SPRINGFIELD TWP. There’s graduating a large senior class and then there’s graduating the senior class the Springfield baseball program had one year ago.
"We’re in an interesting spot … we graduated 10 seniors and nine of them were starters," head coach John Kinsey said. "When you have that many seniors graduate, the next year you’re going to have a lot of freshmen and sophomores on the field at all times."
The Spartans have upperclassmen this season, but those upperclassmen don’t have as much experience as they might on many other teams because last season’s seniors consumed a lot of the available playing time.
Knowing that experience would be in short supply at the start of the year, Kinsey and the rest of his coaching staff made a conscious effort to "tone down" their non-league schedule, trying to add opponents who would challenge the Spartans without overwhelming them.
There are six seniors and four juniors on the roster and though many of them are earning their first significant varsity playing time, the hope is that they can acclimate quickly to the higher level of competition.
"We want to try to to get some momentum and get our feet wet before the tournament," Kinsey said. "As a staff feel we can still be at our best by the time tournament comes."
Kinsey pointed to defense as the team’s biggest strength at present. His approach is that the nine best defensive players will be the ones on the field at any given time. With players getting their first extended chance at varsity action, the veteran coach knows that hitting will be a work in progress.
Dealing with that learning curve will be a determining factor when it comes to Springfield’s success. One potential boost for the offense is that when the Spartans are able to get runners on base, Kinsey believes they have enough speed to cause problems for opposing defenses.
Some of the new faces expected to make an impact are freshmen, as Dylan Hanna, Joel Justice and Colton Nutter will have an opportunity to pitch and provide a boost for the starting staff. When they’re not pitching, Justice (first base) and Hanna (second base) will be part of a new-look infield.
Returning letterwinners Paul Stubbs, Derek McComas, Zach Ickes, Logan Woods and Andrew Schultz are among the holdovers from last season and sophomore Logan Harnish, whom Kinsey described as having "the best offseason of any player on the team," is looking to solidify his hold on the number one starter spot in the rotation.
A 5-0 shutout loss to Kent Roosevelt was a challenging, yet encouraging opener for Springfield. Kinsey noted that the Rough Riders, a former Portage Trail Conference member and a school Springfield still plays in some sports even though Roosevelt is long gone from the PTC Metro Division, returned some of their best players from a season ago and look to be solid again this season.
Merely getting a game in was a step forward for the Spartans, who haven’t exactly been dealt a winning hand by Mother Nature this spring.
"That’s been tough for us as young as we are. As a staff we talked and felt like we needed to get four scrimmages in to help us figure out which of these guys look good and can hack it every day … and we got one of four in," Kinsey said. "We have been rained out of three scrimmages and three games so far. In just two weeks, we had three games rained out."
The rain has meant putting the quest to find out which new faces fit in each position on the field on hold, or at least slowing it down to a snail’s pace for now. Like coaches and athletes from baseball, softball, lacrosse, tennis and track teams across the area, the Spartans are hoping that the snow and cold take their leave for the season and at least slightly warmer temperatures and a decline in precipitation make it easier for them to get outside and play regularly.
Until the sun and warmth arrive and hang around for more than a day or two, it’s a waiting game for a team doing its best to progress toward a new identity with plenty of new pieces.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB