Head coach: Chad Coughenour, 10th season
2014 results: 7-15-2 overall, 4-4-1 Mid-Hoosier Conference. Lost 3-2 to Centerville in Class 2A Sectional 41 first round
Last sectional title: 1976
Leading the way: Since Cole Fout enrolled at Eastern Hancock, he has played in 72-of-72 Royals varsity baseball games. In those three seasons, the catcher has wrapped up two with .400 or better batting averages hit .368 in the other. He has appeared on the All-Hancock County First Team twice, and last year sat atop the county leaderboard in doubles (15), while getting on base at a near .600 clip. “More than most kids his age, Cole understands the game of baseball,” Royals coach Chad Coughenour said. “Behind the plate, he has improved dramatically over four years to become one of the best catchers we’ll see all season. I think Cole has a good chance at being named county player of the year this year.”
Outlook: Two seasons ago, a Royals squad largely dependent on underclassmen won just two games. Last season, those same Royals bumped up the win total to seven. This year, with eight of nine players returning from last year’s sectional starting lineup, Coughenour expects the progression to continue. “We think we’re one of the best three teams in the conference,” the coach said. “Our biggest rival is the sectional favorite and No. 3 team in the state (Knightstown). That’s the team we’ll be gearing up to play. We don’t think taking them down is out of the realm of possibility.” … The Royals’ pitching staff will be a team strength, returning three primary contributors, beginning with ace Tom Barton (3.13 ERA). The junior will hit the rubber this year seeking an even gaudier strikeout total than the one he banked last season. In just 44.2 innings, Barton sat down 76 batters, becoming the first county pitcher to notch 70-plus strikeouts since Mt. Vernon’s Logan Blair’s 74 in 2011. No other county pitcher last year registered more than 50. All Barton must do now, Coughenour said, is gain better command (37 walks). … Eastern Hancock’s No. 2, Austin Clutinger, also returns with more than 42 innings of work under his belt last season. The senior’s 3.47 ERA was second only to Barton, and his coach said he expects an even better performance now that he has committed to play at Trine University and will be without that distraction. … If speed kills, then the Royals are going to leave a pile of corpses in their dust. Led by county stolen base champ Garek Ferguson (26-for-27), the Royals went 95-for-99 in their attempts last season. “Unless something crazy happens, we’re going to eclipse that number (of stolen bases),” Coughenour said. “We want to put pressure on defenses, keep them on their toes. Our guys have already said they want to break 100 this season.”
Opening Day: April 8 at Southwestern
Head coach: Robbie Miller, first season
2014 results: 13-11 overall, 7-5 Hoosier Heritage Conference. Lost 6-1 to Richmond in Class 4A Sectional 9 semifinal
Last sectional title: 2013
Leading the way: When a player hits .313 over the course of a season, it would seem near impossible for him to go unnoticed. But when Greenfield-Central sophomore Slater Rush accomplished the feat in 2013, he was the only player in Hancock County to have hit above .300 but not be named to the all-county team. Perhaps motivated by the slight, the shortstop made sure he was not overlooked a second time. As a junior last year, Rush finished second in the county with a .479 batting average, swatted a county-leading four home runs and 15 doubles, knocked in 24 runners (fifth in county) and was rightfully named to the all-county first team. “The kid is a competitor,” first-year Cougars coach Robbie Miller said of one of his three captains. “The kids look up to him. He’s going to be a tough out for anybody this year.”
Outlook: As a new head coach, Miller’s stated mission is to bring the Cougars back to winning conference and sectional titles like they did in 2013. One way he aims to do that is to try and thrive on his players’ natural competitiveness. “Everything we do in practice is a competition,” said the New Palestine graduate, who takes over for Brian Murphy. “Every drill has a winner and a loser. At first, the kids looked at me like I was crazy, because I was turning relays and bunting drills into competitions to find the best relay teams and best bunters. But then they started getting into it, heckling each other and razzing each other, and I think it’s been great for the kids. They have to learn to compete every day but also have fun.” … Senior Seth Adams, the Cougars’ presumed No. 1 starter, boasts the most experience on the mound of any returning player. He pounded the strike zone last season, walking just seven batters in 38 innings pitched. “When he goes out there, I know what I’m getting,” Miller said of another of his team captains. “He’s going to give me everything he has, and I know when I have to go pull him out of a game, he’s going to be mad because that’s the kind of competitor he is. … Miller plans for his team to play small ball and be aggressive on the base paths, saying that many high school players will buckle under the pressure his team will apply. … Miller suggested juniors Tyler Mundell and Drew McDowell as under-the-radar players who could play major roles in the Cougars’ success this season, citing versatility as their primary asset. He also said he will expect plenty of production out of sophomore football and basketball player Drey Jameson. The third and final Cougars’ captain will be asked to hold down centerfield and provide a spark on offense with his athleticism.
Opening Day: Friday in doubleheader at home against Pendleton Heights
Head coach: Ryan Carr, first season
2014 results: 12-13 overall, 6-8 Hoosier Heritage Conference. Lost 8-5 to New Castle in Class 4A Sectional 9 first round.
Last sectional title: 2011
Leading the way: Hancock County hurlers will have to be extra careful this season when pitching to Mt. Vernon leadoff hitter Noah Powell. They know if they let him reach first, he won’t be there for long. Powell returns for his junior year as one of only two county players to have swiped 20-plus bags (23) last season. He proved a constant nuisance to opposing pitchers, batting a team-high .388. New coach Ryan Carr is eager to unleash the fleet-footed and “unbelievable” shortstop on his opponents. “We have a lot of speed on this team, and I’m planning to take advantage,” Carr said. “We’re going to be very aggressive on the base paths.”
Outlook: Every Marauders practice ends the same way. The players huddle up and, with a unified voice shout, “conference champs!” Carr noted: “I know people don’t expect that much from us based on last year’s results, but I think this is a completely different team.” … A healthy James Sticker returning to the mound is one reason for the Marauders’ optimism. Stricker missed time last year with a stress fracture in his back, yet still managed to impress enough to earn all-conference and all-county honorable mention honors. He struck out 10 Cougars in a mid-April game against rival Greenfield-Central. Carr gave Stricker rave reviews in his early workouts. … Joining Stricker in the rotation will be all-county and all-conference honorable mention pitcher Zach Spears (31.2 IP, 3.32 ERA, 36 Ks). … In bad news for the Marauders, all-county first-teamer Nathanael Lash is dealing with shoulder tenderness. The reigning county ERA leader (1.63 over 30 innings) is slated to miss the first few weeks of the season, and Carr said the senior might not see time on the mound at all this season. … For those Marauders fans looking for potential breakout candidates, Carr advises they look no further than junior outfielder Tyler Franklin and sophomore utility man Ryan Beck. Carr said Franklin likely will start the season hitting near the bottom of the order, “but if he plays the way I think he can, it’ll be really hard to keep him out of the top half.” As for Beck, Carr likens him to Powell in that they are both “so athletically gifted, you can play them anywhere on the field.”
Opening Day: April 4 in a doubleheader at home against Yorktown
Head coach: Shawn Lyons, fourth season
2014 results: 23-10 overall, 6-6 Hoosier Heritage Conference. Lost 8-5 to Gibson Southern in Class 3A south semistate championship
Last sectional title: 2014
Leading the way: New Palestine coach Shawn Lyons is fond of saying those who deserve to play will play. No Dragon proved more deserving last season than upstart outfielder Keegan Watson. After laying waste to the JV ranks for a few weeks, the freshman earned a spot on the varsity squad and never looked back. In 21 games, Watson cruised to a county-best .491 batting average, while leading the star-studded Dragons team in round-trippers (three) and fifth in the county in doubles (seven). At season’s end, he played 12 fewer games than Dragons’ team leaders, yet still managed to lead the way in extra-base hits. Poised for a full varsity season, there’s no telling the havoc this sophomore will wreak.
Outlook: The Dragons clinched their sixth regional championship in program history last season, as well as their second semistate berth in three years. That team, however, included county co-players of the year Connor Swain and Nick Butcher, all-county first-teamers Cameron Clark, Steven Clark and Evan Vance and other contributors who have since graduated. The Dragons, though, don’t plan on enduring a rebuilding period, instead opting to reload. Watson will be pivotal to that arrangement, as will returning contributors and all-county team members Logan Gilvin (.415 BA, .476 OBP), Andy Edwards (31.2 IP, 2.87 ERA), Jason Hall-Manley (.280 BA, seven extra-base hits) and Evan Hickman (.293 BA, 27 RBI). Lyons warns, however, that those young talented members of his team will need to lead this year, instead of just contributing. “Teams know who they are now,” Lyons said. “Last year, they could sort of hide behind our top players. That won’t happen this year.” … With the departures of Vance, Cameron Clark and Swain, also exits more than 120 innings worth of work on the mound. That means Edwards, who picked up a save in the Dragons’ regional semifinal win against Crawfordsville, as well as Hogan Fulkerson (26.2 IP, 3.41 ERA), will have to take on bigger roles. Lyons also expects to get quality innings out of Cody Chandler (10.2 IP) and varsity newcomer Zach Lowe. … Slick-fielding Tyler Woodcock will take over for Butcher at shortstop. As the Dragons’ second-baseman last season, the now-senior posted a sparkling .952 fielding percentage after committing just three errors, earning the praise of “best defensive infielder” from Lyons.
Opening Day: April 4 in a doubleheader at home against Delta