Baseball: Canal Winchester Indians looking to build with youth

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group
Canal Winchester's Jake Francis is the only senior and one of three players with varsity experience for the baseball team.

The preseason and early part of the regular season have been just as competitive as first-year Canal Winchester baseball coach Drew Dosch had hoped.

It did not surprise Dosch, whose team has only three returning players with varsity experience and one senior in outfielder Jake Francis. The other two – juniors Zade Fusselman (OF/P) and Joey Young (3B/P) – were freshmen the last time the Indians played a game in 2019.

“We don’t have many guys who come in with a pedigree or numbers already in place. We’re trying to evaluate what we have every day and because of that, the competition has been great,” Dosch said. “They know there’s an opportunity here.”

Young, who played second base as a freshman, led the team in batting average (.403), hits (31) and RBI (23) two years ago and was first-team all-league and honorable mention all-district. This season, Dosch plans to have Young as his everyday third baseman.

“He generates a lot of bat speed and he doesn’t overanalyze, overthink at the plate,” Dosch said. “He lets his natural quick hands take over and for somebody as a freshman, sometimes that’s the biggest thing you see them struggle with as a 14-year-old against 18-year-olds. He wasn’t intimidated one bit.”

Most positions were undecided entering the season, although Francis and Fusselman likely were to be joined in the outfield by junior L.J. Romig (OF/2B/P). 

Sophomore Joey Helms was scheduled to be starting pitcher in the Indians’ opener March 27 against Chillicothe Zane Trace and also will rotate at second base with Romig and junior Keaton Moeller.

Juniors Kollin Trace and Matthew Davis will split time at first base.

Dosch said there is “an open competition” at catcher among junior Will Keiser, sophomore Russ Wight and freshman Kayden Leck.

“There’s no reason with the talent of guys we have that we can’t compete in our division of the OCC (the Capital Division),” Dosch said. “The talent is here. We just have to put it together and grow a little bit in terms of experience.”

INSIDE THE INDIANS

•Coach: Drew Dosch, first season

•Next game: April 1, Lancaster at Beavers Field

•Key athletes: Jacob Francis, Joey Helms, L.J. Romig, Kollin Trace and Joey Young

Cruisers return handful

of varsity players

Groveport Madison returns four players from a 2019 team that went 13-11, reached a Division I district semifinal and handed eventual regional finalist New Albany one of its two losses.

The returnees are seniors Tyler McKee (P/INF) and Jamell Mitchell Jr. (OF/P) and juniors Aiden Barnhart (OF/P) and Kyle Jennings (INF/P).

McKee and Mitchell were full-time starters, and Barnhart and Jennings platooned in left field.

McKee was 3-0 with a 2.52 ERA on the mound two years ago and batted .373.

“I think we have some real competitive kids on this team,” said second-year coach Chris McKee, who is Tyler's father. “When you have some questions around your team as it applies to things like experience or depth, you can always lean on running nine competitors out there.

“Tyler McKee has emerged as a guy that our players and coaches can turn to. His transformation from freshman to senior has been remarkable. He’s really bought into the process of improvement.”

A six-man senior class is rounded out by Garrett Ottman (1B), Carlos Patterson (1B/3B), Nicklas Polan (P) and Chandler Smith (3B/OF). 

Junior Dillon Randleman and freshman Brandon Grove looked to split catching duties, and other outfielders are juniors Price Cooper and Keller Weston and freshman Ryan Pettay.

“Some guys are going to see the game speed up on them a bit,” coach McKee said. “I can say that we expect to play in a very challenging OCC-Buckeye. The coaches in this division are guys that I respect and they’ll have their teams ready.”

INSIDE THE CRUISERS

•Coach: Chris McKee, second season

•Next game: April 1 at Hilliard Davidson

•Key athletes: Aiden Barnhart, Kyle Jennings, Tyler McKee, Jamell Mitchell Jr. and Garrett Ottman

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave