Young Lake Center baseball off to hot start

Andy Harris
Suburbanite correspondent

HARTVILLE – If you're looking for a single word to describe the Lake Center Christian baseball team this spring, young would be a good place to start.

The Tigers embark on their 2021 season with a roster that contains eight freshmen among the 13 players on the roster. Having that many players competing at the varsity level for the first time would be a challenge for any squad and veteran head coach Shane Byler knows that there will be bumps in the road for a group adjusting to the demands of varsity baseball.

"Eight of our thirteen are freshmen, so there are a lot of new faces," Byler said. "We're very excited about juniors Madoc Fether and Kendall Kauffman, along with each of our freshmen. They'll all see very valuable time on the field."

That group will look to Byler's younger brother, senior Kobe Byler, and junior Thomas Full to set the tone for the season. That tone was set in part by a win in the team's season opener, 13-6 win over Cleveland Rhodes, and the second outing of the year, a game that saw the Tigers record 21 hits and score 22 runs in a 22-11 win over Lisbon as Matt Warder earned the win on the mound and Full had five hits, three doubles and four RBI.

The win in the opener was both a happy moment on the field and an instance of gratitude after missing the 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic left the Class of 2020 without a senior season and the classes behind it without a valuable season of experience.

Playing varsity baseball once again was, to say the least, a relief. The 4-0 record LCC has amassed to start the season is affirmation of the Tigers' efforts to get to this point.

"It was a great feeling to get on the field again and play a ballgame with our team," Byler said. "It made me miss those that missed their 2020 season and it made me feel extra grateful for the opportunity we had with the 2021 team."

The veteran head coach noted that despite the challenges that have become a regular part of life in the pandemic, he and his coaching staff have done everything they can to bring a sense of normalcy to baseball for their players. The hope and encouragement that the team has derived from one another has become a core part of the season even in its early weeks and with a full, 27-game schedule planned, the ambitions to have as close to a normal experience as possible is clear.

"We currently have a full 27 games scheduled and we'll adapt as we need to," Byler noted. "I often talk to the team about adapting to and overcoming adversity... we'll do what we have to do."

While it would be easy to simply be grateful for the chance to play and not look beyond it, Byler is adamant that the program continue to aim for the lofty standards it's chased throughout its decade-plus existence. Pandemic or not, the Tigers are focused on not using their youth as an excuse and finding a way to continue building the program while competing for a Portage Trail Conference championship and putting themselves in a position to vie for a district title when the tournament rolls around.

They're big goals for a team with most of its players entering the season without a single game of varsity experience to its credit, but after enduring the travails of a global pandemic and persisting in order to get back on the field, simply having the opportunity to chase that goal is a blessing.