New Season, New Identity: Marauders baseball regroups for its 2022 title defense

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Mt. Vernon’s Eli Bridenthal (15) delivers a pitch during their third-place game against Franklin at the Noblesville Invite on Saturday, April 4, 2021. (Rob Baker/Daily Reporter)

FORTVILLE — History. In 2021, the Mt. Vernon baseball team rewrote it.

Last season, the Marauders set a new single-season, program-wins record at 26 and captured their first-ever Class 4A sectional title — the team’s first sectional since 2011 — while also claiming their first outright Hoosier Heritage Conference championship.

The team’s pinnacle achievement inspired head coach Brad King’s offseason right-arm tattoo, which highlights all of the Marauders’ 2021 accolades and, specifically, their first regional title since 1971.

An IHSAA state tournament final four team last year, Mt. Vernon’s senior-laden group lived up to its moniker — “Trailblazers.”

History was made by the Marauders after a lost season in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but this spring, it’s just that, in the past.

“That’s one the things we talked to the guys about. As great as last year was for the school, baseball wise, history wise and the program, we’ve got to redefine who we are this year,” King said.

“When you’re building a program, obviously, you want all those years to connect to make that program become what it is, but every year is a different year. You’ve got a program, and you also have teams within that program. This group is in the early stages of defining what they’re going to be this year in 2022.”

As of now, they don’t have a label or a nickname, but what the 2022 Marauders do have is experience mixed with a lot of potential from a junior varsity team that finished 25-1 in 2021.

Led by Xavier commit Eli Bridenthal, a junior, and senior standout Landon Clark, an Oakland commit, the Marauders are ready to defend what they’ve obtained once the season opens next week.

“In 2020, we lost a lot of talent, too, and a lot of people didn’t expect a lot from us last year, and it’s kind of the same message. We did lose a lot of talent from 2020, heading into 2021, but we had success in 2021 because the kids were driven and motivated to be good. I see the same thing out of this group,” King said.

The Marauders return six lettermen from last year’s semistate roster and will carry eight seniors, five juniors and four sophomores overall.

Bridenthal and Clark will be the centerpieces for the revamped Marauders, who won 11 straight to reach the Jasper Semistate last June before falling to the host Wildcats, one win away from a state finals appearance.

“We have six guys who got varsity letters last year returning. Now, out of that group, not a lot starting. Landon Clark and Eli Bridenthal were on the field all the time, but the other guys were role players. They had big moments, but they weren’t on the field all the time. They’ve got to get that experience and get used to playing a bigger role,” King said.

“We also had three guys that moved up late and were with us on that tournament run, and they got their cup of coffee. Again, they’ve got to see what their drive is and what their role is going to look like.”

Bridenthal’s role is fairly cemented as the team’s new ace and starting shortstop when he’s not on the mound. A .369 hitter in 2021, Bridenthal had 21 runs scored, 13 RBI and 15 of the team’s 77 stolen bases.

Clark, a center fielder, led the Marauders with 17 stolen bases, while hitting .290 with three triples and a team-best 44 runs scored.

Bridenthal was a fixture during the 4A Marauders state-championship football run this fall and a part of the boys basketball team’s 4A sectional title roster. He posted a 3.77 ERA as a sophomore starter in baseball with a 3-1 record and 33 strikeouts in 26.0 innings pitched.

“Eli, obviously, had a lot of success with football and with basketball. Now, he’s coming into baseball. I’m a firm believer that success breeds success. I think that’s a main reason why Mt. Vernon athletics has been so strong the past few years because everybody is seeing that success and it’s contagious,” King said. “Eli is bringing that piece, and obviously, Gavin Sullivan was part of the basketball team, and Cam Sullivan, same thing. Gehrig Slunaker had that success with football, obviously, and he’s just a great leader anyway.”

Slunaker, a record-setting senior quarterback for the state champion Marauders, will be part of a deep pitching staff that includes nearly 10 players.

Behind Bridenthal, the Marauders will turn to Gavin Sullivan, a senior, who finished 2021 with a 3.06 ERA, a 2-1 record, 20 strikeouts in 16.0 innings pitched and three saves as the team’s primary closer.

Clark is projected to take over Sullivan’s role at the back of the bullpen, while sophomore Nick Heitman, sophomore Nathan Criss, sophomore Cam Sullivan, junior Joseph Wilson and Devon “DJ” Scheumann will get ample innings.

Defensively, the Marauders have a plethora of options at catcher with incumbant senior Austin Hear (.250, two doubles), junior Russell Weaver and Scheumann.

At third base, King also has some flexibility, as Heitman, Gavin and Cam Sullivan and Weaver could fill the spot, while senior Bryce Miller (seven stolen bases, 31 runs scored) and Hamilton Southeastern transfer Gavin Johnston, a junior, are vying for time at second base.

Konner Scheidt, a junior, has the edge at first base. The group of Wilson, Criss, Slunaker, senior Hunter Smith, senior Alexander Strauser and senior Gaston McKeeman can all fill in around Clark in the outfield.

“We’ve got a lot of pieces in guys that will be in different leadership roles this year, but I remember back to when we were leaving Jasper last year, and I was saying my goodbyes to all the players. When Eli came through the line, he told me, ‘I’m ready to take on a bigger leadership role next year.’ That was huge to me. That was something that I knew he was ready to accept, and he will. He’ll embrace it,” King said.

“As much success as he’s had, I would say the players are going to respond to him because he’s been successful in multiple sports and he’s a winner, just like Gehrig.”

To win this year, the Marauders (26-7, 12-2 HHC) will have to contend with a highly-competitive conference where runner-up Greenfield-Central (16-8, 11-3 HHC) is poised to challenge, third-place Pendleton Heights (16-16, 8-6 HHC) has reloaded and New Palestine (15-16, 7-7 HHC) returns a majority of their standouts.

“You can’t hide anymore because now you have the target. Everybody has what you have. Right now, we have a lot of hardware. Again, we have to redefine. Just because we have it from last year doesn’t mean anything is given to us this year,” King said.

“People who have been champions say, the hardest part isn’t getting to the peak, it’s staying there. We know that those schools in the HHC want to take the championship. That should be everybody’s goal every year, but right now it’s ours. They’ll want to come in and show that they can play with Mt. Vernon, and that’s great. Same thing with the sectional. I kind of like that. I’d rather be the favorite and see what our makeup is because that’s more challenging. When you have it and you have to prove you’re worthy of it.”

2022 Mt. Vernon Baseball Schedule

Apr. 4: Mt. Vernon at Franklin Central, 5:30 p.m.

Apr. 5: Mt. Vernon at Delta, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 6: Delta at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 9: Martinsville at Mt. Vernon, 10 a.m.

Apr. 11: Mt. Vernon at Herron, 5:30 p.m.

Apr. 12: Mt. Vernon at Shelbyville, 5:30 p.m.*

Apr. 13: Shelbyville at Mt. Vernon, 5:30 p.m.*

Apr. 19: New Palestine at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 20: Mt. Vernon at New Palestine, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 21: Mt. Vernon at Hamilton Southeastern, 6 p.m.

Apr. 23: Kokomo at Mt. Vernon, 11 a.m.

Apr. 25: Anderson at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.

Apr. 26: Mt. Vernon at Pendleton Heights, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 27: Pendleton Heights at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.*

Apr. 29: Zionsville at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.

May 3: New Castle at Mt. Vernon, 5:30 p.m.*

May 4: Mt. Vernon at New Castle, 5:30 p.m.*

May 5: Center Grove at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.

May 10: Greenfield-Central at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.*

May 11: Mt. Vernon at Greenfield-Central, 6 p.m.*

May 16: Carmel at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.

May 17: Yorktown at Mt. Vernon, 6 p.m.*

May 18: Mt. Vernon at Yorktown, 6 p.m.*

May 20: Mt. Vernon at Haustetter Classic (at Richmond), 5:30 p.m.

May 21: Mt. Vernon at Haustetter Classic (at Richmond), 10 a.m.

* Hoosier Heritage Conference game