PBL baseball looks for more success in 2018

PAXTON -- Like their first-year head coach Brock Niebuhr, many members of the Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School baseball team have some big shoes to fill.
 
In each of the last two years, PBL won an IHSA Class 2A regional championship. Last year's squad claimed a 29-4 record, as its 29 wins were the school's most since its 29-8 campaign in 2003.
 
After ending its season with a loss in the sectional semifinals, the Panthers said goodbye to eight seniors, including six -- Andrew Zenner, Cooper Johnson, Kaleb Denault, Cole Eshleman, Dalton Coplea and Luke Fitton -- who moved on to play baseball at the collegiate level.
 
The Panthers' junior varsity team started its 2017 season with a 13-2 record as of late April, and although many players will need to step up to the varsity level, Niebuhr said his team still expects to have some success in 2018.
 
“We have some new faces, but the expectation has not changed," Niebuhr said. "PBL baseball has had some recent success, and we're hoping to continue that going forward. Our upperclassmen have been around good baseball teams. 
 
"They know what good baseball looks like. They've done a great job of taking on that role of new leaders and are really working hard and want to continue the success we've had in the past.”
 
Seniors Jaxson Coplea and Keaton Krumwiede are among the returnees from last year's varsity squad.
 
Coplea hit .377 last year through 77 at-bats with 22 RBIs and 24 runs scored as he played the catcher position. He also had 148 fielding putouts and a .980 fielding percentage. 
 
Krumwiede had a .234 batting average and a .400 on-base percentage through 102 plate appearances with 19 RBIs and 19 runs scored while posting 43 fielding putouts and two double plays in the field. He also posted a 1.72 earned-run average and 7-0 record with 23 strikeouts though 28 1/3 innings on the mound.
 
“Keaton Krumwiede and Jaxson Coplea both played key roles on last year's team," Niebuhr said. 
 
Mason Ecker returns for his junior season after playing in the outfield for the varsity team last year.
 
Ecker had a .375 batting average through 40 at-bats with nine RBIs, 16 runs scored and 14 stolen bases while posting a 100-percent fielding percentage with 15 putouts. 
 
"Mason Ecker played a bigger role in the outfield as the year went on," Niebuhr said.
 
Ben McClure heads into his senior season after posting a .455 on-base percentage through 23 plate appearances last year with one RBI and nine runs scored.
 
Fellow senior Mitch St. Peter posted a 1.90 earned-run average through 11 innings on the mound with a 1-0 record and 12 strikeouts. At the plate, he hit .500 through eight at-bats with two RBIs.
 
“Ben McClure and Mitch St. Peter didn't necessarily have big roles, but were on that roster and contributed and saw what good baseball should look like and have brought that to the table this year," Niebuhr said.
 
The Panthers are also welcoming back two seniors who were not on the team last year -- Joel Deatrick and Connor Janssen.
 
“I think they could be contributing factors as the year goes on and they get that arm strength built back up," Niebuhr said. "I think they can be major parts of our pitching staff.”
 
Deatrick posted a 3.7 earned-run average with a 1-0 record with five strikeouts through 5 2/3 varsity innings pitched in 2016.
 
“Hopefully, he's going to help us on the mound," Niebuhr said. "I think he can really contribute there.”
 
Janssen has not played since freshman year, when he was part of the 2015 junior varsity team.
 
“We're working with him to pitch and eat up some innings for us as well," Niebuhr said.
 
Ecker might be asked to pitch some innings as well for the Panthers.
 
“He's a lefty whom I think is going to be a contributor," Niebuhr said.
 
The pitching staff is looking to make up for the graduations of the John A. Logan College-bound Zenner, Olney Central College-bound Fitton and Washington-St. Louis's Cooper Johnson.
 
Zenner went 8-0 with a 0.00 earned-run average and 77 strikeouts through 51 2/3 innings while Johnson went 6-0 wih a 3.32 ERA and 24 strikeouts through 27 1/3 innings and Fitton went 4-2 with a 5.07 ERA and 53 strikeouts through 40 innings.
 
“You kind of get spoiled when you have guys like Andrew Zenner and Luke Fitton. At this point, we don't have that dominant ace that you're looking for yet, but I do think that we have a lot of guys who are going to contribute for us," Niebuhr said. 
 
"At this point for (a lot of guys), it's their turn. They've got to step up and get the job done. Early on, we're going to be giving a lot of guys opportunities and seeking where they fit and giving them an opportunity to get the job done for us.”
 
Ben Jarboe had a plate appearance last year.
 
“As a junior, we're counting on him to step up," Niebuhr said.
 
Tommy Quinn, a junior, had one plate appearance last year as well as he hit a single and scored a run during a May game against South Newton.
 
On Thursday, PBL neared the end of its second week of practice for the 2018 season.
 
“We're really excited with how close it is at this point," Niebuhr said. "We've had a great attitude and great effort. The kids are working hard and doing everything we've asked of them.”
 
Due to cold temperatures, PBL held some of its practice in the high school gymnasium that day. The team hopes for some warmer weather to come before its season opener, which is scheduled to be played at home against Hoopeston Area at 4:30 p.m. Thursday.
 
“Everybody knows that in the spring, it's always weather-permitting," Niebuhr said. "We're just going to show up and play. Hopefully, we can get the games in. We've got a good schedule. We've got a tough schedule, and we're excited to get started.”
 
The Panthers are also scheduled to host Ridgeview at 4:30 p.m. Friday before traveling to face Armstrong-Potomac at 4:30 p.m. the following Monday.
 
“At this point, we're just looking forward to games," Niebuhr said. "It gets to a point where it gets tough to practice against yourself and to practice indoors and stuff like that, but we're looking forward to that first game next Thursday. We're looking forward to just getting our feet wet and seeing where we stand.”
 
The Panthers are also scheduled to travel to Maroa-Forsyth at 4:30 p.m. Thursday, March 29, and host St. Joseph-Ogden at 4:30 p.m. Friday, April 13, before going on the road for a doubleheader at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 5, against Bloomington Central Catholic.
 
“There are a lot of quality opponents on our schedule, whether it's Maroa-Forsyth, Bloomington Central Catholic or St. Joseph-Ogden," Niebuhr said. "Up and down our schedule, we're playing tough competition day-in and day-out. We're looking forward to that challenge.”
Categories (3):Prep Sports, Baseball, Sports

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