In his second season in the dugout for Hillsboro, coach Doug Dick is looking to improve on a third-place state finish last season. While the field is the focus, Dick is also looking to improve as a coach to make the Trojans a better team.
“We made so many errors,” Dick said. “I had guys playing out of their comfort zone. I’ll have to be smarter.”
Making the job easier for Dick is a solid group of returning defenders.
Senior Aaron Bina is a lock to start at catcher. Bina played most of the previous season behind the plate and was a Mid-Central Activities Association All-league honorable mention with his work on defense and with the bat. Junior Luke Moore could also see time as catcher.
Senior Ben Gardner is the likely starter for the Trojans at third base. With the departure of cleanup hitter Tyler Ediger, Hillsboro will depend on Gardner to supply the pop in the middle of the lineup.
Speedster Matt Martins is dialed in to start at second base. Although the senior played all over the field and lineup last season, he could be a candidate to replace graduate Jacob Fish at the top of the lineup. Dick was salivating with the prospect of Martins’ base running ability being added to the Trojans’ offensive repertoire.
While he may split time between first base and outfield, senior Derek Kelsey is also a returning honorable mention all-league position player for Hillsboro. Along with Bina and Gardner, Kelsey hit better than .400 last season. Although he does not possess the same power as his senior counterparts, he can hit anywhere from the two or three holes to the bottom half the lineup, producing RBIs and runs along the way.
The most anticipated returning senior for Hillsboro is Dylan Delk. With fireballer Jacob Edwards having graduated, Delk is tasked with assuming the role of ace for the Trojan pitching staff. While his off-speed pitches made him a formidable hurler all season, Dick is hoping that Delk will channel his performance against Southeast of Saline at regionals last season into every outing this season.
With Edwards having already pitched against Marion, Delk stepped up against the Purple Trojans on their home field. He pitched a complete game with four strikeouts. He also escaped three bases-loaded situations without surrendering a run.
Joining Delk on the mound is a young group of pitchers. Moore is reprising his role as a starter this season. Sophomore Kale Arnold, who Dick was impressed with in early games against Little River last season, should be the team’s third starter.
“He’s bigger and stronger,” Dick said of Arnold in his second season.
Gardner will be back as the team’s closer, and Bina may also see innings in relief.
“I hate to do that to Bina,” Dick said of taxing his starting catcher’s arm. “I have mixed feelings about it. He works hard back there.”
Freshmen Jordan Faul, Cody Delk, and David Nelson could also pitch, but Dick is wary of putting that kind of pressure on first-year players.
When not on the mound, Delk and Moore will split time in centerfield. Moore has the starting bead on the spot, being the faster of the two players. Arnold could split time with Kelsey at first, but also play either corner outfield spot.
The corner outfield positions are still up for grabs before the season begins. Sophomores Aaron Wintermote and Nathan Unruh could also start in the outfield for Hillsboro.
To cover the most important defensive position, sophomore Lucas Sinclair is slated to start at shortstop. Gardner and Ediger played at short last year, but Dick is confident that Sinclair has the range and sure glove to take over the position. Sinclair could also pitch for Hillsboro.
While the losses of the four seniors from last year’s team — Devin Funk being the other starter — should have an adverse affect on the team, the team’s goal is to return to the state tournament for a third consecutive season.
“The pitchers will have to pitch well, and offensively we will have to produce runs,” Dick said. “Fifteen wins would be awesome.”
Although they will still face competitive teams from Halstead, Nickerson, Smoky Valley, and Nickerson, Hillsboro will not face perennial power Wichita Collegiate.
Another factor for Dick is finding the team leaders to keep a loose, fun-loving team focused. Although Bina, Gardner, Kelsey, and Dylan Delk will play a role as elder statesmen, Moore may step out of their shadow as team leader a year early.
“We’ll have to have some leadership,” Dick said. “They’re a pretty loose group, but you have to know when to come to work.”