The following are previews of the five Howard County teams.
The Panthers went 23-6 last season, falling one win short of a return trip to the state finals. Brown has to replace all-state outfielder Marcus Pingleton and ace pitcher Ronnie Smith, but he has a strong core of returning players including Morehead State recruit Evan Warden.
“Everything has been positive,” Brown said. “The kids are buying in. It’s been an easier transition than I expected and I’m glad it’s been that way. The learning curve has been a lot quicker and it’s really worked out for us in the sense of jelling as a team.”
Warden will anchor the pitching staff. He had a 5-2 record and a 2.83 ERA last season. Sophomore Dalton Leighty, a move-in from Decatur Central, gives the Panthers a strong No. 2.
“You have to have two really good pitchers, I think, to make it deep in the tournament and give yourself a chance to take that title. I have the utmost confidence in those two,” Brown said. “Warden is a seasoned vet and a fierce competitor. Leighty is a sophomore with a lot of raw talent and a lot of raw ability. I think Evan has taken him under his wing and is showing him some things.”
Western has good pitching depth. Brown raved about the work senior A.J. Holt and junior Jake Stout have put in to prepare for the season and the skipper is eager to see them in game action. Juniors Austin Weaver (2-1, 0.97 ERA last season) and Austin Taylor (2-0, 2.33) also are in the mix.
Brown also has depth behind the plate — senior Cameron Herr, junior Quintin Fields and freshman Tyler Burthay are catchers. Herr started last season.
Around the infield, senior Drew Bellus is at first, Taylor is at second, Warden and Leighty are the shortstops and Weaver is at third. Bellus, Warden and Weaver are returning starters. Senior Tyler Goudy and sophomore Jacob Douglas offer infield depth.