By Scott Dudinskie
The Daily Item
Quality over quantity -- that's the crux of the problem facing many Heartland-I baseball teams this season.
For them the burden is not the number of players they have to replace but rather the caliber of the few graduates they lost that's difficult to replicate.
"We lost some key kids that we really counted on, and it hurts when you lose a few good ones," said Mifflinburg's Tom Church, the dean of HAC-I coaches in his 18th year. "I think we're finding it hard to fill those holes, when you don't have that kid to rely on anymore."
Austin Hockenbrock and Colton Keister combined to pitch 11 of Midd-West's 13 wins, each posting an ERA around 1.60.
The District 4 Class AAA runners-up will turn to a group of pitchers including one senior (Ryan Combs) and six juniors and sophomores, headed by junior Hunter Shuff.
"You can't lose two kids like that and say you won't miss them on the hill," said Mustangs coach Ron Flood. "If I have to use two, three, four (pitchers) in a game, it doesn't make any difference to me."
The sticks should keep the Mustangs in games, as seniors Luke Zimmerman (.424) and Shane Connahan (.358) return to anchor the lineup.
"Hopefully we'll play fairly decent defense and hopefully we can hit a little and hopefully we don't make too many mistakes," said Flood. "If that's the case, the pitching staff has an opportunity to grow and progress."
Danville's Devin Knorr is another HAC-I coach shifting from the workhorse approach to a committee. Departed ace Mason Fausnaught pitched 52 innings last season (with a 2.54 ERA), more than twice as many as any other Ironman.
"We might not have a guy who goes 7 innings or 110 pitches, and, on the surface, some might see that a weakness. We see it as a strength," said Knorr. "We're very, very confident in the depth we have. There's very little difference from the top of our staff to the bottom. So when teams get into our bullpen, there's not going to be a big drop-off."