Coming off a tough season, the Monroe City baseball team is intent on producing a turnaround 2017 campaign.
The Monroe City baseball team wants in on the fun.
After watching the school's football, softball and boys basketball programs win district championships this past year, the boys on the diamond are setting sights on their own success this spring.
“With (the other teams) having as much success as they have this year, I think it'll hopefully benefit and carry to the baseball field,” said Monroe City first-year head coach Derek Vanlandingham.
Coming off a tough 6-15 season, the Panthers are intent on producing a turnaround 2017 campaign. Monroe City kicks off its home schedule against Unity on Monday.
Vanlandingham, who enters his fourth year involved with the team but first in charge, looks to three seniors — Jordan Bichsel, Austyn Nevels and Josh Underhill — to lead by example on and off the field for a squad crowded with underclassmen.
“We've got some core guys coming back,” Vanlandingham said. “We're just trying to implement the fundamentals of the game. We can't be good if we can't do the fundamentals of hitting, fielding and base running — all three aspects of the game.”
Bichsel is primed to make an impact as both a pitcher and shortstop. The senior has five pitches in his arsenal he hopes he can use to intimidate opponents.
“It's good to have intimation when you're on the mound,” Bichsel said. “Everybody looks at you differently. It really helps your pitching. Even when things go bad, stay positive. That's all you can really do — pitch your game.”
Bichsel is one of “about six or seven” arms Vanlandingham expects to take the mound this season — especially with new pitch count regulations.
“We're going to have to have some strategy on both my part and the kids' part,” the coach said of the new rule, which caps how much one can pitch in a week before receiving a mandatory break. “It's going to be different.”
Nevels, an outfielder and pitcher, returns after posting a .444 batting average last year.
“I'm excited,” Nevels said. “I'm really to play some baseball. I'm ready for a winning season. We're going to come back ready to win. I think we're going to come out this year pretty strong.”
Underhill, who doubles as an all-state football lineman, figures to join Nevels in the heart of the Monroe City batting order after batting .365 with 11 RBIs last season.
Also in the mix will be junior catcher Brad Cheek, who serves as the team's top returning RBI-producer after totaling 15 last season.
“I hope we can just have some fun and win some games,” Underhill said. “Monroe City hasn't been known for a baseball team here in awhile, but I want to turn that around my senior year, get a winning record and maybe do something at districts.”
Before the Class 3 District 8 tournament, Monroe City will have its hands full with a perennially-tough schedule in the Clarence Cannon Conference.
“Our conference is loaded,” Vanlandingham said. “It always is. Palmyra and Macon, they've got studs for pitchers and they're really fundamentally sound with their coaches. Centralia is another who is always in the top of the conference.
“But we're going in to compete, not necessarily winning every game, but we'll compete and see what happens. If you're bringing enthusiasm and energy, who knows, baseball is a funny game, and it's a lot of fun when everything comes together.”