BEVERLY - A season after leading a very experienced baseball team into the state American Legion baseball tournament, Beverly/Lowell Post 389/750 head coach Todd Engle will lead a far less seasoned squad into battle this season.
Among those gone from last year's team that went 36-6 are standout players like Tyler Proctor, Landon Kern, Eli Lenington, Tim Grosel, Wes Hatfield, Zach Eddy, and Clay Ullman.
Fortunately for Engle, his squad will return three of the top four starting pitchers from last year's team including right hander Kordell Antill who came out of nowhere last season to register a perfect 12-0 record.
The Monroe Central pitcher has seen his innings limited in B/L's first five games due to some arm soreness.
Following Antill at the top of the rotation will be the lefty/right combination of Marietta High School graduates Evan Sawyer and Ben Barnas, both of whom played big roles on last year's team.
"They both are outstanding pitchers," said Engle of Barnas and Sawyer. "They know how to pitch and they both pitch to their strengths."
A pair of lefties also figure to see some innings on the mound for Engle who once again will have Marietta High School and Marietta College graduate Steve Riley on board as pitching coach.
Warren's Justin Hill and Frontier's Mitch Minder both had outstanding high school seasons for their respective teams and give Beverly/Lowell outstanding depth on the pitching staff.
A pair of young arms have caught the eyes of both Riley and Engle in Federal Hocking right hander Phillip Hoffman and Caldwell righty Kyler McElfresh.
"We have been pleasantly surprised with both Hoffman and McElfresh," said Engle. "They are both learning, but they are both going to be good ones."
Dustin Duffy and Justin Greer, both from Morgan, also have plenty of pitching experience and may toe the rubber for BL.
Engle is pleased to once again have Riley work with his pitching staff.
"He just does an outstanding job of working with our kids," said Engle of Riley, who was a key part of the Marietta College teams that claimed national championships in both 1981 and 1983. "The kids really respond to him. He does a fantastic job and we are lucky to have him."
Calling the pitches behind the plate figures to be Warren's Gunnar Smith with help from Marietta's Joe Roberts and Federal Hocking's Justin Rose.
Smith will have the enviable job of replacing Kern behind the dish, the same job he had at Warren this spring.
"Landon (Kern) was rock solid behind the plate and was kind of like a coach on the field," said Engle of Kern, who just wrapped up his freshman season at Marietta College. "Gunnar has become pretty comfortable back there and the ball just jumps off his bat. We expect big things from him both offensively and defensively this season."
The Beverly/Lowell infield figures to be some combination of Sawyer or Federal Hocking's Terrance Mayle at first while Warren's Ethan Estes and Antill will see time at the hot corner.
Parkersburg Catholic's Jake Ullman will once again handle the shortstop duties, while Marietta's Devin Leister and Jordan Satterfield will see time at second base.
Engle likes the versatility that his infield provides.
"I like the flexibility we have in the infield, we can mix and match a lot of different kids."said Engle.
Morgan's Austin Campbell has patrolled center field for most of B/L's first five games with Warren's Lance Schafer in left field and Marietta's Nick Spurr in right.
Engle has been quite impressed with the play of Schafer and looks for him to play a huge role on this year's team.
"I had not seen him play until this season, but he is going to be really good." said Engle of Schafer.
Leister could also see time in the outfield as well as Fort Frye's Bradley Martin.
This year's team may lack the firepower offensively that Beverly Lowell featured the last few years, but Engle feels he has a lot of good hitters and outstanding team speed.
"We are going to have to manufacture some runs," said Engle, who will once again be assisted by Matt and Donald Hilverding as well as his son Trey Engle. "We'll play a lot of small ball and I can foresee a lot of low scoring ball games."
The early season has not gone the way that Engle would have liked as his squad dropped it's first five games of the young season before grabbing their first win of the season Sunday in Sandusky.
Engle is not discouraged one bit however as all the teams his squad has played this season are state tournament teams from 2012.
"We really tried to upgrade our schedule this year on purpose," said Engle, whose teams were eliminated quickly in state tourney play the past two seasons. "It's made it tough right off the bat with all of our youth, but I feel it will work into our favor as the season goes on."
Engle was forced to spend the first handful of games finalizing his roster as no less than 60 kids came out for the varsity and junior varsity Legion teams this summer.
"The key to this team will be if we are able to gain some confidence," said Engle whose team reeled off 27 consecutive victories last year before dropping two in a row at the state tourney. "We are just going to have to show some patience but I think we will be playing at our level by the end of the year."