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VANDALIA – Despite having six regulars back from last season, Vandalia baseball coach Luke Hohlt isn’t assuring anyone of a starting position at this stage.
The first game isn’t scheduled until next Monday at Mulberry Grove, so there is still time for players to step up and show that they deserve playing time.
“No one has a position yet,” Hohlt said. “Right now, we’re just seeing where everyone is at.”
The Vandals have a good mix of players this season, and on paper, it looks like the team should improve on last season’s 4-18 record.
Leading returners – seniors Colin Ledbetter and Carson Smith, and juniors Collin Nestleroad, Zach Schaal and Jake Bowen – all played for Vandalia’s Jr. Legion team this summer.
That group joined forces with several of the top players from the area and advanced to the Division Tournament, which is essentially the equivalent of a high school sectional.
Additionally, there will likely be some freshmen who get a lot of playing time for the Vandals this spring. Many of them have been part of a competitive travel team, ECI Liberty, over the past several summers.
“We’ve got guys who had a successful summer on two different levels,” Hohlt said. “I’m looking for a lot of good, competitive games, and I hope we’ll be on the right side of a lot of those.”
All of that success has led to many players with the confidence to take on a starting role, but when adding in other returners who didn’t play summer ball, it’s going to make for a crowded field.
That’s why Hohlt has left positions open for the time being. He is hopeful that players will show him with their play that they deserve playing time.
“It creates good competition,” he said. “I’m looking for guys to step up – regardless of how old they are.”
Due to the cold weather that plagued the area during the first week of practice, the Vandals were able to take a lot of swings in the batting cage in the hitting shed.
The cage is shared between the baseball and softball teams, but Hohlt said he hopes the extra time in there will help cut down on his team’s strikeout totals and allow for more timely hits.
The South Central Conference has been decent in baseball the past several years, and Hohlt doesn’t expect that to change.
He cited Greenville as one of the toughest teams, and said Litchfield and Hillsboro have shown improvement in recent years. Many of the western teams in the conference will also be tough wins.
Last season, seven teams from the 10-team SCC had at least four wins in conference play. Southwestern was the conference champion with an 8-1 record.
Carlinville – which went winless in conference play – was one of two regional champions from the conference, joining Southwestern. Greenville and Roxana lost in regional title games.