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2014 Baseball Preview: New Palestine

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Head coach: Shawn Lyons, third season

2013: 16-11 overall, 8-6 Hoosier Heritage Conference. Lost 7-4 to Franklin Central in 4A Sectional 13 quarterfinal.

Last sectional title: 2012

Key losses: C Nick Ulrey (.378/20 RBI) and OF Alex Thomas (.359/26 R) were All-County and All-Conference selections. Fellow 2013 graduates P Corey Lyons (4-0/1.95 ERA) and IF Andrew Rejer (.269) were also significant contributors.

Outlook: New Palestine should be in contention for a conference title, as well as a 3A Sectional 26 trophy (the Dragons’ baseball program was bumped down to 3A this season due to other teams moving up to 4A via IHSAA Success Factor). A dozen Dragons saw action in at least 18 games in 2013, and most of them return, including 3B/P Cameron Clark (.383/20 RBI), RF/P Connor Swain (.294/5-3/4.91 ERA), SS Nick Butcher (.281/23 R) and 1B/C Steven Clark (.231). Cameron Clark was an All-HHC pick by the coaches last season, and Swain and Butcher were All-HHC Honorable Mention. Cameron Clark and Swain were also All-County first teamers. ... Butcher will likely leadoff for the Dragons, followed by Cameron Clark, Swain and some combination of Steven Clark, sophomore C/OF/3B/P Jason Hall-Manley and junior 1B/3B/P Cody Chandler. ... Other Dragons due for significant plate time include junior 2B Wes McBride, senior RF/P Justin Anderson, junior C Evan Hickman, junior 2B Tyler Woodcock and senior CF Zach Biddle.

Lyons says: “I think it is a good returning nucleus. We’ve got three or four players that have played varsity for us for three years. We’re experienced at shortstop and at third base and on the mound. But, on the mound, we’re going to have to be a lot better than we were last year. We’re experienced, and that’s good, but we still have to be better.”

“Connor (Swain) and Evan Vance, we’ll go with them as our No. 1 and 2 (pitchers) to start the year and see what happens. But we’ve got guys knocking on the door. Andy Edwards is coming up from JV and has looked good. And Hogan Fulkerson is a sophomore up from JV that we’re expecting big things from in the future.”

“I like our top four (of the batting order), for sure. But we’ll have to bat well 5-9 to be successful.”

“I’d like to think we can compete with anybody in our conference this year. In talking with several coaches, 9-3 this year could be a pretty solid record in the conference. The difference from top to bottom in the conference is miniscule. Everybody’s got a really good pitcher. I think the difference in the conference this year is going to be very minor. There are going to be good battles every week.”

(The HHC baseball slate will consist of 12 games for each team this season instead of the usual 14. It will go back to 14 games in 2015 when New Castle officially enters league play.)

Opening Day: New Palestine will visit Delta Saturday for a conference doubleheader.

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