CHARLESTON — Fundraising and matching charitable contributions totaling about $6,000 and 30-40 volunteers laying sod have gone into renovations for Charleston High School’s baseball field.
The field was in bad shape and needed it. Whether recent winter weather leaves it ready for a scheduled opening doubleheader at 1 p.m. Saturday against Shelbyville remains a question.
By comparison, having the Trojans team ready probably is not as big of a project for this program that has won at least 21 games in each of Derrick Landrus’ eight seasons as the head coach.
“We usually have five or six seniors to replace and it’s no different this year,” said Landrus, who has a 187-90 record with two regional championship and two Apollo Conference titles. “Defensively, we have pretty much our whole infield back. We’ll have to have some guys step up in the outfield. I think we can be pretty good defensively and we have two of our top three starting pitchers back. Pitching and defense should be pretty good. Offensively, we’ll have five or six guys who didn’t play (varsity) at all coming from the fresh-soph team or guys who didn’t hit well last year who need to step up.”
No matter what area you are discussing, senior Nick Wilson figures to be one of the leaders.
He was All-Apollo Conference last year when posting a 9-2 pitching record with a 2.94 ERA, 54 strikeouts and 19 walks in 66 2/3 innings while batting .314 playing shortstop when not pitching.
Aaron Bence, who led Charleston with a .387 batting average, a .477 on-base percentage and 28 stolen bases in 30 attempts, was the other first-team all-Apollo selection for a team that finished 22-14 overall and third in the conference at 9-5.
Bence graduated as did second-team All-Apollo picks Calvin Bertrand, who was second on the team with 57 innings pitched and hit .314, and Reid Inboden, who was the second leading hitter at .340. Bertrand also led the Trojans with 34 RBIs and had six of the team’s 11 home runs.
In fact, Orion Roberts accounts for the one home run returning from last season as Charleston like most high school teams in this second year with the BBCOR bats looks to find ways to score runs without much as much power.
“With these bats you have to be stronger and some of these guys have put in the time in the weight room,” Landrus said. “Hopefully, that pays off.
“We don’t have a guy like Bence who will steal 30 bases but five or six guys will have the chance to steal.”
The Trojans are hoping that offense will be enough to go with strong pitching and defense.
Along with Wilson, Charleston returns senior lefty Ethan Miller, who was had a 6-2 pitching record last year with a 2.87 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 15 walks in 46 1/3 innings.
“He was pitching more and more later in the year,” Landrus said. “He had (Effingham) St. Anthony down 2-1 at their place in the sixth inning and they won a (Class 1A) state championship.”
Roberts served as a closer last year with five saves .284 ERA in 12 1/3 innings and Sawyer Newell pitched 22 2/3 innings going 2-2 with a 4.02 ERA.
Now junior Robbie Miller is looking to step up to the varsity staff as well.
Nick Corrie only had 10 at-bats but was Charleston’s starting catcher and now as a senior brings that experience.
“He caught all last year,” Landrus said. “He does a nice job behind the plate. That’s one of the keys to your defense controlling the other team’s running game.”
The veteran infield includes senior first baseman Bryson Sheppard, who hit .302 last season.
Coleman Englekes started at second base as a sophomore and Roberts and Newell shared time at third base to go with Wilson at shortstop.
Englekes had a .263 batting average, and Roberts was 11-for-11 stealing bases while batting .225.
When Wilson is pitching, one of three other Trojans could fill the shortstop spot.
Not as much experience returns in the outfield but Landrus sees several possibilities.
Seniors James Hudson and Ethan Miller and juniors Andrew Hart, Dustin Smith and Robbie Miller are competing for starting spots while senior Justyn Blagg brings speed as a newcomer to the team junior Riley Inboden also could help.
“You could see Roberts and Newell out there, too,” Landrus said. “There are about six spots for about eight guys.”
Smith also serves as the Trojans’ backup catcher.
Whether he was going to like the results or not, Landrus figured the math involving the Apollo Conference changes.
In his eight seasons as coach he was a combined 41-7 against Newton, Olney and Robinson, teams that have left to play in the Little Illini.
Moving in as the Apollo’s biggest school is Mattoon, which beat the Trojans 3-2 in the regular season and 11-1 in the first round of the IHSA Class 3A Effingham Regional on its way to a sectional final.
“Some of those teams leaving were pretty good like Olney but we were just able to do pretty well against them,” Landrus said. “When you take those three out and add Mattoon, it’s going to be tough. Every year I’ve been the goals have been the same – to win 20 games, win the conference and win the regional. We play three or four fewer games now so 20 might be harder.
“We just need to be playing our best ball at the end of the year. It seems like we’ve played better on Saturdays than in the regional. We’ve had two bad games the last two years in the regional and we want to change that.”
Justyn Blagg, OF; Nick Corrie, C; James Hudson, OF; Ethan Miller, P-OF; Sawyer Newell, P-IF; Orion Roberts, IF-P; Bryson Sheppard, 1B; Nick Wilson, P-IF
Coleman Englekes, IF; Grant Gough, P-IF; Andrew Hart, OF-IF; Riley Inboden, OF; Robbie Miller, P-OF; Dustin Smith, OF-C; A.J. Thomas, 1B-P
March 16 – SHELBYVILLE (DH), 1 p.m.; March 21 – ROBINSON, 4:30 p.m.; March 22 – NEWTON, 4:30 p.m.; March 25 – at Dieterich, 4:30 p.m.; March 27 – LAKE FOREST, 4:30 p.m.
April 2 – at Neoga, 4:30 p.m.; April 3 – MARSHALL, 4:30 p.m.; April 4 – URBANA, 4:30 p.m.; April 6 – EFFINGHAM (DH), 11 a.m.*; April 8 – at Decatur Eisenhower, 4:30 p.m.; April 10 – Rantoul, 4:30 p.m.; April 11 – SULLIVAN, 4:30 p.m.; April 13 – at Salem (DH) 11 a.m.*; April 15 – TEUTOPOLIS, 4:30 p.m.; April 17 – EFFINGHAM ST. ANTHONY, 4:30 p.m.; April 18 – PARIS (DH), 3 p.m.*; April 24 – at Decatur MacArthur, 4:30 p.m.; April 27 – at Mattoon (DH), 11 a.m.*; April 29 – CHAMPAIGN CENTRAL, 4:30 p.m.
May 1 – CHAMPAIGN CENTENNIAL, 4;30 p.m.; May 4 – Mount Zion (DH), 11 a.m.*; May 10 – CASEY-WESTFIELD, 4:30 p.m.; May 14 – Mahomet-Seymour, 5 p.m.; May 15 – OLNEY, 4:30 p.m.; May 16 – Taylorville, 4:30 p.m.; May 20 – Danville, 4:30 p.m.
* - Apollo Conference games
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