SENECA - Seneca baseball coach Derek Wallin has a big task in front of him this season, as he must replace five starters from last year’s team.
The list of players lost to graduation includes the team’s number one starting pitcher, the catcher, the first baseman and the third baseman.
Those who graduated last year include Gavin Greene, a starting pitcher and first baseman that could hit. Another missing starter is Tommy Johnson, the starting catcher, who could also be called on to pitch.
Then, there’s the 6’5” Nick Payne, who played center field and could also pitch. Rounding out the list of those lost to graduation last year are first baseman Parker Hagensick and third baseman Devin Wallin.
Derek Wallin, in his sixth year as head coach of the Indians, has his work cut out for him this season. Wallin’s career record is 45-65. Last year, the Indians were 9-5 in conference play and 13-7 overall. In the post season, Seneca beat LaFarge 13-0 in the first game and then lost to Ithaca in the second game.
Wallin’s assistant coaches are Justin Redman and John Huber. Redman, like Wallin, is a former Seneca baseball player. Huber hails from Wauzeka.
While there’s a lot of rebuilding to do this year, the good news for Wallin and the Seneca Indians is that there appears to be plenty with which to rebuild.
It starts with the returning players and there are some good ones. The starting pitchers are senior Noah Allan and junior Jared Payne. When they’re not pitching, Allan will play left field and Payne will play shortstop.
Senior Andrew Wall will do more of the catching this year and also be available to play in the outfield. Sophomore Kolton Chambers is expected to pitch more and will also play shortstop, while sophomore Matt Hall will return as a pitcher and play the outfield.
A couple of players will return from last year’s team to take on starting roles this year. Junior Mel Hall will play third base and sophomore Tyler Heinz will play first base.
The lone freshman on this year’s team, Joey Oppriecht, will see some time at second base and also play in the outfield. Oppriecht will be splitting time at second base with sophomore Lucas Gilbert. Junior Preston Mabb will play in the outfield.
Seneca’s strength this season may be pitching, according to Wallin. However, he acknowledges the experience level of pitchers goes down after Payne and Allan. Nevertheless, there’s some talent in that pitching roster.
Wallin was buoyed by the fact his team started 2-0 for the first time ever.
The team’s biggest challenge this season is probably their age and their experience level.
“A lot of players will have to step up and take on a bigger role,” Wallin said. He noted that five of the nine starters are new to being starters this season.
‘There is a lack of experience at some positions,” Wallin acknowledged.
The team’s challenge is complicated by relatively low numbers this year.
Seneca’s goal this year is to finish in the top half of the conference. The Indians finished third last year.
Wallin believes the teams to watch in the conference this season are Ithaca, Wauzeka-Steuben and DeSoto. Ithaca will not have Aaron Huebsch pitching for them, but they have plenty of pitching available, according to Wallin. The coach feels the Wauzeka-Steuben team is “fairly decent,” while DeSoto has a traditionally strong program that lost a lot of players to graduation last year.
Wallin noted that both Ithaca and DeSoto have full junior varsity schedules.
“We’re ready for the season to get going and see what happens,” Wallin said. “It’s a young team without much experience, but they’re trying real hard and that can make good things happen.”