Consistent hitting from the Dukes was often negated by giving too many free passes to opposing batters in 2016 and spelled a 12-15 record.
The return of leading hitters Austin Goss (.420 avg. in 2016) and Everett Kropff (.377) has 14th year coach Roger Sasack thinking his group can improve on last year’s mark even while trying to replace four-year starting catcher Sam Echstenkamper.
“We had excellent defense behind the plate and up the middle last year, which is always key,” said Sasack. “Since Sam was starting for four years, many teams in the conference just stopped even trying to run on us.”
Echstenkamper’s replacement will be Kropff, whose 24 walks, 48 total bases, and 10 doubles led the Dukes in 2016.
“Everett’s got some pressure on him but he’s a hardworking kid,” said Sasack. “He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do.”
With last year’s leading pitcher and home run hitter Cole Jerousek also departing as a senior, the coach is counting on juniors Tristan Arno, Bailey Mull, Mason Wright, and Cole McLean, as well as seniors Max Carevic and Matt Norton to fill the void.
Sasack said the Patriot Athletic Conference is up for grabs between a number of teams and added that he’d match up his top-two starting pitchers, Goss and Mull, against anyone in the PAC.
“It’s pretty wide open. It’s as wide open as it’s been,” he said. “Last year was pretty much the same way. We came up short and as a coach. You always remember the ones you lost but should’ve won the most. We had a couple of those mixed in there. We should be able to hang with anyone in the conference.”
The Dukes will round the bases at a brand new field this year at Wellington Community Park, which is scheduled to host a village ribbon cutting ceremony at 4:30 p.m. on Monday, April 17. To open the season, the team travels March 28 to Open Door.
“There’s some things that still need to happen to get the field all put together, but it looks awesome,” said Sasack. “We have a nice stone wall backstop. We’re waiting for a new net to get here for it. The infield looks great.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.