The challenges facing the 2013 North Lincoln Knights varsity baseball team, and its strengths, are all-too familiar.
“We’ll have to hit better than we did last year,” North Lincoln head coach Jon Carpenter said. “If they’re like they were last year, we’ll be around the middle of the pack. If we can hit the ball I feel like we can be closer to the top.”
The Knights had a .274 team batting average last year with 196 hits in 27 games. Jacob Osenbaugh, a senior on this year’s team, finished second on last year’s team with a .400 average. He had 30 hits in 75 at bats with eight doubles and 18 RBIs.
“Hopefully we’ll hit this year,” Carpenter said. “There have been two years when we could hit the ball. If we can hit the ball we’ll be ok. I think our pitching and our defense will be there.”
Last year’s varsity squad boasted a strong defense with a stout pitching rotation, including returning senior right-hander Justin Norton and pitcher/catcher Zach Reeder. Norton was the team’s strikeout leader with 64 strikeouts and a 1.40 ERA with a 4-2 record. Reeder finished with 20 strikeouts, a 2.65 ERA and a 2-1 record.
“That’s what we’ve worked at the last couple of years,” Carpenter said. “It worked out pretty good for us last year.”
But Reeder is nursing a knee injury that will likely keep him out until late April, so the Knights are solidifying an alternate pitching rotation.
“After Norton there are a handful of sophomore and senior pitchers who are going to vie for a spot in the rotation,” Carpenter said. “I thought the rotation was going to be real strong with Reeder and Norton. Now we’re going to have to patch something together.”
Reeder may also wind up seeing time in the outfield for the Knights.
“Once he gets back he should be a very good right fielder,” Carpenter said. “He’s got a cannon on him.”
Norton led last year’s team in nearly every pitching statistical category including pitches (777), innings pitched (51.33) and walks (20).
“He was a workhorse for us last year,” Carpenter said, “and, in my opinion, he’s gotten better.”
The Knights plan to use senior left-hander Owen Lilly, a Wilkes Community College signee, in relief work. North Lincoln also has a stable of freshmen, including several pitchers, who will bolster the junior varsity ranks.
“The freshmen kids are coming in at 6-foot-1, 6-foot-2,” Carpenter said. “The plan is to keep them together. I think they’re going to be a good group.”