 RBIs), C Konnar Loewen, sr., (Lincoln Trail; .218, 5 RBIs), IF Jaxsen Helmkamp, sr., (.270, 21 RBIs), IF Caden Clark, jr., (.268, 15 RBIs), OF Spencer Powell, jr., (.339, 15 RBIs), OF David Lane, sr., 1B-DH Hayden Sontag, jr.
▪ Top returning pitchers: LHP Brandon Hampton, sr., (4-2, 1.93 ERA), RHP Geoff Withers, jr., (1-3, 4.10 ERA), RHP Corey Price, sr., (2-2, 2.53 ERA), RHP Colin Hall, sr., (2-1, 3.23 ERA), RHP Spencer Powell, jr. (3-1, 2. 49 ERA), RHP Christian Stawar, jr., (1-3, 3.23 ERA).
▪ Outlook: Civic Memorial has a new head coach in Nick Smith and is loaded with overall experience and pitching depth. The Eagles hope to compete for the Mississippi Valley Conference title and return all eight position players, plus a deep roster with nine seniors and seven juniors.
▪ 2016 record: 12-24, lost in regional final
▪ Now: 1-0
▪ Top returning position players: Drew Travis, CF, sr., (.250, eight RBIs), John McGee, LF, sr., (.345, seven doubles, one homer, 18 RBIs), Mack Langdon, DH, jr., (.266, two homers, 14 RBIs), Nick Beeler, IF, jr., (.248, 13 RBIs), Zach Kraabel, RF, jr., (.243, 14 RBIs), Kevin Smith, C, sr., (.266, 13 RBIs)
▪ Top returning pitchers: Langdon (4-5, 3.61 ERA), Beeler (1-4, 3.76 ERA), Kraabel (2-3, 3.50 ERA)
▪ Outlook: The Knights took their lumps last season during a transition year, but lots of young players got valuable experience that could pay off big-time in 2017. Triad reached the regional final with a young team and is always dangerous in the postseason.
▪ 2016 record: 18-19, lost in regional
▪ Now: opened season Monday
▪ Top returning position players: Brock Troxell, 2B, jr., (.326, 10 RBIs, 30 stolen bases, 31 runs), Garrett Marti, OF, jr., (.208), Jacob Willis, IF, so., Connor Pinsker, jr.
▪ Top returning pitchers: Pinsker (6-4, 2.10 ERA), Steven Diaz, sr., (1-1), Jake Ramsey, sr., Marti.
▪ Outlook: Speed, defense, pitching and and attention to detail and opportunity at the plate via hitting and bunting have served Highland well during a long run of success under two-time state champion Hall of Fame coach Joel Hawkins.
▪ 2016 record: 15-18, lost in regional
▪ Now: 2-0
▪ Top returning position players: 3B Michael Chaffin, sr., (.333, 20 RBIs), CF Austin Wombacher, sr., (.313, seven doubles, 11 RBIs).
▪ Top returning pitchers: Jordan Kraljev, sr., (4-5, 2.29 ERA)
▪ Outlook: Chaffin and Wombacher gives the Indians some strength in the lineup and Kraljev could be one of the top starters in the Mississippi Valley Conference.
▪ 2016 record: 17-16, lost in regional
▪ Now: 0-3
▪ Top returning position players: 3B-SS Bailey Reed, sr., (.329, 16 RBIs), 1B Jon Kovach, sr., (.429, 10 RBIs), C Sam Vlasak, sr., (.235, 12 RBIs), OF Ryan Siverly, sr., (.259), 2B Brenden Taylor, sr., OF Braeden Lemp, jr., OF Hunter Counton, jr.
▪ Top returning pitchers: Siverly, Lemp, Counton, Taylor, Devon Bovinett, so.
▪ Outlook: Kahoks were hurt by the transfer of two all-conference players to O’Fallon, but look to Reed, Vlasak, Siverly and others to provide production and stability.
Preseason BND High School Baseball Rankings
Preseason rankings for metro-east teams; voting by area coaches and News-Democrat staff. First-place votes are in parentheses; records from last season.
Large school rankings (Class 3A-4A)
Also receiving votes: Columbia (20-14), Freeburg (26-10), Waterloo (26-7-1), Civic Memorial (18-16-1), Triad (12-24), Highland (18-19), Mascoutah (15-18-1), Collinsville (17-16), Red Bud (10-21)
Small school rankings (Class 1A-2A)
Also receiving votes: Wesclin (17-13), Carlyle (23-12), Gibault (13-18), Dupo (17-9)