While he still has plenty of coaching to do this spring, Althoff baseball coach Brett Isaacs’ job has been made a little easier with the return of three senior three-year starters in Ben Hankammer, Austin Keen and Sam Haudrich.
“They’re guys that make an impact on the lineup in so many different ways,” said Isaacs, whose 20th season in the Althoff dugout opens with a 4 p.m. home game against Marissa on Thursday at Whitey Herzog Field. “Sometimes it helps a coach more than it does the players because you already know what they can do and they develop into leaders. You trust them because you’ve seen so much of them.”
Althoff was 23-9 last season and finished second in the South Seven Conference with a 7-3 league mark. Isaacs believes his returning experience and pitching depth should make the Crusaders strong once again.
“I think the front-line pitching has to be one of the strengths for sure, and the versatility,” he said. “We’ve got the kind of athletes that can move around and play different positions. Even though we don’t have a lot of depth, I feel like we’ve got very good versatility and I see that as a strength.”
It starts on the mound where Keen (6-1, 2.53 ERA, 44 strikeouts in 44 innings) and Hankammer (5-1, 1.70 ERA) return as one of the top 1-2 combinations in the area. Keen will attend Kentucky while Hankammer is also drawing recruiting interest.
“(Hankammer) has been so solid and so consistent for us for two years as a pitcher,” Isaacs said of his senior pitcher-first baseman who also hit .284 with five doubles and 19 RBIs last spring. “He doesn’t light up the radar gun or overly excite people, but he’s just a lefty that knows how to pitch and he’s got a really strong baseball IQ. He knows how to handle himself out there and it shows.”
The same holds true for Keen, who will play shortstop when not pitching after hitting .301 with 16 RBIs and 11 stolen bases as a junior.
“The thing that helps him the most is he’ a very good competitor,” Isaacs said. “He puts it all out there on the line.”
Isaacs said Haudrich is considered one of the area’s top leadoff hitters with blazing speed. The center fielder was a second-team All-Area pick as a junior when he hit .396 with six RBIs, 37 runs scored and 28 stolen bases.
“He’s such a unique offensive player,” Isaacs said. “Any time he puts the ball in play it forces so much pressure on the defense because they’re so worried about his speed. Once he gets on, he changes the game.”
The Crusaders lost several of their big bats to graduation, including Luke Frazier, Grant Strieker, Collin McClellan and Eric Mertens.
The catcher is senior Bret Silvestri, who saw varsity time as a sophomore before missing his junior season with hand surgery. He was the News-Democrat’s Small-School Football Defensive Player of the Year as a linebacker last fall.
Senior Casey Arnold (.229, three doubles, 10 RBIs) returns at second and Keen is back at short. Isaacs said juniors Garrett Hurst and Jake Frazier are also comfortable playing the middle infield spots when Keen is pitching or other time becomes available.
Rory Keen, Austin Keen’s younger brother, could also see time at short. Third base hopefuls include Stephen Toenjes, Rory Keen and Frazier.
“We may go through some growing pains early in the season on the infield because we’ve got so many moving parts,” Isaacs said. “When the dust clears and they all settle into their roles it will be a strength of ours.”
The outfield will include Haudrich in center, senior Connor O’Dell (.303, five RBIs, 10 stolen bases) Toenjes, Arnold and Sean McGinty (.300).
A potential deep mound staff also features Rory Keen, Frazier and Toenjes behind the 1-2 punch of Hankammer and Austin Keen.
“We’ve got real good quality, but there’s not a lot of quantity there,” Isaacs said.