Middletown pitcher Gene Underhill sends a pitch toward his catcher, Kelvin Shealey, and Ernest Wolke of Winton Woods during a Skyline Chili Reds Futures Showcase game at the Reds Urban Youth Academy in Roselawn on April 22, 2018. RICK CASSANO/STAFF

Prep baseball preview: Middletown optimistic about taking next step

MIDDLETOWN — Wes Mercer is impressed with the quality, if not the quantity, of the players in his Middletown High School baseball program.

Whether it translates into improving the Middies’ standing in the Greater Miami Conference remains to be seen.

Middletown, which went 7-21 overall and 0-18 in the GMC last season to extend its conference losing streak to 20 games, is scheduled to open the 2019 season March 23 with a 2 p.m. nonconference game against Winton Woods at Lefferson Park, followed on March 25 at 5 p.m. with the conference opener at Lefferson Park against a Lakota East team that finished second in the GMC last season.

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“We only have 29 guys in the program this year, but it’s the most talented group we have had in my years at Middletown,” Mercer, in his fourth season of leading the Middies, said. “The senior class is talented, but we need them to step up their role as leaders. If they buy in to being the leaders, then it will complement the young talent that we will also have.”

The cream of that talent is sophomore infielder Adonis Herrera, a second-team all-conference pick as a freshman after finishing fourth in the GMC with a .429 batting average, right behind teammate Gene Underhill, a senior infielder who was third with a .432 batting average as a 2018 junior.

Also back are seniors Jarrenn Thomas, Nick Holland, Kyle Keister and Asa Crockett, and junior Nick Thornton.

“All received significant varsity time last year,” Mercer said, adding that senior Trent Spaulding, junior Tre Calhoun and sophomore Ty Cawein will factor into Middletown’s lineups.

They may face competition for playing time from newcomers, Joe Current, a sophomore transfer from Franklin, and two freshmen — shortstop-center fielder J.C. Calhoun and freshman right-handed pitcher Blake Sorrell.

“Other freshman who could factor in the varsity lineup as the year progresses are Logan Patrick, Jacob Dameron and JoJo Nelson,” Mercer said.

“We will likely have three sophomore starters, along with one freshman starter in J.C. Calhoun,” Mercer said. “Another freshman, Blake Sorrell, will get time on the mound both as a starter and reliever, while our rotation will likely feature four seniors in Keister, Underhill, Thomas, and Crockett. We are returning nearly all of our offensive production from 2018 when the team hit .319.

“The biggest question mark is our pitching and defense. While we do return the bulk of our innings from last year, our pitchers need to focus on staying aggressive and getting ahead early while the defense — infield specifically — must play better behind our arms. We have worked all offseason to fix the issues that plagued us last year and look forward to the season. As a staff, we are confident in our ability to do damage in the GMC this year.”

Mercer is well aware that doing damage won’t be easy in the GMC, where Middletown hasn’t won since knocking off Princeton 9-1 on May 3, 2017.

“While it appears that some teams have lost a lot, it seems like most of the schools in the conference are able to reload rather than rebuild, so we need to be ready every day,” he said. “You may think a certain team may be down in any given season, but you can’t predict how much their returning players have developed.

“As a team who finished 0-18 in the conference last year, we need to be focused on us. We are trying to control the controllables. We are going to prepare to be the best team we can possibly be and see where it takes us.”

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