High School baseball preview: KR seeking fourth straight district appearance

Cutline: Kenton Ridge High School senior Evan Houseman pitches during their scrimmage game against Oakwood on Monday, March 22 at Tom Randall Field in Springfield. Michael cooper/CONTRIBUTED
Cutline: Kenton Ridge High School senior Evan Houseman pitches during their scrimmage game against Oakwood on Monday, March 22 at Tom Randall Field in Springfield. Michael cooper/CONTRIBUTED

SPRINGFIELD — The Kenton Ridge High School baseball team will have a host of new faces as it seeks to advance to the district tournament for the fourth straight season.

In 2019, the Cougars went 22-6, falling to Hamilton Ross 1-0 in a D-II district final game. With last season cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Cougars graduated eight seniors, including returning Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division Player of the Year Calvin Dibert.

After a season away from the field, the Cougars are ready to keep their district final streak alive.

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“It’s just great to be back outside on the field playing baseball,” said Cougars coach Aaron Shaffer. “It’s something that sometimes you take for granted. You had it taken away last year and it was tough on everybody, tough on our senior class. We had eight seniors last year. You hate it for them and you hate it for everybody. It’s good to get back out there.”

The Cougars return three seniors who saw action as sophomores in 2019, including full-time first baseman Justin Maurer. Evan Houseman and Matt Wichael each saw time in limited roles, Shaffer said.

“Basically, you’re dealing with a whole new roster,” he said. “For the most part, everybody on our roster at the varsity level is new. It’s a lot different than in years past. You usually have four, five or six guys coming back with experience and we don’t have that. It’s a learning process for everybody. We’re getting there.”

Kenton Ridge juniors Jordan Fent and Tyler Fultz, sophomore Keller Fultz and freshmen Logan Fyffe and Caleb Obee will all play key roles on the Cougars lineup this spring.

“We’re excited about our new guys,” Shaffer said. “We’ve got a lot of guys who are showing a lot of promise. We’re ready to get rolling on Saturday.”

In the preseason, the Cougars have looked strong at the plate, Shaffer said. The key will be finding the right pieces for their pitching rotation, he said.

The Cougars play seven games in the first week of the season, including an early season CBC crossover game against Urbana on April 2.

“We’re hoping after the first week we can kind of get an idea of our pitching staff and figure out what guys can do.” Shaffer said. “It’s really going to be a test that first week. Our pitchers are going to have to be around the plate and throw strikes. We’ll need everybody that first week. It’s going to be all hands on deck.”

The Cougars won four straight Central Buckeye Conference Kenton Trail Division championships between 2015 and 2018, but finished tied for second with Shawnee, two games back of champion Jonathan Alder, in 2019. After missing last season, the conference race will be up for grabs this spring, Shaffer said.

“I think it’s wide open,” he said. “It’s going to be interesting this first week to see how it shakes out. I’m interested to see some of the scores and see what some of these teams got. I wish I could tell you, but I don’t know. That kind of makes it exciting, too. It’s wide open. You don’t know who’s got what and you’re going to see some surprises from schools. That’s going to be a unique thing about this season.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

Patrick Fultz, Shawnee: The Braves junior hit .308 with 11 RBIs and 11 stolen bases as a freshman in 2019. He’s already committed to play collegiately at Wright State University.

Bass Moore, Greenon: The senior hit .403 with 15 RBIs and 15 stolen bases for the Knights in 2019.

Ben Van Noord, Springfield: In 2019, the senior outfielder was the Central Buckeye Conference Mad River Division player of the year at Northwestern, hitting .457 with 34 RBIs and two home runs.

Jake Nichols, Northeastern: The senior hit .342 with 15 RBIs for the Jets in 2019.

Justin Maurer and Evan Houseman, Kenton Ridge: Both saw action as sophomores on Kenton Ridge’s 2019 district runner-up squad.

Caleb McKinion, Cedarville: The senior led the OHC with a .512 batting average as a sophomore. He will play collegiately at Cedarville University.

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