Fresh off another successful basketball season, Bedford senior Jackson Lamb now has his full attention devoted to his promising baseball career.
Already signed to play baseball at the University of Michigan, where he is projected to be an outfielder and relief pitcher, there is considerable speculation that Lamb may also be a high-round selection in the June professional baseball draft.
First he will help the Kicking Mules contend for a title in the highly competitive Red Division of the Southeastern Conference.
As a sophomore, Lamb helped Bedford advanced to the Division 1 state championship game.
In his 17th year as Mules coach, Craig Trychel is confident about his team’s chances this season.
“I think we can be very good if we play up to our capabilities,” said Trychel, who has 365 career wins at Bedford. “We’re going to play a lot of good teams, and that’s just going to make us better.
“We got a taste of it last year, and we’ve got a lot of kids back. They’ve got experience at a high level against some very good competition. So, I’m cautiously optimistic that we can do very well.”
The Mules lost at Saline in a Division 1 district final.
Lamb batted .548, hit three home runs, drove in 28 runs last season, and was 7-3 with a 1.29 ERA and 75 strikeouts in 48 2/3 innings.
Bedford also returns senior starters Kyle Kuhr (first base/pitcher), Josh Strickland (catcher, .424), and Dennis Guss (second base/outfield), and junior starters Luke Mayo (outfield) and Brad Boss (shortstop/pitcher, .360) from a team that went 23-13 overall and placed second in the SEC Red at 12-4 behind champion Saline.
“The depth of our pitching has to be a little better than it was last year,” Trychel said, “and defensively we have to play a little better.
“With Jackson on the mound, we should be able to be in every game we play. He always performs at a high level, and he helps everybody else become a little better. Hopefully he elevates their play as well.”
How competitive is the Red Division?
Within the last nine seasons, an SEC Red team has advanced to the Michigan D-1 championship game in six of those years, highlighted by the 2010 tourney when Ann Arbor Pioneer defeated Saline in an all-Red state final.
Saline was also runner-up in the 2008 and 2009 seasons, Pioneer finished first in 2004 and second in 2005, Bedford reached the D-1 semifinals in 2009, and Saline advanced to the semifinals last season.
Blissfield coach Larry Tuttle began his coaching career at Bedford as an assistant in 1967.
Tuttle, 68, took the head coaching job at Blissfield in 1968. With an 1,130-335-5 career record entering his 46th season, he is Michigan’s all-time wins leader.
Along the way have come seven state championships, two state runner-up finishes, two state semifinals losses, and seven defeats in the state quarterfinals.
Blissfield has won 19 straight Lenawee County Athletic Association titles and 36 crowns since joining the LCAA in 1978.
With a relatively young lineup that will start four sophomores and a freshman player, the Royals may be hard-pressed to match some of those lofty finishes. They are coming off a 31-7 season, which ended with a loss to LCAA foe Dundee in the Division 3 district finals last June.
“We are very young,” Tuttle said. “We have some gifted kids, but they’ll have to learn in a big hurry. We are looking for those young kids to get the job done.”
Back to lead the Royals are senior Dylan Thompson (first base/pitcher), junior Tyler Watters (pitcher/infielder, .375 average, 8-1 record, 2.25 ERA), and sophomores Alex Zaciewski (pitcher/shortstop) and Luke Cassabuon (catcher).
“We’re green, and anything green grows,” Tuttle said. “Hopefully, we will have to cut a lot of grass this year.”
Also in the LCAA, Erie Mason looks to improve on a 17-18 overall finish under coach Tom McGarry, who returns to the Eagles’ bench after a previous 10-year stint at the school.
The Eagles have only three returning starters in seniors Chase Burlen (pitcher/third base), Hunter Cole (first base), and Brent Bodie (center field/pitcher), and have three other seniors who lettered in 2012.
“I hope that we improve every day,” McGarry said. “We’re a young team experience-wise, but we hope to be competitive in every game, and be ready for the state tournament in June.”
Whiteford (17-13, 13-3 TCC) looks to compete near the top of the Tri-County Conference, where the Bobcats finished as runner-up to Clinton in 2012.
Third-year coach Terry Pant will be relying upon his four returning starters for leadership, a group that includes seniors Gabe Laroy (pitcher/outfield) and Jared Kaufman (utility), and juniors Colin Lake (shortstop/pitcher) and Troy Diller (third base/pitcher).
Another potential bright spot is promising freshman catcher Jake Beck.
“Nine of the 11 players we have on the varsity can pitch, so we’ll have deep pitching,” Pant said. “We should also be a better hitting team this year.
“I see us at the top of the league along with Clinton. The key is going to be our pitching, which should be able to keep us in a lot of games.”
Summerfield (14-16, 7-7 TCC) returns just three starters for 38th-year coach Darrell Polter, whose Bulldogs advanced to the Division 4 regional semifinals last season.
Back are seniors Steve Schankin and Lucas Diver, who each pitch and play shortstop, and sophomore catcher Jacob Whaley.
Three other letter winners are expected to add depth this season, and Polter is optimistic about some of the team’s promising newcomers, like sophomore pitcher-infielders Reid Olmstead and Ben Goodin, and junior first baseman Zach Vigliotti.
“I think we’ll be all right,” Polter said. “I’m excited. We’ve got two real good pitchers [Schankin and Diver], and some of our younger kids are coming along real well. The key will be pitching, and catching the ball. As the season goes on we’ll see who can play where, and we’ll get ready for the tournament.”