HARTVILLE  In baseball, every play starts in the same place.
For the Lake Center Christian Tigers, most of the questions about their 2018 begin in that same place. After four years of being able to hand the ball to ace starting pitcher James Kontur in big games, LCC must revamp its rotation in the wake of losing Kontur and number two starter David Underation to graduation.
“Definitely the biggest question mark is what we’re going to be on the mound,” veteran head coach Shane Byler said. “James was our guy out there for about four years and we had a number two in David Underation for about three years and for us that was one-two punch that was well established for a long time.”
With their two top arms gone, the Tigers are working to determine how their rotation will shape up and their season-opening trip to Myrtle Beach for the Cal Ripken Experience tournament is the first step in that process. As they have in recent seasons, the Tigers elected to spend their spring break in South Carolina, playing and practicing in warmer weather instead of staying in Ohio and coping with more of the chilly, soggy weather than has beset the region in recent weeks.
According to Byler, there are a few candidates to fill the open spots on the mound and how well those new faces adjust to their new places in the pecking order will go a long way toward deciding the Tigers’ fate.
“Will Caudle is a junior who threw quite a bit last year and we expect him to get a lot of innings,” Byler said. “Zach Page has also thrown sporadically throughout his career and he mixes it up well on the mound.”
As Byler noted, the first few games of the season are a chance for Caudle, Page and the team’s other pitchers to “step up and get the job done,” so it’s a matter of seeing who seizes the opportunity.
Sophomore Matt Starcher is also expected to receive a chance to pitch regularly and when he and Page aren’t on the mound, they’ll anchor the middle infield. It’s at the position player spots that LCC figures to be strongest given its experience at those positions.
Add in returning starter C.J. Bancroft at third base and the infield has a solid foundation for the year ahead.
Along with Starcher and Page, outfielders Blake Sommers (center field) and David Witte (left field) return and whoever is on the mound will have the advantage of knowing there are two experienced, speedy outfielders behind them to track down any fly balls hit in their general vicinity.
“Those guys have a ton of speed and they covered a lot of ground for us in the outfield last year,” Byler said.
Along with working new pitchers into the mix, LCC has a fresh face behind the plate as senior Alec Washington takes over at catcher. Washington has played regularly throughout his varsity career, Byler said, but hasn’t been “the guy” when it comes to starting and being the number one back stop for the Tigers.
With that opportunity now in front of him, Washington will have to work to build a good rapport with the team’s pitching staff.
Getting the team out of the cold and spending a week together has proven beneficial for the Tigers in the past and a return trip to Myrtle Beach could be most beneficial for the team’s infielders, who haven’t been able to make use of their home dirt very much this spring.
“We’ve been outside quite a bit taking fly balls and hitting in our outdoor cage, but haven’t been able to get on infield much,” Byler said. “With our trip, we get a whole week basically outside playing ball at a time when a lot of teams up this way aren’t able to get a whole lot of ball in. It gives our guys some more chances to play.”
Other area schools, including defending Division II state champion Tallmadge and St. Vincent-St. Mary, have frequented the Cal Ripken Experience tournament in the past and one of LCC’s opponents this season was fellow Ohio school Worthington Christian. The Tigers are optimistic that the trek will provide both growth on the field and an increase in team chemistry, both of which would be welcome boosts for a squad that has questions to answer at arguably the most important position on the diamond.

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