While the Nashville Hornets won a Southern Illinois River-to-River Conference baseball championship and regional championship last spring, their march toward the Class 2A state tournament ended in the sectional.
Coach Chad Malawy has a wealth of experience returning among his position players and pitchers, probably the main reason area coaches chose the Hornets (27-6 last season) as the No. 1 team in the Belleville News-Democrat Small-School Preseason Baseball Rankings. Nashville is 2-1 this season.
A deep senior class is led by returning starters and Lindenwood-Belleville recruits, catcher Cody Bauza and pitcher-shortstop Ryan Brink, along with Jefferson College pitching recruit Brogan Kemp.
Bauza hit .402 last spring with 15 doubles, four homers and 25 RBIs, also throwing out 17 runners trying to steal. Brink was 7-2 on the mound with a 1.45 earned-run average and 64 strikeouts in 62 1/3 innings while hitting .308 with two homers and 24 RBIs.
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Both were second-team BND All-Area picks.
Kemp, a first-team All-Area pick, was 7-0 as a junior with a 1.46 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 48 innings.
Also returning are senior center fielder and second-team All-Area pick Hayden Heggemeier (.345, 11 doubles, 16 RBIs, 32 runs scored, 12 stolen bases) and junior pitcher-outfielder Austin Anderson (.292, eight doubles, one homer, 12 RBIs).
Senior Andrew Kash returns at second base.
2016 record: 20-8, lost in regional championship
Top returning position players: SS Kolby Schulte, sr. (Southwestern Illinois; .438, 18 doubles, 31 RBIs, 32 runs, 15 stolen bases), 1B Jack Strieker, sr. (McKendree; .348, 10 RBIs), CF Carter Truong, sr. (Elmhurst; .363, 14 RBIs, 27 runs), 3B Jayce Timmermann, sr. (Missouri-St. Louis; .256, eight doubles, 11 RBIs), C Matt Walters, jr. (.250, two homers, 14 RBIs).
Top returning pitchers: Dylan Wilson, jr. (8-0, 1.09 ERA), Strieker (6-1, 1.77 ERA), Trevor Kohrmann, sr. (SWIC; 2-1, 1.27 ERA), Truong (3-1, 2.30 ERA).
OUTLOOK: What’s not to like here with seven starters returning, many of whom have started three or in some cases four years. The Cougars are particularly deep on the mound and should challenge for the Cahokia Conference-Mississippi Division title. Schulte and Wilson were both first-team All-Area picks last season and Strieker was a second-team selection.
2016 record: 19-4-1, lost in regional semifinal
Top returning position players: C-IF Wil Rakers, sr. (.471, two homers, 23 RBIs), IF Lukas Whitten, sr. (Greenville College; .217), 1B-C Jacob Dumstorff, sr. (.348, 10 RBIs), IF Alex Loepker, sr.
Top returning pitchers: Whitten (3-0, 3.44 ERA), Nolan Robben, sr. (2-0, 1.24 ERA), Matt Spears, sr.
OUTLOOK: The Knights have a dangerous offensive weapon in Rakers, with Dumstorff another potentially strong offensive source. Whitten and Robben will be counted on for a lot of innings and wins.
2016 record: 22-15-1, lost in sectional championship
Top returning position players: 3B Easton Wallace, sr. (.481, 14 doubles, 32 RBIs), OF Jake Krekel, jr. (.393, 11 doubles, 11 RBIs, 22 stolen bases), SS Cole Juelfs, jr. (.274, 20 RBIs), 1B Michael Chism, jr. (.320, 14 RBIs), OF Erik Wallace, sr. (.329, 17 RBIs), C Tyler Kempfer, jr. (.336, 23 RBIs), OF Drew Maus, jr. (.246), OF Ryan Brinkman, jr., 2B Andrew Whipple, jr. (.275, seven RBIs).
Top returning pitchers: Wallace (6-1, 2.80 ERA), Juelfs (5-1, 2.01 ERA), Whipple (4-3), Drew Maus (2-2, three saves), Michael Chism, Ryan Brinkman, Logan Seidler.
OUTLOOK: The Pirates nearly made it to state last season, losing to Okawville in the sectional final. This back-to-back Cahokia Conference-Kaskaskia Division championship club is even deeper, with eight starters returning including a nucleus of players that finished third at the Junior Legion State Tournament. One huge hole to fill in the lineup and behind the plate is graduated catcher and 2016 BND Small-School Player of the Year Mark Nappier, now playing at SWIC. Freshman pitcher-outfielder Philip Reinhardt is hitting .636 (7-for-11) through four games with six RBIs while Juelfs is at .667 (10-for-15).
2016 record: 17-13, lost in sectional
Top returning position players: Blake Bernhardt, sr. (.387, 20 RBIs), Josh Demage, jr. (.295, five RBIs), Seth Nast, jr. (.296, 14 RBIs), Zach Swaim, sr. (.254, 12 RBIs), Caleb Kalmer, sr., Nate Brede, so. (.321, six RBIs), Brandt Goings, Brandon Durgin, so., Mick Stephens, jr.
Top returning pitchers: Nast (3-1, 3.33 ERA), Brede (2-1, 1.53 ERA), Swaim (1-1, 3.94 ERA), Parker Durgin, so., Brandon Durgin, so.
OUTLOOK: Wesclin’s records don’t jump out at you but the Warriors beat teams consistently with pitching, defense and fundamentals. This club has a youth and experience, which should serve coach John Groennert well this spring.
2016 record: 23-12, lost in regional final
Top returning position players: 3B Dru Johnson, sr. (.339, one homer, 19 RBIs), OF Conner Humes, jr., (.329, one homer, 14 RBIs), OF Tyler Siever, jr. (.225, six RBIs), IF Noah Crocker, so. (.273, six RBIs)
Top returning pitchers: Reckling Colton, sr. (3-1, 5.12 ERA), Humes (1-0, 0.81 ERA), Crocker
OUTLOOK: Indians took some big hits through graduation, but always find a way to rebuild quickly under longtime coach Dusty Barr.
2016 record: 20-14-1, finished third at Class 1A state tournament
Top returning position players: IF Shane Ganz, sr. (.318, 15 RBIs), OF Payten Harre, jr. (.288, 12 RBIs) IF Noland Crane, sr. (.282, two homers, 21 RBIs), C Drew Frederking, sr. (.202, 12 RBIs), IF Will Aubel, so. (.349, 17 RBIs), OF Josh Madrid, sr. (.234, nine RBIs).
Top returning pitchers: Ganz (4-4, 4.46 ERA), Harre (1-5, 1.48 ERA), Drew Frederking (1-1, 3.29 ERA), Payton Riechmann, so., Wyatt Krohne, so.
OUTLOOK: Can Okawville put together a third straight tournament trip? Don’t count the Rockets out after magical playoff runs the past two springs. Basketball all-stater Noah Frederking used to play baseball with this group and has rejoined the team for his senior year, so he’s an interesting player to watch. The loss of first-team All-Area players Brad Fuhrhop and Brendan Killion created big holes to fill.
2016 record: 13-18, lost in regional
Top returning position players: SS Trevor Davis, sr. (.380, two homers, 24 RBIs), OF Tyler Brinkmann, sr., OF Alex Stern, sr. (.309, nine RBIs), IF Mark Branz, so. (.280, 13 RBIs)
Top returning pitchers: Davis (3-4, 2.86 ERA, 66 strikeouts in 51 1/3 innings), Collin Kessler, sr. (William Woods; 4-2, 3.24 ERA), Brinkmann (2-2).
OUTLOOK: Branz had nine RBIs in the Hawks’ first five games. Gibault has one of the region’s top small-school pitching combos in Davis and Kessler, but will need some other arms to come through. Two intriguing freshmen — catcher Josh Papenberg and pitcher-outfielder Tim Reinholz — give the Hawks hope for the future.
2016 record: 10-21, lost in regional
Top returning position players: OF Lucas Tobin, sr. (SWIC; .179, 10 RBIs); SS Tanner Van Dorn (.225, one homer, 13 RBIs), C Griffin Ziebold (.190, eight RBIs), LF Thomas White (.281, six RBIs), 3B Gavin Braun
Top returning pitchers: Tobin (2-8, 4.20 ERA), Van Dorn (3-2, 2.05 ERA), Gavin Rensing, Thomas White
OUTLOOK: Musketeers have a new coach in Dave Lucht, the longtime Red Bud football coach who also has coached softball at the school. As a former baseball standout himself, Lucht should have no trouble transitioning to baseball. The Musketeers will lean heavily on Van Dorn and Tobin for quality innings.