First-year Reynoldsburg varsity baseball coach Rob Gravatt will be attempting to parlay a host of returning veterans with some key first-year players into a winning Raider program.
"We're taking steps in the right direction," Gravatt said of the early season performance of his Raiders (1-3), noting the team had to improve its defense to achieve top performance while relying on a stout offense to carry the load.
"So far our team batting average is .350 after four games and we only had six hits in the first game (a 14-2 loss to Westerville South)," the coach said.
While the Raiders have accomplished a .520 slugging percentage, the coach is still frustrated with the timeliness of the big hits as his charges left 12 players on base in the opening game of a double header against Worthington Kilbourne Saturday, April 3.
The team's offensive stud is sophomore Jeff Murray. In then two games against Kilbourne he had six hits in seven at bats, including a pair of home runs, a triple and double, and eight RBI. Murray will handle duties at third and first as well as taking turns on the mound.
"He's just a player," the coach said
The Raiders took the first of the twin bill, 9-8, with junior Halen Core earning his and the Raiders' first win of the year and 11th as a varsity pitcher. He had five wins in each of his freshman and sophomore seasons.
One of the team's captains, Dillon Gray, a senior and two-time letterwinner, picked up the save, ending the game with a double-play pitch.
In all, Gravatt welcomes back 12 letterwinners.
"We have a junior-loaded team, but we will be tested with a tough Ohio Capital Conference schedule," Gravatt said.
Joining Murray as a two-time letterwinner is junior Taylor Snare. The center fielder will share captains' duties and contributed with a triple Saturday.
Junior John Sheline qualifies as an "athlete" catching, playing at the corners in the infield and patrolling the outfield. Mike Castro is a returning letterwinner and will play second.
Jonathon Hammond leads a list of third-year players. Another of the team's captains, Hammond plays wind-swept left field on the Raiders' home diamond (gusts of up to 45 mph raked over his head Saturday).
Junior Weston Weiss is playing his third varsity season and is anchored at shortstop and will get some innings as a right-handed starter.
JC Gibson will play right field and first, and Tom Nobile is battling for innings behind the plate.
Craig Andrews pitched in the second game against the Wolves, a hit fest that saw the Raiders drop a 19-6 decision.
Among newcomers this spring is freshman catcher Nick Hedrick, a name familiar to Reynoldsburg baseball followers.
"He's just an outstanding young man on the field and in the classroom," Gravatt said. "We planned on him playing jayvee this year but we gave him the ball and he just hasn't let it go. He caught the first game of Saturday's double header and did a good job."
Joining him as new additions to the varsity are senior Brad Lybarger and junior Matt Barrett. Junior Dane Pierro will also be battling for playing time for the first time on the varsity.
Junior Nick Anloague is recovering from elbow surgery so the coach is holding him out of pitching duties for the time being, but he might see work at first or third in early season contests.
"I'm really proud of these boys," Gravatt said. "They are really working hard and I really believe we are going to improve on last year."
The Raiders ended 2009 with a 12-13 mark.
Recent slated contests included a trip to Grove City Monday, April 5, Westland Tuesday, April 6, and a home game Wednesday, April 7, vs. Newark.
Upcoming games include a double header at Liberty Union Saturday, April 10, with the first pitch at 12 p.m. There'll be a trip to Lancaster Monday, April 12, and home games against Pickerington North, Tuesday, April 13, and Groveport Madison Wednesday, April 14. Start time for these games is 5 p.m.
"I'm really proud of these boys. They are really working hard and I really believe we are going to improve on last year."