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Prep baseball: Senior-laden Monroe poised to make a run at SWBL title

The framework is there for Monroe High School’s baseball team to be a championship contender this season.

The Hornets are swinging it, catching it and throwing it pretty well so far. And having 12 seniors on the roster doesn’t hurt.

Monroe pushed its winning streak to four Monday with a 10-4 victory over Franklin at Wright State University’s Nischwitz Stadium.

RELATED: Monday’s prep results

“We’ve thought since Day 1 that we’d put the ball in play and put pressure on defenses, and we’ve made a lot of plays ourselves,” Hornets coach Bob Hunt said. “Our biggest question mark was pitching. So far, knock on wood, the guys we’ve put out there have thrown strikes and given us opportunities to win.

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“Our program’s been successful and the kids know what it takes to be successful, and they’re willing to put the time and effort in to keep being the team we’re supposed to be. As long as we keep doing that, we’re going to keep having chances day in and day out.”

Monday’s contest was part of the Skyline Chili Reds Futures Showcase, and senior center fielder Alex Page earned the game’s Most Valuable Player award with a double, a triple and two RBIs.

Chad Rolph threw five innings to get the win and Evan Lane finished the eight-hitter. They’re the only two returning pitchers with measurable varsity experience for the Hornets, who are 4-1 overall and 3-1 in the Southwestern Buckeye League Southwestern Division.

Page said Monroe is gaining confidence and believes it can be in the thick of the Southwestern title chase.

“At the beginning of the year, we weren’t really sure, but we’re playing pretty well right now,” Page said. “We’d like to win the league and see how far we can go (in the Division II tournament). It’s game by game right now, though.”

Hunt said the Hornets aren’t as experienced as their senior count might suggest. There are five returning players — Page, Noah Kovach, Nick Osterman, Hunter Collins and Brayden Green — who had at least 45 official at-bats last year.

“I think it’s about the seniors,” Page said. “We’re all pretty close and have played together for a while. We like to have fun. We talk about family a lot, so we’re a tight-knit group playing team games and winning team games. It’s been different guys a lot, and I think that’s big for us.”

“We have 17 really good kids, and that’s fantastic. I really like our chemistry,” Hunt said. “They all like each other and get along, and I don’t know if we’ve always had that. We’ve done a lot of stuff off-campus together to help create that bond.”

Monroe was hitting .398 as a team and scoring 10 runs per game before Monday’s contest, and the Hornets tallied eight runs in the first two innings and finished with 12 hits against Franklin (4-2, 1-2).

Wildcats starter Cooper Daniels took a 0.00 earned run average to the mound, but lasted just one inning. Kyle Russell and Champ Howard did the rest of the pitching in the losing effort.

“When you spot ’em five runs in the first inning … ouch,” Franklin coach Matt Current said. “We’ve had a couple come-from-behind wins already this year, so I don’t count us out. We’ve just got to clean it up early.

“We weren’t making a lot of errors today. We didn’t play horrible baseball. Frankly, they were just putting it where we weren’t. They swing the bats well.”

Aaron Blake was 2-for-3 with a triple and two RBIs for the Wildcats. Zack Minton added two hits, and Davis Mears drove in a run.

It was 10-1 when Franklin put up three runs in the fifth. The Wildcats only have one senior, center fielder Austin Gilbert.

“We’ve got some returning guys, but we’re still young,” Current said. “I think this team is talented and can compete with anybody. We just need to put it together, figure out what we’ve got to do in those early innings and just be patient, let the game come to us. I’m confident we’ll be all right.”

Kevin Kepner collected three singles and drove in a run for Monroe. Matt Green was 2-for-4 with two RBIs, Osterman was 2-for-2 with two walks and an RBI, and Kovach and Brayden Green plated runs. Collins scored three times.

Hunt praised new pitching coach Ed Beck for his work with the Hornets’ hurlers.

“We’re still trying to figure out rotations and get some kind of rhythm at the plate, and we’re still doing pretty well,” Hunt said. “We have great leadership. I think that’s another thing that’s put us where we are. No one cares who gets the credit. They all want to be successful as a program.”

The two teams will meet again Wednesday afternoon at Monroe.

Monroe 531-010-0—10-12-2

Franklin 001-030-0—4-8-2

WP — Chad Rolph (2-0); LP — Cooper Daniels (2-1). Records: M 4-1, 3-1 SWBL Southwestern; F 4-2, 1-2 SWBL Southwestern

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