Belleville East baseball coach Todd Blomberg believes his team has enough quality pitching to challenge the best teams in the Southwestern Conference.
It’s what the Lancers can get done at the plate and in the field that will likely determine their fate this season.
“I think our pitching is good enough to keep us in the top tier of the conference,” said Blomberg, whose 2014 club was 18-14 overall and 8-6 in the SWC. “If we can hit and play some defense behind those guys, then I like our chances to challenge for the top. Our league is so tough ... there’s no off days in our conference.”
East, which opens the season with a 4:30 p.m. home game Friday against Peoria Notre Dame, has two of the conference’s top players in senior pitcher-third baseman Brady Schanuel and junior catcher Drew Millas.
Millas (.316, four doubles, 12 RBIs) recently committed to Missouri State while Schanuel (5-6, 2.22 ERA) is receiving interest as a pitching recruit from Division I schools such as Cincinnati, Murray State and St. Louis University and Division II Southern Indiana.
“A lot of schools are just now on him for recruiting and he’s getting looked at quite a bit,” Blomberg said of Schanuel. “He’s got a huge upside. Here’s a kid that’s a three-sport athlete in high school that’s going to concentrate on one sport. When somebody gets hold of him and all he does is baseball he’s going to blossom.”
Millas, another three-sport athlete, is solid offensive and defensively and had several Division I offers before deciding on Missouri State.
“He’s back with a lot of experience and he’s looked extremely good so far,” Blomberg said.
The Lancers’ mound staff should be deep led by Schanuel, Millkin University recruit Mitch Harlan (1-1, 1.77 ERA), senior Miles Brunk, sophomore left-hander Cody Freppon (2-1, 3.87 ERA, 20 strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings), Jeff Carringer and Alex Phillips (1-0).
“Harlan proved last year that he can handle big games,” Blomberg said. “He came in last year and had great wins and great outings against some very good conference teams.”
Brunk, who suffered kneecap dislocation injuries on opposite legs on March 6 of the past two years, appears healthy and could be a wild-card addition.
“He’s worked really hard and he’s back healthy,” Blomberg said. “If he’s as good as we think he is, that’s a huge boost for our pitching staff.”
The Lancers’ lineup took some hits to graduation, most notably leading hitter Kevin Horner, Parker Hendricks and Domonic Blaylock.
Senior Nick Martin returns at first after struggling at times last spring.
“We need him to really come through for us at the plate and be a productive hitter in the middle of our lineup,” Blomberg said.
Senior Sheldon Howard (.284, 10 RBIs) is back at second and provides strong defense with improved offense. Harlan wil see time at third with juniors Phillips and Jalen Jones, a transfer from Althoff, battling for the starting shortstop role.
It’s a completely new outfield for the Lancers where junior Patrick Gall leads a group that includes junior Isaiah Hitt and senior Dustin Stone. Travis Michalke is competing for time in the infield and outfield with Stone and Connor Canavan (.273) the top candidates at designated hitter.