MPHS ready to compete

By Chris Miles -

There is a quiet confidence brewing with the Madison-Plains High School baseball team.

The Golden Eagles aren’t about to go out and declare themselves serious contenders in the Ohio Heritage Conference South Division, at least not yet. But the squad has made significant improvements from a year ago and fans and opponents should see a difference in the level of play this spring.

“I am excited about our improvements so far from last year,” coach Zach Durban said. “We have some solid leadership and a roster of guys who truly love baseball. We have a challenging schedule ahead of us, both in the OHC and non-league opponents. Through practices and one scrimmage, our players have accepted and done very well with their roles both defensively and at the plate.”

Perhaps the most notable place where fans will see improvement is in the team’s pitching. A couple of quality arms return to the lineup, giving Durban reason to be optimistic. Those players are senior Tyler Gibbs and sophomore Jarrett Vallery.

“(Two) of our three starting pitchers are back this year from 2017,” he said. “They both threw well last year, but have improved during the off-season and look very strong so far this spring. As a team, we struggled last season in a lot of areas, mainly consistent pitching for seven innings and offensive production. Those have been areas of emphasis for us for 2018.

“I expect Tyler and Jarrett to be great competitors for us on the mound this year. They both will be starters in the infield as well.”

Junior Isaac Puckett returns to handle the catching duties for the Golden Eagles. He has been a varsity contributor since the day he walked into the school.

“He has improved as a catcher in many ways and really embraced his role as one of our top offensive performers. At one point last season, he was in the top three in Central Ohio for batting average,” Durban said.

Also back are senior Michael George an outfield starter and leadoff hitter, who was the team’s lone first team All-OHC selection last year. Senior Nick Thompson has locked in the starting first base job and senior John Peters is back starting in the outfield.

Junior Logan Golden will round out the starting rotation with Gibbs and Vallery. He will provide quality depth and give the Eagles the type of pitching stability they need to compete on a nightly basis.

“Logan has had a very productive off-season and works hard to improve himself as a pitcher,” Durban said. “At a school our size, it is very nice to have three solid starters that I can count on they make us competitive in every game we play.

Junior Brandon Thomas will be the team’s primary reliever . Other relievers include Thompson, senior Dylan Bird, Puckett and junior Byron Hamilton.

“Having that many relievers who can throw strikes in late innings is important, especially if weather backs up our schedule and we have to navigate the pitch-count rules,” he said.

If things go well, Madison-Plains High School has a chance to stay near the top half of the OHC standings.

“I feel that the strength of our team this year is starting pitching and our overall mental approach to the game,” Durban said. “I have a lot of confidence in our three starters to get the job done each night. We have high goals and expectations of them on the mound this year.

“Our mental toughness and attention to detail was lacking last year and I have already seen much improvement with that this season. An area that was a concern for us last year was timely hitting. We could not get two-out hits last year with runners on base and struggled to score runs late in games. It will be important to improve upon those areas this season in order to be successful.

“I know that we can compete with everybody in our league and look for us to maybe surprise some teams this year with our improvements. Madison-Plains has not won a league title in baseball since 1997. Each year we talk about what it takes to add a new year to that banner and it will be a challenge this season, but certainly attainable.”

By Chris Miles

Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.

Reach Chris Miles at 740-852-1616, ext. 1618 or via Twitter @MadPressSports.