Returning their entire starting line-up from last year, along with adding some promising freshmen to their ranks, the Paden City Wildcats look to make more than a little noise in the 2014 season.
The Wildcats lost no seniors to graduation and return nine letter winners with game experience. Back this year will be senior outfielder Tyler Stackpole; juniors Levi Meadows, Zach Heasley and Craig Allen; and sophomores, Luke Cooper, Isaac Hall, Deven Price, Michael Wilcox and Andrew Dennis.
Newcomers to the team include senior Kyle Postlewait, juniors Kennedy Cain and Matthew Greathouse and freshmen Aaron Heasley, Hayden Hizer, Jacob Pierce, Blaine Mitchell, Evan Shreve and Logan Crawford.
With a large number of players to situate on the diamond for a change, veteran Wildcat Head Coach Brent Croasmun and Assistant Coach Jeff Hohn will find strategic moves a major part of their game plan this season.
"We have nine pitchers on our roster," Croasmun said. "This is the most I have ever had. We'll try to establish three starters, middle relief, and hopefully find a closer."
Starting pitchers from last year include Hall, Cooper, Heasley, Meadows and Allen. Toss the caps of Dennis, Postlewait, Hizer and the younger Heasley into the mix and the 'Cats appear to be set for the season.
"These guys will be the biggest keys to our success," Croasmun said. "We need to develop more consistency by throwing more strikes."
Zach Heasley will share time at first with Cooper, depending on if one or the other is on the mound and Stackpole will compete for the bag as well. Meadows is the likely starter at second with Price, Hizer, Hall and Aaron Heasley all competing for the same slot.
Hizer, Price and Hall will also vie for starting time at the number six position.
Either Cooper or Hall will man third, depending on the pitching situation at the time.
Competition for outfield positions is fierce right now with Price and Allen looking to retain their starting positions from last year. Meanwhile, Dennis, Postlewait, Aaron Heasley, Cain, Stackpole, Pierce, Greathouse, Mitchell, Shreve and Crawford also will compete for an opening.
Fans can look for Price and Hall to serve as overall utility players with both proving proficient at several positions. "We have a lot of combinations we can go with," Croasmun said. "We'll see who can catch and throw the best and go from there. It may come down to who has the hot bat."
In that vein, the coach expects hitting to be better this year than it was last year. Cooper led the stats at the plate in the 2013 season with an average of .395, followed by Meadows with .356; Zach Heasley with .308; and Allen with a very respectable .279. Also a plus for Paden City will be the base running skills by Meadows and Allen, who stole 22 and 21 bases, respectively.
Tweaking their schedule a bit in order to be more competitive come post-season, the Wildcats are ready to take on all comers. "We have upgraded our schedule this year to help prepare us for tournament time," said Croasmun. "Some of the best Class-A teams in the state are in our area between Weirton and Parkersburg. Our sectional tournament will be a great challenge as we face Magnolia and Cameron."
The Wildcats started the season off in grand fashion last week, beating the Valley Lumberjacks 11-1. They will have hosted Beallsville Tuesday, and will travel across the river April 3 to play Bellaire St. John at 5:30 p.m.
If you haven't had a chance to catch the Wildcats in their new uniforms, you can see them at home at Paden City Park at 5:30 p.m. and with the same St. John Irish again on April 7.