FORTVILLE — Ryan Carr hasn’t had a good night’s sleep in weeks.
Haunted by the same vision since preseason practices started last month, the Mt. Vernon baseball coach jokes how there’s no finding the cool side of the pillow anymore.
The nightmare-induced cold sweats have made sure of that.
“I’ve been having this crazy dream, and I bet this is not uncommon. I don’t know? Maybe I’m insane,” Carr laughed. “I’ve been dreaming that we show up to these fields that I’ve never been to before for a game, and I’m in the dugout. I’m looking at the lineup card, and it’s blank. They call me over for the coaches’ meeting, but I can’t figure out who to put where!”
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Part of Carr’s REM terrors, he says, comes from an overactive imagination. His players laugh as they describe it as, Carr being Carr. But it’s truly a problem, the third-year coach chuckles, the best kind to have.
“I really do have so many options, it’s not fair some guys have to sit on the bench,” Carr explained. “If I could, like summer ball, I would bat like 13 dudes.”
Instead, he might print thank you cards for those understanding players not in the lineup on any particular day. With four varsity regulars back this season, a plethora of experienced talent behind them and a deep pitching staff, the Marauders are built for fluidity.
As a result, Carr envisions a scenario this year revolving around a magic number somewhere between 19 and 23. Meaning few will start 28 games, Carr says, but everyone will have a role.
“We have a lot of guys that can hit and a lot of guys that can play,” senior third baseman Luke Smoot said. “I think it gives us some edge.”
Razor sharp is the goal this spring for the Marauders, who finished sectional runner-up at 18-9 in 2016 and second in the Hoosier Heritage Conference at 9-5 for a second straight season.
Breaking every huddle with two words, “conference champs,” the Marauders are confident, loose and carrying a two-ton chip they are eager to unload en route to a potential HHC title.
“The conference is there. The conference is winnable. I hope they’re focused and ready to go,” Carr said. “It’s a major accomplishment to win our conference. It’s a big deal. Being 9-5 the past two years, we’ve been close.”
Senior ace Ryan Beck believes it’s time to close the gap, and he will be the catalyst as one of the conference’s top returning players. An Indiana University-Kokomo recruit, Beck hit .393 as a junior with 19 RBI and six doubles.
On the mound, the right-hander was 3-2 with a 2.01 ERA and 47 strikeouts in 45.1 innings pitched against 12 walks. Opposing lineups hit .180 against him.
“We have high expectations. We want to get back to where we were last year and even farther,” Beck said. “I think the guys coming back can fill those positions left behind by the people we lost pretty well.”
An area of strength is at catcher where senior Braydon Augustinovicz, a Franklin College recruit, reclaims his spot after hitting .338 with 20 RBI and four doubles last season. Smoot (.354), a Franklin College signee, will back him up if needed or when fellow returnee Cole Cain, a junior, gets the starting nod at third.
Seasoned seniors Mitch McCarthy, Zach Roach (.273) and Sam Norman are the projected outfield starters, while Beck will start at shortstop.
Junior Jared Shelton will man first base with junior Matthew Boyle at second and sophomore Cooper Williams backing up Beck at shortstop. Junior Dino Tharp’s versatility gives the team options as he can play all around the infield.
Junior Jaden Cappelletti and sophomore Thomas Obergfell add outfield depth.
Pitching, however, is where the Marauders’ cavernous wealth of arms will loom large. Behind Beck is 6-foot-6 junior Caleb Rush, who sported a 1.75 ERA and 26 strikeouts through 20 innings.
“Rush is going to take the spot vacated by (Anderson University freshman) Kennedy (Parker). The way that Rush developed last year, we feel he’s ready to go,” Carr said. “He’s matured a lot. We’re ready for him to come in and hopefully succeed.”
Williams, a hard-throwing up-and-comer, will join the rotation behind Rush, while McCarthy, Tharp, Cain, Smoot, Shelton and senior Alex Griego bolster the bullpen.
“We have a solid amount of guys on the mound that can hit spots, get strikes and hopefully get guys out for us,” Augustinovicz said.
The only question left is who plays when and where?
“He still doesn’t know where to put us yet,” Augustinovicz quipped. “His mind is everywhere about that.”
“It’s tormenting me that we’re good,” Carr added with a laugh. “Usually, guys that have depth like this are like, ‘we’re good.’ I have depth and it’s making me have panic attacks. It’s tearing me apart.”
For the players, Carr’s pain is their serenity. It’s keeps them laid back, Smoot remarked, as “in-house” expectations continue to mount.
“We’re a pretty loose group to begin with and with coach Carr goofing around all the time, he keeps us loose,” Augustinovicz said. “I think that helps us a lot because it gets all of us into the game and what we need to do. I like being here everyday with everyone on the team.”
Team: Mt. Vernon
Coach: Ryan Carr
2016 Record: 18-9
2016 Results: The Class 4A Marauders once again fell within a win or two from their goal, finishing 9-5 in the Hoosier Heritage Conference for second overall. They tied Pendleton Heights in the HHC standings and were one game behind champion New Palestine (10-4). Mt. Vernon put together a four-game winning streak late to reach the sectional finals at home, defeating Cathedral 9-7 in the semifinals. They lost to Lawrence North 8-4 in the championship game.
Key Losses: Noah Powell, Kennedy Parker, Wyatt Vestal, Travis Mason, Tyler Franklin, Bryce Robbins, Brandon Turner.
Key Returnees: Ryan Beck (12), Braydon Augustinovicz (12), Mitch McCarthy (12), Luke Smoot (12), Zach Roach (12), Cole Cain (11), Alex Griego (12), Caleb Rush (11), Dino Tharp (11), Sam Norman (12), Jared Shelton (11), Matthew Boyle (11), Cooper Williams (10), Jaden Cappelletti (11), Thomas Obergfell (10).