The Shawnee High School baseball team was decimated by graduation and will be hard-pressed to replace star Seth Gray, who is leading Wright State University in hitting as a freshman with a .448 average.
But senior pitcher Cade Rybolt doesn’t see why the Braves can’t contend for a Central Buckeye Conference title and duplicate their success from last season when they finished 20-9.
“I think we’ll be all right,” he said. “We’ve got a couple new faces, but we have a few seniors who have been there for three years, and I think we’ll lead well enough to have a good season.”
If the Braves are going to continue their winning ways, they’ll need another big season from Rybolt. The University of Dayton recruit went 5-3 last season with a 2.30 ERA in 42.2 innings.
He also batted .410, second on the team behind Gray’s .430 clip.
“At the plate, he’s selective,” third-year coach Rob Cassell said. “He’s willing to go opposite field. He can pull the pull. He has the tangibles you need to be a good hitter.
“On the mound, he can get it up to the upper-80s or 90 (mph). He’s got a very live arm. He’s got a nice change-up and slider. And he’s a kid that has worked his tail off the last couple years. He’s known what his goal was for a while and he was going to do everything he could to make it come true. He wanted to play D-I.”
The Braves, who open the season at home against Greeneview in a double-header Saturday, have four other regulars returning: junior outfielder Aaron Schack, who hit .308 last season, senior pitcher Andrew Hubbard (4-1 record), junior designated-hitter Camden Vanvelzor (.260) and senior catcher/outfielder Michael Guyer (.238).
The Braves finished 10-6 in the CBC last year and were in the thick of the Kenton Division race until fading at the end. They scored one run in their final three league games, losing twice to eventual champion Kenton Ridge and once to Northwestern.
They also dropped a 1-0 decision to Tippecanoe in the sectional finals.
“It’s all going to come down to offense for us — if we can put the ball in play and score some runs,” Cassell said. “Last year, we even struggled to get base runners. If you don’t have guys on base, it’s hard to get creative and be aggressive.”
• The Braves may have another scholarship player on the way. Bryce Cox, a 5-foot-10, 180-pound sophomore, has excelled in summer baseball and is rated as one of the top 15 catchers in Ohio, according to Prep Baseball Report.
“I already have some D-I schools calling me about him,” Cassell said.
• Rybolt picked UD over offers from Toledo, Morehead State, Ohio and others. The Flyers haven’t had a winning season since 2012 but have a history of putting pitchers in the pros.
“The pitching coach there, Ryne Romick, gave me a really good feel for the program,” Rybolt said. “I liked the overall atmosphere of the campus. And I think the team is going to take a turn for the best.”
• Guyer’s batting average dipped last year from his .295 clip as a sophomore, but he still found a way to reach base consistently, getting hit by pitches 19 times.
“He crowds the plate a little bit,” Cassell said. “I think the slump was part of it. I’m sure he helped that out a little bit (by leaning in).”