Entering his second season as head coach, Mike Emery’s Canton High baseball team will have a decidedly different look in 2019.

Entering his second season as head coach, Mike Emery’s Canton High baseball team will have a decidedly different look in 2019.


The Little Giants finished last year 18-10 overall, 8-6 in Mid-Illini Conference play. But the squad graduated eight starters from a season ago, leaving junior centerfielder Aden Emery and senior Brody Scarcliff, the team’s DH, who also played a variety of positions.


“We lost a lot of guys that were really impactful players,” said coach Emery. “We’re going to have a lot of guys on the field that don’t have a lot of varsity experience.


“I’m anxious to see how they respond,” he added. “At the sophomore level, they did a really nice job competing. They turned a lot of heads and a lot of people noticed that they played hard and played the right way.”


According to coach Emery, the team’s strength lies up the middle of the diamond with Will Randall catching, Trey Passmore and Coultyn Dorethy at short and second and Aden Emery in center. Those four, along with junior Jake Smith, will anchor the group.


“We’re really strong up the middle,” said coach Emery.


He noted that there are a lot of candidates for first base, third base, left field and right field positions.


Among those battling for open positions and playing time include Randy Petty, Cade Bugos, Jacob Barnard, Nick Byers, Sammy Mulligan, Nate Williams, Stephen Eskridge, Owen Watson, Luke Miller, John Osborne and Lukas Goforth.


“We have a lot of people that we’re going to plug in,” said Emery. “But I think that middle core will hold things together with senior leadership from Brody and Cade who are returning with some experience from last year.”


Smith will start the season as the team’s No. 1 pitcher with Petty and Passmore next in line.


“Jake Smith will anchor our rotation,” said Emery. “His velocity is up from last year and his secondary stuff looks good.”


In addition to Petty and Passmore, coach Emery noted that sophomores Jackson Gray and Lukas Goforth could see varsity action at some point during the season.


With early spring weather being as it may, namely cold, Emery noted that pitchers will be limited to a couple of innings although they have been working up to pitching five innings in simulated games inside.


“We’re going to have some fluidity in the program with sophomores and maybe even some freshmen coming up and having to help out, especially with the pitch count rule that was instituted. It’s going to cause some issues with us, especially early in the season.”


As for the schedule, Emery has no doubt about the strength of the Mid-Illini Conference.


“To me, it’s the toughest conference in the state of Illinois at any level,” he said. “You have Morton, who is the returning state champions. They graduated a lot, but they just reload over there.”


He also mentioned that Dunlap’s top two pitchers are signed with Division I programs in Taylor Catton to Bradley and Andrew Pogue to the University of Illinois.


“Both of them throw over 90 mph with great secondary stuff,” noted Emery.


As for the other programs in the league, he expects every team to be a challenge.


“Our toughest games on the schedule are our conference opponents,” said Emery.


Coach Emery also noted that last year, his first as the varsity head coach was a learning experience for him.


“Philosophy wise and instruction wise, we only made some minor adjustments from what Coach (Mike) Walters was doing,” said Emery. “I think we tried to be overly aggressive on the base paths and that worked for us.


“We worked with the kids on the mental approach at the plate and having a set hitting philosophy that we instituted that helped hitters have a better approach.”


He admitted the bigger adjustment came in off the field duties.


“The first thing that stands out is all the behind the scenes work that goes into everything,” said Emery. “Organizing everyone from the top down and taking care of paperwork and other coaching requirements away from the field take a lot of time. But I am able to lean on Josiah Martin as my assistant. He is worth his weight in gold.”


In looking ahead to this season, falling one game short of a regional title a year ago, expectations remain high for Emery and the Little Giants this season.


“My goal every year is to compete for a regional championship,” he said. “If you don’t go in with a goal of winning in mind, I think you’re setting the bar too low.


“The guys are improving every day. We’re doing a lot of things,” he added. “Last year was a learning curve with me year one as the varsity coach. We’re learning a lot of things and doing a lot of things a little bit differently.


“If you get one percent better every day, by the end of the year you’ll be 100 percent better than what you were.”


Emery noted that keys for the Little Giants if they are to be successful will be to limit walks on the mound and play defense.


“These kids have all come in from day one and have worked hard,” said Emery. “They’re doing it the right way. We’ll see what happens.”


In addition to Martin at the varsity level, Tyler Christiansen will coach the sophomores and Morgan Fraga the freshmen.