By Justin Sokeland
BEDFORD – Legendary manager Earl Weaver, when asked about his keys to winning baseball, answered in his typical, straight-to-the-point style: “Pitching, fundamentals and three-run homers.” Bedford North Lawrence already has two of those points covered as it prepares for an interesting 2023 season.
The Stars return the bulk of their roster from last year’s 15-15 campaign, which ended in a sectional final loss, so they have the experience. They return their top seven pitchers from a year ago, so they have the arms. And if a year of wisdom has also added a year of muscle and maturity, they’ll have more offensive pop. Just don’t expect for BNL to sit and wait on the three-run bomb.
The Stars, with team speed and a gap-to-gap hitting approach, will be determined to make things happen, rather than counting on the long ball. There are no gaps in the lineup, after losing only two seniors from last season.
So with the Weaver philosophy in mind, let’s examine BNL’s potential. Starting with the mound.
“We have a lot of guys coming back with experience, especially on the mound,” BNL coach Jeff Callahan said. “We have a good nucleus of pitchers, for sure. We got a lot of great experience last year, and we will lean heavily on them, especially early in the year, to keep us in games and give us a chance to win.”
The top five include Will Adams (3-1, only two earned runs allowed in 22 innings), Walker Ward (2-3), Ryker Hughes (4-3, 2.29 ERA), Kline Woodward (2-1, 2.51 ERA) and Cade Mungle (1-1). None are overpowering, but all are adept at the basic premise of throwing strikes and letting the defense do its job.
Fundamentals? BNL will have every spot covered with veterans, although there will be competition. Kaedyn Bennett (first base), Maddox Ray (second base), Nate Pemberton (shortstop), Woodward (third base), Jonny Stone (catcher), Hughes (left field), Cal Gates (center) and Trace Rynders (right) are all back. Brownstown transfer Cristos McCormick will fit in somewhere.
“We’ll have some good competition,” Callahan said. “There are kids that come back with experience from last year, and we’ll use the first 5-10 games to give some guys some chances, see who can produce and make things happen. We’ll have a little more depth.”
The spotlight will shine on Gates, who has already verbally committed to Indiana University. He hit .323 and scored 22 runs last season as a freshman leadoff hitter.
“He’s going to be real good,” Callahan said. “I think IU has a great player who can contribute. I expect a lot out of him, to be the leader in the outfield, make things happen at the top of the order.”
The question mark will be power. BNL only hit a handful of home runs last season. But they have slashers with Stone (.329), Woodward (.309) and Hughes (.333). During the first few weeks of workouts and official practices, they’ve shown more muscle at the plate.
“There’s a good chance of that,” Callahan said. “We’ll hit some. We work on being gap-to-gap hitters, not trying to hit the ball out of the park. With our growth and maturity, we’ve hit more than our normal number in our limited workouts. But we won’t be able to sit back and wait for great power.
“We want to be more aggressive on the bases, make some things happen. You can put pressure on the defense, whether it’s stealing bases or taking extra bases, bunting for hits.”
BNL’s expected improvement could be masked by a brutal schedule. The first four games of the year include 4A No.2 Lake Central, No.6 Evansville North and Wisconsin’s West De Pere. Add in Hoosier Hills Conference contenders Floyd Central (ranked No.9), Jeffersonville and New Albany (which both got votes in the preseason poll), and there are plenty of challenges ahead.
“I think we have a chance to be really good,” Callahan said. “But this is, by far, the best schedule we’ve ever put together. The biggest thing is we want to win the sectional. In order to beat them, we have to be battle tested, be ready by playing the better teams. Win or lose, that will prepare us to play in the sectional championship.”
BNL will host Lake Central in the opener on March 29.