Experience - or lack of it - will tell the final tale of the 2012 season for the Paden City Wildcat varsity baseball team. Eleven players will wear the Green and White this season, under the direction of veteran Head Coach Brent Croasmun and Assistant Coach Jeff Hohn.
The team will make its stand on the diamonds of the Ohio Valley, minus Zach Yost who graduated last spring. Yost was the team's leadoff hitter and, according to Croasmun, was one of the best base runners in the Ohio Valley. "Yost will be missed," said Croasmun. "He not only was a great base runner, he was the team's leader, on and off the field."
After having gone through some growing pains last season, the Wildcats look to be competitive from the start. "We threw some young kids into the fire last season, and it took us awhile before we started to jell as a unit. We still have a way to go, but we have some arms that we think can develop into competitive pitchers," said Croasmun.
Sophomore Kyle Postlewait was the team's leading pitcher last season and appears to be the workhorse this season. He threw the most innings from a season ago and looks to have the strongest arm to open the season.
Generally, to be successful in class-A, a team needs more than one or two hurlers who can throw strikes. A good defense also is needed to keep a team competitive. Besides Postlewait on the mound, Croasmun will use also use experienced seniors Jared Stewart and Taylor Still; junior Matt Barker; and freshmen Craig Allen and Zach Heasley to throw from the hill.
This year's Wildcat team will boast only 11 players, with six players with varsity experience: senior lettermen Taylor Still (outfield/pitcher); Jared Stewart (outfield/ infield/pitcher); Jay Billiter (catcher/infield); and Kyle Staton, (infield/outfield); junior letterman, Matt Barker (outfield/pitcher); and finishing with sophomore letterman, Kyle Postlewait (infield/pitcher).
Other Wildcats looking to earn starting positions include senior Kyle McFadden (outfield), sophomore Tyler Stackpole (outfield/catcher); freshmen Zach Heasley (infield/pitcher); Craig Allen (outfield/ infield/pitcher); and Levi Meadows (infield/catcher/pitcher).
Croasmun counts the experience of his returners as a top strength of this year's team. Barker, Stewart, Billiter, and Still are two-year starters, while Staton and Postlewait both put a lot of time in their first season last year.
Offensively, Stewart and Billiter came on strong and look to carry the load until the underclassmen can get their feet wet. Staton has improved his hitting, according to Croasmun, when asked about where the offensive production was going to come from.
Croasmun also thought that Barker got much stronger in the off season and should help out driving in runs. Also Heasley, Meadows, and Allen have shown signs of improving with their bats, as well.
Defensively, Still, Stewart, and Barker will start in the outfield, back up by Staton, McFadden, and Stackpole. When Postlewait isn't pitching, he looks to get some reps at third along with Staton. Meadows or Allen will play shortstop and/or second base, while Heasley will cover first base. When Heasley pitches, Staton or Stewart will take over first base. Billiter will start the season behind the plate, with Meadows giving him a break from time to time.
Stewart will be the 'Cats' utility player and will play any infield positions, depending on who is pitching. Stewart also will play outfield, and, if needed, can catching as well.
"These guys will get better as the season goes along," predicted Croasmun. "The only way you get better is to play. We'll keep practicing and playing hard. Hopefully we'll get to the point where we can compete in the sectional against Cameron and Valley."
Paden City opens the season in Pine Grove March 19 against the Lumberjacks and March 20 against Bishop Donohue in McMechen with the first pitch coming at 5:30 p.m. on both contests.
The Wildcats will have their home opener on March 21 against Tyler Consolidated at 5 p.m.