GREENFIELD — Learning from last season’s mistakes is at the top of Greenfield-Central’s priorities entering the 2023 baseball season.
With 11 seniors and only two underclassmen on the roster, the Cougars hope to use last year’s experiences to get back above .500.
Two four-game losing streaks and a three-game losing streak last season led the Cougars to a 12-15 record and a 7-7 mark and fifth-place finish in the Hoosier Heritage Conference. Mixed in with the stretches of losses though were two three-game winning streaks and a 4-2 stretch to close out the season.
Learning to be a more consistent team is step No. 1 for head coach Mark Vail this time around.
“Last season we lost seven games by one run, so I’m hoping that the experience factor helps us this season,” Vail said. “Hopefully we can kind of get over the hump in some of those games and learn how to finish them out and do the extra thing each night to try and earn a victory.”
Outside of Joe Roland, who graduated, the Cougars return nearly all of their offensive production from last season.
The team’s top six hitters are back and are all expected to play big roles once again in their senior seasons.
That group will be led by shortstop AJ Oden who paced the Cougars with a .420 average and five home runs. He added 27 RBIs, one off of the team lead set by Roland.
Outfielders Grant Shepherd, Jaden Markus, and Conner Sims are back and will look to build off of good seasons. Shepherd hit .373 and led the team in both hits (31) and doubles (9). Markus hit .368 and Sims hit .345 with four home runs.
First baseman/pitcher Andrew Zellers and catcher Brodie Mayberry round out the group of seniors expected to produce at the top of the Greenfield-Central lineup.
Zellers hit .351 with four home runs, while Mayberry hit .315.
“AJ had an outstanding season last year for us. They all contributed for us last year, though, and I expect all of them to take another step forward this season and be that much better,” Vail said. “I thought we improved a lot last year in making contact and getting the ball in play, and I expect to improve on that even more this season.”
Adding to the group of seniors will be returning juniors Kirk Knecht, Lane Wadle, Landon Brooks, and sophomore Parker Rhodes.
Knecht appeared in 24 games for the Cougars, hit .304 and was tied for the team lead in stolen bases with seven. Brooks appeared in 20 games and hit .250 while Wadle hit .160 in just 27 plate appearances.
One of only two underclassmen on the roster, Rhodes is set to start at second base and be one of the team’s pitchers.
Rhodes will join a pitching rotation that, just like the entire team, had a very up-and-down season.
For that group consisting of Markus, Zellers, Sims, Brooks, Wadle and Luke Willet, control will be a main factor in their success this season.
Last year, Greenfield-Central allowed nearly as many walks (140) as hits (161). That was no more prevalent than in their 16-15 sectional loss to rival Mt. Vernon, where the Cougars walked 13 batters, and that inconsistency led to six games in which they gave up double-digit runs.
“Our losses were by a variety of reasons last season. Sometimes it was pitching mistakes, and sometimes it was defensive mistakes other nights. We normally scored enough runs, so it just comes down to being consistent on defense and on the mound,” Vail said. “Hopefully just some better command from that group, just more strikes. For the most part, just trying to stay in command of the game, inning by inning.”
Fixing that and relying on a well-rounded group of seniors has Vail optimistic about getting back to the Cougars’ winning ways. Prior to last season, the Cougars had been above .500 for the previous four seasons.
“We’ve got a lot of experience, and a lot of good kids, so I’m pretty excited about it,” Vail said.
2023 Greenfield-Central Baseball Schedule
March 29;vs. Frankton;5:30 p.m.
April 3;at Wapahani;5:30 p.m.
April 4;at New Castle;5:30 p.m.
April 5;vs. New Castle;6 p.m.
April 8;at Lapel (DH);10 a.m.
April 10;vs. Columbus East;6 p.m.
April 11;at Delta;6 p.m.
April 12;vs. Delta;6 p.m.
April 15;vs. Fishers (DH);11 a.m.
April 18;at Yorktown;6 p.m.
April 19;vs. Yorktown;6 p.m.
April 21;vs. Southport;6 p.m.
April 25;vs. New Palestine;6 p.m.
April 26;at New Palestine;6 p.m.
April 27;at Lawrence Central;5:30 p.m.
May 1;at North Central;6 p.m.
May 2;vs. Pendleton Heights;5:30 p.m.
May 3;at Pendleton Heights;6 p.m.
May 9;vs. Mt. Vernon;6 p.m.
May 10;at Mt. Vernon;6 p.m.
May 13;at Guerin Catholic (DH);3 p.m.
May 16;at Shelbyville;5:30 p.m.
May 17;vs. Shelbyville;5:30 p.m.
May 18;at Warren Central;5:30 p.m.
May 22;at Triton Central;5:30 p.m.