Six lettermen return from last year’s squad that racked up the third most victories in program history.
Second-year head coach Phil Jackson led the 2013 Tigers to a 21-7 record, a second-place finish in the North Central Conference (10-3) and a number 18 ranking in Division III. Included was a win over NCC champion and top-ranked Ontario (D3) and a triumph over the state’s fourth-ranked D2 team, Bellevue.
The returning lettermen are seniors Connor Campbell (secondbaseman), Josh Keller (catcher), John Poffenbaugh (pitcher/outfielder) and Eric Powell (shortstop/outfielder) plus juniors Jermaine Burket (outfielder/pitcher) and Kole Nickell (pitcher/catcher).
“We return some talent, but not a lot of varsity experience,” Jackson stated. “I expect that these prospects will be pushed by some young talent, including some freshmen, for some varsity positions.”
To prospects are: seniors Bryton Carpenter (firstbaseman), Michael Harris (pitcher/infielder) and Bryce Lybarger (infielder/pitcher); junior Chad Karnes (pitcher/infielder); sophomores Tyler Castline (outfielder), Josh Eckert (infielder), Matt Hardy (infielder) and Kevin Sterner-Cole (outfielder/pitcher); and five freshmen, Devin Baughn, Will Donahue, Garrett Kuns, Mac Spears and Ryan Talbott.
Key players lost to graduation are First Team All-Ohioan Nate Cass who batted .500, had a .837 slugging percentage, scored 36 runs, drove in 35 and rapped out a team-high 43 hits (17 for extra bases); Isaac Cuffman who had a 7-2 record as a pitcher with a 2.42 earned run average in addition to hitting .333; David Nay who hit .403 and tied for the team lead with 14 stolen bases; Austin Prosser who posted a .418 batting average, scored 33 runs and swiped 14 bases; and Adam Staats, who was 6-2 with a 3.36 ERA.
Despite losing Cuffman and Staats, Jackson noted, “I would say our biggest strength will be our pitching. We have worked hard to develop some good young talent and depth. Our hitting, especially keeping the ball in play, will also be a strength of ours.”
Poffenbaugh and Powell both have significant varsity pitching experience. The former was 4-1 a year ago with a 4.85 ERA. At the plate, he sported a .343 batting average. Powell was 3-1 on the hill with a 3.71 ERA, averaging a strikeout an inning.
As a team in 2013, the Orange-and-Blue hit the ball at a whopping .376 clip averaging eight runs a game. Campbell (.471 batting average) is their top returning hitter. They limited the opposition to a scoring norm of 3.4 runs per contest.
Despite all that, the locals failed to win a league or sectional championship for the ninth year in a row. The last GHS squad to claim hardware was the 2004 Northern Ohio League and sectional title Tigers. That sectional crown was the ninth consecutive for Galion and the last one since.
“I have the obvious goal of winning the last available NCC title,” stated Jackson. “The NCC is competitive every year. With Ontario moving to the NOL, I see Upper Sandusky as the leading candidate to win the championship race. Their pitching has the potential to be great this year. I think we will be right there with them in the end, as will Wynford and Colonel Crawford.”
Concerns Jackson has about his team?
“Our middle infield defense will be a question mark for us,” he responded. “We have some players talented enough that we hope they will step up and fill those spots.”
Jackson’s coaching staff will consist of Bart Cass (varsity assistant), Phil Harris (freshmen and varsity assistant), Mike O’Leary (junior varsity) and Josh Riggle (freshmen).