If anyone knows the lay of the land, it’s Logan-Rogersville baseball head coach Casey Ledl.
“I’ve landscaped my house about three times now because I’m bored,” Ledl said. “[Our players] know that’s kind of my passion. … I guarantee we probably have more field work days than anybody just to make me happy.”
Facilities were just another facet of L-R baseball set to shine this spring. A construction team had worked during January to get eight new LED light poles up and running in advance of this spring, but unfortunately, the sun went down on the season before the scoreboard ever went on.
The Wildcats have enjoyed success their last three seasons, going a combined 52-27. What's eluded them has been being crowned district champions. They captured four in a row from 2012-15, a stretch that included a pair of appearances in the state semifinals.
“I remember when I was [younger] and watching the back-to-back district championships,” senior AJ Craft said. “Not having a chance to [win one this year] sucks, but you can’t do anything about it.”
Similar to the softball team in the fall, this year’s senior class was right up there with the best the program has produced over the last decade, and had talented youth coming in behind it.
“It’s not that we haven’t had good [senior classes] in the past, but this year we combined kids with a lot of experience, kids who’ve been through the battles before, and then some good younger kids coming in,” Ledl said. “In fact, this is far and away the most talented freshman class we’ve ever had, one with kids who could have contributed a lot this year. And that’s saying something, as senior-heavy as we were.”
The team was set to return nearly a handful of standout batters, led by Craft, a Wichita State signee who batted .416 with a dozen steals as a junior. Last year, Thomas Kane (Saint Louis) hit .378 and stole one more base than Craft, while Reed Metz (Tennessee) batted .338 and provided the pop with nine home runs. Trey McDaniel (Evangel), who drove in 16 runs in 2019, rounded out the bunch signed to play at the next level.
All were expected to contribute heavily on the hill as part of a rotation led by Kane (3-1, 3.15 ERA in 2019).
“AJ filled in last year [behind Thomas] a little bit, but he was going to get into that top two or three,” Ledl said. “He was throwing a lot harder. Reed was very good as a freshman and sophomore [and was going to be pitching]. We thought with those top two or three that we’d be able to run out a trio just as good as almost anybody else.”
Aside from those four, along with Owen Christian, a returning senior starter at catcher, last year's co-Big 8 East Division champs were set to get a boost from several other players who saw time previously but were headed for expanded roles. Infielders Drew Kennell and Seyth Miranda, both seniors, were among the role players expected to get more spotlight in 2020. They were to be joined by a beefed-up arsenal of underclassmen.
“Several kids in the junior class –– Colin Archer is one, [sophomore] Tanner Petersen is another –– they'd really found the weight room, and man, did some of those kids take huge jumps physically,” Ledl said. “Most of the time in high school, those kids have the skill as freshman and sophomores, but that strength factor allows them to do it more consistently than when they were younger. It changes the game for most of them."
A challenging slate highlighted by their Big 8 brethren was expected to prepare the Wildcats for the district, which also included Big 8 foes like Marshfield.
“I’d put our schedule up against any Class 4 school,” Ledl said. “You talk about teams like Marshfield, Springfield Catholic and Aurora all being on the same side of conference, and then if [ours isn’t the] best Class 4 district, I’d like to see what’s better. It's usually a gauntlet trying to get out of that thing.”
Pegged alongside the aforementioned Blue Jays and Irish as favorites, Ledl acknowledged that L-R, his alma mater, had hopes for districts and beyond just like them.
“Our kids saw a state run and that’s what they wanted,” Ledl said. “These kids have been growing up wanting that with all the success we had a few years ago, so I think there’d have been a disappointment to it [if we didn't win the district]. They really had a different mantra this year, a relaxed aggressiveness. They were ready to come to work every day, and man, did they want it.”