GRANGER — Ask any high school baseball coach what it is his team could use more of and the answer is likely to be pitching.
“Someone to eat up some innings” is often the response, and no one will excuse Woodward-Granger skipper Eric Evans of using a cliche once they understand his squad lost 108.2 of the 178.1 innings thrown last year to graduation.
“We had three guys who chewed up innings and who we could give the ball to at just about any time,” Evans said. “Now we pay the price, as all three left at the same time. We have an idea who we can use, but we are a long way from being set in our rotation.”
W-G was 16-13 last year and 8-10 in WCC play, and improving those numbers will depend greatly on just how quickly the Hawk rotation falls into place.
Junior Brady Aunspach is back after leading the team with 44.2 innings pitched. He was 2-5 on the rubber with one save and an ERA of 3.13 while holding the opposition to a .183 average.
Senior Jackson Larson (1-1, one save, 4.63 ERA, 22.2 innings pitched) and Austin Ober, who threw 2-1/3 frames, are the only other hurlers back who recorded time on the bump in a varsity game last summer.
Evans said Matt Buch and Nate Devick would be given looks, with one or two others possibly given the chance to throw.
“We don’t have somebody throwing in the low to mid-80’s and are not going to blow people away, so that really puts the focus on throwing strikes,” Evans said. “We are going to give up some hits, so that means playing good defense and above all not walking people.”
Aunspach will play shortstop when not pitching, with Marcus McConahay back at second base. Austin Scharlau will play third if he does not catch, a job currently in flux but which Jordan Pierce remains the lead candidate to assume.
Evans said he is concerned about the corner outfield spots and first base as the season begins.
“We thought we had first nailed down, but it will be two weeks before that guy can join us,” the coach said. “We may have to put Larson there for now — we’ll have to see how it works out.”
Speedster Race Brant returns in center field, with Cole Moran a possible choice in right field and Reese Jamison a possibility in left, with Evans saying “We just don’t know … someone needs to show us they deserve the job” when it comes to the corner outfield spots.
The Hawks hit .336 as a team in 2015, scoring 224 runs on 254 hits, with 35 doubles and five triples along with four home runs. Hawk field in Granger is a big ballpark, and without big guns in the lineup, Evans will continue to rely on aggressive base running, sound bunting for hits and sacrifices and the stolen base to manufacture runs.
The team averaged over six steal attempts a game last year and was successful on 178-of-193 tries.
Brant (.457, 43 hits, 33 steals) struck out just three times in 109 plate appearances and will again be counted upon to spark the offense.
Aunspach (.414, 36 hits, 23 RBIs) and McConahay (.363, 29 hits, 20 RBI) will also be key components to the Hawk attack.
“Nothing has changed — we are going to be aggressive and are looking for guys who can handle the bat,” Evans said. “I believe in putting pressure on the other team. Sometimes you’ll get caught doing that, but I’d rather make the defense have to make a play than be too cautious and miss opportunities.”
Evans said he expects Van Meter to be at the top of the WCC standings while noting that Ogden and Des Moines Christian will both have good squads as well.
“We were 8-10 last year and I think we can be better than .500 this year,” he concluded. “It will probably come down to who has the most depth in pitching.”
Did you like this story? Please support our daily coverage of local news and sports with a one-time donation or a recurring donation of $5 per month.