» Season preview: Lakota West Firebirds
Second baseman Payton Pennington, who was second on the team last season with a .373 batting average and 10 stolen bases, is the Big Blue’s lone senior. He was an All-GMC first-team pick last year, along with sophomore shortstop Kurtis Reid, who led Hamilton with a .410 batting average, 78 at-bats, 32 hits, nine doubles, 22 runs batted in and 14 stolen bases.
Also back is junior outfielder Alex Mills, a second-team All-GMC pick after hitting .302 last season.
“Pennington, Reid and Mills are all key returning players and are expected to major roles for the Big Blue this year,” said Lewis, whose team is scheduled to open the season on March 23 with a 5 p.m. game at Edgewood. The Big Blue home opener is scheduled for March 25 against GMC rival Colerain.
Lewis is hoping those three will help make up for the loss to graduation of first-team picks Eric Roberts, a third baseman-pitcher who tied for the GMC lead with five home runs and finished sixth among pitchers with 42 strikeouts, and first baseman Zach Bell.
Left-handed pitcher Gunnar Kellum also graduated after finishing tied for third in the GMC with five wins and posting a 1.77 earned run average for a team that finished 15-11 overall and third in the GMC with a 12-6 record.
The Big Blue, who haven’t tasted a GMC title since earning a share of a quad championship in 2006 and haven’t claimed an outright title since 2004, edged Colerain 4-3 in extra innings in the first round of the Division I tournament before losing 6-2 to Loveland in the second round.
Lewis expects to fill out his infield from the quartet of juniors Alex Baker and Will Perez, and sophomores Jackson Lewis and Micaden Stephens.
“They’ve shown promise to this point in the infield,” Joe Lewis said.
Juniors Alex Deaton, Austin Johnson and Zach Williamson, along with sophomores Devin Fath and Ranfis Gomez, are all in the mix for time in the outfield, Lewis said.
“Sophomore Ty Reister and freshman Curtus Moak are front-runners to win the catching position,” he added.
Lewis’ major concern is mound inexperience.
“We have very limited varsity pitching experience returning,” he said. “It presents a great opportunity for our available pitchers to prove themselves. Current prospects are Mills, juniors Will Perez, Tyler Mays and Austin Johnson and sophomores Maddox Pennington, Jayden Mudd, Micaden Stephens, Ranfis Gomez and Devin Fath.”
Hamilton will need that crew to step up if it wants to compete in the GMC, which includes in Mason a team that reached last season’s state semifinals.
“The GMC is one of the strongest conferences around, and I expect it to be the same this year,” Lewis said. “We are looking forward to the challenges it presents.”