New Albany Roundup: Eagles baseball team dealing with pitching injuries

Dave Purpura
ThisWeek group

In the aftermath of losing the 2020 season, in which New Albany baseball coach Dave Starling thought his Eagles “were going to be a lot better” than the 2019 team that went 27-2 and won a Division I district title, starting this year without three of their anticipated top pitchers was a bitter pill to swallow.

But with three of their five college recruits healthy to start the season, Starling hopes that after an early evaluation period, the Eagles will settle in and again be among the area’s elite.

Indiana recruit Brock Tibbitts (C/OF) and fellow senior Ian Hoff (P/1B) are the only two returnees from 2019, and the Eagles feature three more college recruits in seniors A.C. Clouse (3B/C, Adrian), Brady Conley (OF/P, Rio Grande) and Mattox Mead (utility/INF, Rio Grande).

Conley is out for the season because of a broken wrist. Junior Caden Robinson, a Memphis commit and the team’s anticipated top pitcher, will miss the season with an elbow injury and sophomore Cooper Sullivan (P) is out for the year with a cracked growth plate.

“That’s three arms you lose right away, but if our starters can get us consistently into the fifth inning, we should be fine. It’s hard to make up losing those arms,” said Starling, who is in his fifth season. “Usually you have a pretty good idea what you’ll have, and we’re all in the same boat. It just makes evaluation difficult and time-consuming. But the guys are responding. I love their composure. We have a lot of young kids out there who have shown some maturity.”

New Albany junior Aaron Pirkle delivers a pitch during a scrimmage against St. Charles on March 22. The Eagles, who went 27-2 and won a Division I district title in 2019, will be trying to overcome the loss of three pitchers to injury.

Last year’s starting staff likely would have included Purdue-Fort Wayne recruit Kevin Fee and Auburn-bound Jack Sokol.

Other pitchers include juniors Oliver Cush (LF/1B), Dylan Neff, Aaron Pirkle (OF), A.J. Scott and Andrew Trybus (1B) and sophomores Tom Bohman and Elijah Griffith.

Sophomore Oliver Shroyer is the Eagles’ starting shortstop, flanked by classmate Ben Clark (2B/C/DH). Junior Mitchell Brockmeyer will catch and play right field.

“We can hit the ball pretty well. We have some good pitching and our defense is playing well, but our strength is hitting the ball,” Tibbitts said. “The other aspects are coming together, too.”

BASEBALL

Coach: Dave Starling, fifth season

Next game: April 12 vs. Grove City

Key athletes: A.C. Clouse, Ian Hoff, Mattox Mead, Aaron Pirkle and Brock Tibbitts

Trio back for

young softball team

Seniors Olivia Angles (P/1B/3B) and Sophia Halliday (CF/C) and junior Aurora Lescody (utility) return to pace the softball team, which second-year coach Aaron Hall expects to be led by its offense for at least the early part of the season.

“We have strong players and young players, kids who might make freshman mistakes as sophomores, but that’s part of their growth and they’ll be helpful in our success,” Hall said. “We have nine girls who can hit the ball out of the park and that’s exciting. Offense will not be a problem and we can play defense with anybody. The biggest thing is holding our opponents’ scoring down.”

Angles is the Eagles’ primary pitcher, although sophomore Jessica Goldhardt also will throw some innings. According to Hall, both depend more on location and spin than overpowering hitters.

Their catchers will include Halliday and sophomores Ashley Apple (2B/3B) and Sydney Wamsley.

Other varsity contributors include senior Mackenzie Derflinger (C/2B/OF), junior Isabella LaCommare (OF) and sophomores Jordan George (3B/SS) and Logan Riley (2B/OF).

“The key is consistency. If we throw strikes and make plays, we will be in most games,” Hall said. “It will be a competitive situation. Players will have to be ready, thick-skinned and show desire to get on the field.”

SOFTBALL

Coach: Aaron Hall, second season

Next game: April 12 vs. Mount Vernon

Key athletes: Olivia Angles, Ashley Apple, Sophia Halliday, Isabella LaCommare and Aurora Lescody

Gray, new coach

leading volleyball team

First-year boys volleyball coach Jessica Florea is excited to continue building the team, which enters its third season with only one returning starter in senior outside hitter/middle blocker Hayden Gray.

Florea has been an assistant girls coach at New Albany for five years and currently coaches the junior varsity team.

“As a sport in its early years in New Albany, we’ve discussed building our team culture by working together toward common goals, celebrating successes and confronting failures,” Florea said. “‘Tradition Starts Here,’ the motto on our team shirts, embodies the spirit and motivation of this team to build a culture for continuous improvement with a focus on effort, team and attitude. More than anything, we are ready to have fun and enjoy the game as a process.”

Gray has been on the roster since the team’s inception in 2018. New Albany went 1-16 in its inaugural season and improved to 6-15 in 2019.

“(Gray’s) court presence is undeniable,” Florea said. “At 6(-foot)-5 he commands the court and will be key in both our offense and defense.”

Defensive specialists are seniors Joe Adams, Gavin Fancher and Owen Troutman and sophomore Alex Noreikis. Fancher also is a setter with junior Gabe Lowden, and Noreikis could see time as a right-side hitter in a rotation that includes seniors Liam Humphrey and Parker Smith, junior Om Patel and freshman Andrew Rakocy.

Lowden and classmate Carlos Polanco-Zaccardi are outside hitters.

BOYS VOLLEYBALL

Coach: Jessica Florea, first season

Next match: April 8 vs. Pickerington North

Key athletes: Joe Adams, Gavin Fancher, Hayden Gray, Liam Humphrey and Owen Troutman

dpurpura@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekDave