Just a few days removed from our most recent snowfall, baseball season is upon us.
Unlike last year, when mild weather allowed teams to get outside and practice daily before the season openers, teams have primarily been forced to get their work done inside. The warm temperatures predicted later this week should allow teams to start the season with only a minor delay.
“We’ve only been able to practice outside twice,” Millard South coach Greg Geary said. “I do know we’re really good at fielding grounders off the gym floor.”
There are several storylines to follow this season, so let’s a take a closer look:
State tourney change: The state tournament will split between Papillion and Lincoln this season, with Class A at Werner Park and Class B at Haymarket. Both are great venues, so expectations are high that attendance will get a nice boost.
Creighton Prep’s reign: The Junior Jays are coming off an impressive season that included sweeps of both the varsity and American Legion titles. Several seniors graduated from those teams, but other key players return, including three of Prep’s top pitchers.
New coach: It will be strange not seeing longtime coach Jim Thomas in a Papillion-La Vista uniform. Thomas coached the Monarchs for 39 seasons, and former Papio assistant Nate McCabe has taken over the reins.
On the rise: Teams such as Omaha Burke and Bellevue West missed the state tournament last season, but both had outstanding summer Legion seasons. It will be interesting to see if that success will carry over to this spring.
Player to watch, I: Lincoln Southwest pitcher Brayden Young went 7-2 with a 2.08 ERA last season and helped the Silver Hawks reach the state tournament. The Nebraska recruit was a first-team All-Nebraska selection in 2012.
Player to watch, II: Millard North’s Jack Wilson was the only sophomore on last year’s All-Nebraska squad after batting .434 for the Mustangs. He also had 37 RBIs.
Player to watch, III: Wilson’s teammate, Matt Evans, batted .430 last year and was among the state leaders in hits and runs scored. He already has gotten some ink this season as a preseason All-American by the publication Collegiate Baseball.
Well-armed duo: Pitchers Sam Tewes of Waverly and Jakson Reetz of Norris will be counted on heavily by their teams. Tewes is a Wichita State recruit, while Reetz will be heading to Nebraska.
What of the Wildcats?: Millard West enters each season with high expectations, but coach Frank Ryan’s squad lacks the usual number of returnees this year. It will be interesting to see how this “under the radar” version of the Wildcats will perform.
Northeast’s encore: Lincoln Northeast finished as the state runner-up last year but graduated 13 from that squad. Whether the Rockets will be a factor this season remains to be seen.
Ditto the Spartans: Few might remember that it was Lincoln East that handed Prep its only loss in last year’s state tournament, proving the Spartans were for real. We’ll see if East can get back to state following the graduation of nine seniors.
Remember the Titans: After winning the state title in 2010 and 2011, Papillion-La Vista South missed state last year after losing to Millard North 3-2 in the district final. The Titans could be another team to watch this season.
Gretna’s return: Much like Papio South, 2011 Class B champion Gretna was unable to get back to state last year. That should be plenty of incentive for the Dragons, who return several players.
Do it again?: Waverly, Seward and Wahoo made their first state tournament appearances last season and will be looking to make it two in a row.
Hard-hitting Antler: Elkhorn’s Jack Morock batted .545 in 13 games as a freshman in 2012. We’ll see how the 6-foot-3 outfielder performs during a full season with the Antlers.
That’s enough for now. The only thing left is to hear the umpires say two of the most beautiful words in the English language:
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