MATTOON — The Lake Land baseball team is a bit young this season. Besides one outfielder and the two catchers, the Lake Land baseball team is working in new players in the lineup, whether it's a transfer like Garrett Brachbill, from Shelbyville, or freshman such as WSS graduate Nic Hutchinson or Charleston graduate Sam Gubbins, who are both freshmen.
Where Lake Land does have some experience back is on the mound after a 22-30 season, including 11-16 in the Great Rivers Conference. Parker Nolan, Brady Cappe, Alex Moore are all sophomores who saw time on the mound last season and sophomore Ben Sweeney, a Charleston graduate, will see time in relief along with Devon Still.
Lake Land coach Bill Jackson likes the mix of talent he has this season.
"Every year I think we have an opportunity to compete and it comes down to how we grow and learn here through February," Jackson said. "The nice thing is we are a little older on the mound and that's a plus. We have guys that have gone through the spring, have gone through the grind of it. They are going to have to help and weather some storms for us from time to time."
Lake Land started the season on Friday with two 3-1 wins at Roane State. The sophomore pitching staff stepped up and was led by Nolan in the first game as he went six strong innings. Nolan pitched 83 innings last season, a team high, and struck out 61 batters. He only walked 18 and finished with a 3.25 earned run average.
"Parker was kind of a surprise as a freshman. We thought he would work in the mid-week role for us. He (had a couple of quality) starts and slid himself into that number two spot," Jackson said. "He's a kid that's a horse. He going to give you a quality start he goes out there and that's a big-time plus for him."
Cappe worked the second game against Roane and struck out 12 batters and went 6 1/3 innings. Last season he pitched 77 2/3 innings and struck out 62 batters. He finished with a 3.59 ERA. Moore will also see time in the rotation and he pitched 43 innings and had an 8.37 ERA last season.
Jackson has a few other options to round out his pitching staff, too.
"Brady came in and he threw in the three-slot last year and Alex saw some innings. He had a good back end of the fall. Brady had a very good fall," Jackson said. "Freshman Brandon Puckett is freshman that we didn't see in the fall, but everything we've seen in the bullpen has been really crisp and really good. Devon Still, I like him in the long relief role for us and you have confidence in him that he can eat up some innings for you."
Jackson will lean on a freshman to provide middle of the order power in the lineup with Gubbins, who will play first base for the Lakers.
"He's come a long way throughout the fall. Offensively, we knew he was going to hit," Jackson said. "He's really strong offensively. We had to clean up some things at first base and he's gotten better defensively. Him and Bradley Wolfe, it's nice having a right and left-handed bat at first base. They both have the potential to be power threats at first."
Brachbill transferred from Millikin University and will play an infield role for Lake Land this season.
"We don't have a lot of numbers, but four guys that can play three spots. I like athleticism," Jackson said. "We've played Garrett at second, we've played him at shortstop this fall. He's done a good job both places and had him a little bit at third. Just having that versatility is great thing for us."
Hutchinson played in the outfield this opening weekend for Lake Land and Jackson said Hutchinson can play either corner spot.
"He's come a long way. Offensively, we knew there was something there and I watched him track down a couple of balls as a sophomore and I said he could play for us now," Jackson said. "Him and Brady Sutton are competing for those corner outfield spots."
Either one will get to play next to sophomore centerfielder Bryan Melendez, who hit .269 with 23 RBIs and 38 runs scored last season. He also stole 11 bases. Jackson is expecting a good amount out of Melendez this season.
"As I told the three sophomore positional players, 'you have been through a year and understand the grind and the GRAC and how competitive and tough it is. They are going to have to help the freshmen," Jackson said. "Bryan is a very good defensive centerfielder and bats in the leadoff spot for us. He's a bat that can really jump start an offense for us and when he gets going, he can really go."
Lake Land's first home game is March 4 against Highland.