With a shared expectation of building a program that will be competitive year in and year out, the Geneseo High School baseball team and its coaches are working hard to improve and reach that goal.
“We want to improve and raise the bar,” said head coach Steve Brucher. “I think this year’s team and seniors are embracing that and want to get this program going in the right direction.”
This year’s team has a total of 15 players which includes eight seniors, five juniors and two sophomores, and with limited space indoors, coach Brucher said practice has been going well so far.
“I think, first of all, there is an increased comfort level between myself and the players. They better understand me and what I want to do, and I have a better understanding of their capabilities and strengths as baseball players,”?said Brucher. “They also understand what my priorities are an what is expected.”
The group of seniors looking to lead the Leafs to success this season are: Derek Mitchell, Steven Timbrook, David Behrens, Ryan Williams, Jeff Lutz, JJ Rivera, Brian Johnson and Drew DeCap.
“With eight seniors, there are several who saw a lot of time last season, so we do return some experience,” said Brucher. “The seniors need to lead by example and through their actions. I have been pleased with that so far, and there is a good energy at practice.”
The juniors who will vie for a spot in the lineup include: Eric Lindsey, Jon Solberg, Nathan Yager, Zach Riffe and Michael Daniels.
“The speed of the game is a big thing for the juniors,” said Brucher. “For a lot, it is a difficult transition. Some of the juniors are going to come in and contribute right away, while others will have to try and find their roles.”
Coach Brucher stated some of the juniors and seniors will be competing for spots in the lineup.
“To me, healthy competition is where there is no jealously and everyone is trying to reach the same goal,” he said. “That is how the first week of practice has gone. Everyone is wanting to get better, which is an encouraging sign.”
Geneseo also will have two sophomores, Rayce Singbush and Matt Rowley, on the roster this season. The pair will be looking to gain experience at the varsity level and make a contribution.
“Anytime you move kids up, you elevate them from one level to the next and there is mind set that they have to play,”?said Brucher. “They are going to play for us because we think they can help us. They are both very talented athletes and baseball players, but we don’t want to throw them into the deep end too soon.
They have a few games under their belts with us last year, and I fully expect them to do well at the varsity level.”
This season the Leafs will rely heavily on their pitching staff as they return pitchers who threw 75 percent of the team’s innings last season.
“We have really good experience coming back on the mound with five senior pitchers in Jeff Lutz, Steven Timbrook, David Behrens, Ryan Williams and JJ?Rivera, and I feel that could be one of our strengths,” said Brucher.
Coach Brucher also said on the other hand the Leafs are a little less experienced in the field and at the plate.
“We have Derek Mitchell, who was all-conference last year, coming back and has moved to the No. 3 slot in the lineup to be a run producer instead of a run creator,” said Brucher. “Ryan Williams, Drew DeCap and Brian Johnson maybe didn’t get a lot of at bats, but heading into the season they are penciled in as starters and will have opportunities to succeed.”
Along with the team’s pitching staff, another one of the Leafs’ strengths will be their speed.
“We have three or four guys that can run night-in and night-out,” said Brucher. “We will have to play the small ball and try and steal some bases and put runners in motion.
“I think depth is built as the year progresses, and I think its is something we should get as the season rolls on as we gain experience. Depth could be a strength.”
The biggest challenge Geneseo will have to overcome this season is on defense as they try to limit mistakes.
“That will be a big key is limiting those big innings by our opponents and not giving our opponents four or five outs a inning,” said Brucher.
As far as the outlook of the conference, Brucher said for his team there is no where to go but up. He also stated Streator returns some solid players and the conference player of the year, while Ottawa returns Michael Hermosillo, who is an outstanding player. LaSalle-Peru also returns a good team again this year.
“It would be a great thing if we finish in the top half of the conference,” said Brucher. “That would be a great accomplishment.
“I am hoping there is a turn because we want to get to the point where we expect to win when we take the field.”
Last season the Leafs lost to Sterling in the first round of regional play, 6-3 and finished the year at 10-22 overall and 4-11 in the conference.
Geneseo opens the 2012 season at home at 4:30 p.m. March 16 against Riverdale and in a doubleheader with Rock Falls at 11 a.m. March 17.