By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Spring, with its promise of renewal, is on the way. Proof? The thud of a fastball popping a leather glove, the clank of the bat (hey, wooden weapons have gone the way of black-and-white television) and the chatter on the diamond.
In the spring, a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of … baseball. Lord Tennyson never played this game, with its pure poetry and pleasure. This is love. Baseball is back.
Bedford North Lawrence opened official practice sessions for the 2019 campaign this week, and there could be a lot to love about this version of the Stars. When the postseason question is popped, when they ask for a sectional ring, will they be jilted or jubilant?
In 11 weeks, BNL will get its answer.
The Stars have reason for hope. They lost four key starters from last year’s 18-win team, which fell to Jeffersonville in the Class 4A sectional final, but they have a strong nucleus – including 5 seniors and 10 juniors. Of course, only 9 play at one time. So the first item on the agenda is competition.
“We’re going to give everyone an opportunity,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “We might have to move some pieces around to find the best fit to the puzzle. We’ll have some good competition for positions. We will see who will rise to the top.”
The obvious holes to fill start at shortstop (Blake Fisher hit .397 with 26 RBIs a year ago) and the entire outfield (slugger Garrett Ramsey and Caden Fish graduated and McCall Ray will devote his time to preparation for his walk-on spot with Indiana University football).
The returning cast includes sophomore catcher Evan Waggoner, junior infielders Zane Harrison and Dalton Nikirk, senior first baseman Logan Shelton, senior Gavin Blackman, senior pitcher Trevyn Stiles, plus junior pitchers Joey Thacker and Garrett Watson. That’s a good starting point.
“I see the potential we have this year,” Shelton said. “With the experience we have at the varsity, the juniors will help us get better and help us push to get the sectional championship.”
BNL won the sectional in 2017, its first since 1994, and made a gallant defense, topping Floyd Central and Seymour in the first two rounds before getting thumped 10-1 by the Red Devils in the final. That whetted the appetites.
“I expect to win,” Stiles said. “I want one of those. I want to win a sectional this year. We need to work hard as a team, get things done, not fall apart.”
Baseball, like love, is how you pitch it. The Stars used 16 different hurlers last season, with Thacker (5-3 with an outstanding 1.05 ERA) and Watson (4-2, 2.73) set to be important parts of the rotation once again.
“We’re going to roll a lot of guys out there,” Callahan said. “We won’t have a guy that can throw upper 80s and strike out 10 guys, but we have guys who can pitch, can move the ball around and change speeds, throw strikes and get us outs. That’s what pitching it all about.”
After a winter confined to batting cages, the weight room and inside conditioning, the Stars are back, outside with the elements. Baseball is in the air. Callahan and his staff will be searching for those willing to “find your role, take on that role to help the team,” Callahan said. “The team is what it’s all about. Put the team first and be selfless.
“Potentially, we have a chance to be real solid. We want to test ourselves. We want to be playing our best come May 21 (for the first round of the sectional, which BNL will host). We want to get back this year, competing for a sectional championship.”
The Stars will start the season with a three-game road trip to Kentucky to face Lexington Lafayette, Henry Clay and Tate’s Creek on March 26-28. They will chase their first-ever Hoosier Hills Conference title (a daunting goal with three league teams receiving votes in the pre-season poll) before the state tournament series.