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Bellmont has new head baseball coach this year in veteran Ben Fawbush, a long time assistant coach in the program, and with him comes a whole lot of optimism.
Despite losing some of the top players in 3A, Fawbush feels that his club can be very successful. "We expect to have a great team this year. Anything less than a sectional championship is unacceptable in our minds. We truly feel we have a state caliber team," said Fawbush, who kept the veteran staff of former coach Randy Hisner.
"I was an assistant coach the year we went to state (2002), and this team we have now I believe could compete with that team," he added.
Fawbush regards this team so well not only because of returning sluggers like Brandon Voglewede and D.J. Wilder and pitcher Nick Fuelling, but because of the attitude and approach of the team.
"The guys know that they have a possibility to go a long way this season. It's amazing how much the coaches do not have to say to get on someone about a miscue because before we can say the words another player is already correcting the mistake. This attitude is what makes us better. The intensity of the squad is amazing," said the first-year head coach.
Back as assistant coaches are veteran area youth coaches Mike Baker, Gary Baker, and Mark Okoniewski. All worked under Hisner for the past two years, including the 19-7 team of a year ago.
The key losses through graduation from that club include first team All-state outfielder Josh Sefton, now in a red-shirt freshman year at Indiana University, and speedy centerfielder Nick Hall, now playing for Division I Oakland University of Michigan.
Sefton hit a smoldering .568, knocking in 38 runs with seven homers, four triples, and 11 doubles, and he stole 17 bases for the Braves.
The Braves lost second baseman Carlin Hormann, outfielder Jarvis Cale, infielder Michael Stidam (.313), hurler Andrew Sauer.
Back is senior Brandon Voglewede, given honorable-mention on the 3A All-State team last year. Voglewede slammed nine homers to lead the BHS club last year, hitting .444 with six doubles and 41 RBI.
In one game last year, versus Concordia, Voglewede drove in 10 runs, going 6 for 6 with two home runs.
Ironically, in the same double-header, returnee D.J. Wilder had one of the best offensive twin bills in the history of Bellmont, going 8 for 9. In a three-game stretch, he was on base 11 straight times and had nine consecutive hits, raising his batting average 100 points.
Voglewede, a third baseman, is the only BHS player returning with All-NHC recognition, earning second-team status last year as a corner infielder.
For the season, Voglewede scored 25 runs, walked 10 times and fanned 12 times. Wilder hit .369 with 16 runs, seven doubles, a homer andn 13 RBI in just 65 trips to the plate. Five players on the team had more at-bats than Wilder.
Junior catcher Brian Hakes hit .345 in 29 at-bats last year, with two doubles, a homer and seven RBI.
Landon Baker stroked three homers as a sophomore with four doubles and 12 RBI, hitting .275 in 51 trips to the plate. Will Busse, and infielder and catcher, hit .231 with a productive 12 RBI, homering once. Ben Baker was 7 of 20 for a .350 mark, driving in seven runs.
Junior Nick Fuelling led the staff with a 4-1 mark in 30 and one-third innings of work, fanning 27 and walking 18. He had an ERA of 5.08. Landon Baker went 1-1 with a 4.88 ERA, striking out 12 with 11 walks in 20 frames of work.
Josh Macklin had a strong 3.25 ERA in 23 and two-thirds innings of pitching, fanning 15 with 12 walks in a 3-0 season.
Voglewede went 3-0 in 23 innings with a 1.22 ERA, fanning 17 with eight walks. Opponents hit just .176 against him.
The first game is slated for Wednesday against Bluffton but the weather might have some say in that start. Fawbush, who admits to having a "problem" because of the number of strong catchers on the team, will start Ben Baker behind the plate while Hakes will be at third, Voglewede in left field, Landon Baker at first, Nick Fuelling at short and Gunnar Cale in center. Phillip Bauman is slated to be the starting pitcher on Wednesday.
Wilder, who suffered a severe knee injury in football, is not quite ready and will see limited action early.
Will Busse is likely to start somewhere, and will see time at second base and right field. Other second base candidates are matt Stidam, Joe Baker and Brian Fullenkamp. Brooks Faurote, Busse or Josh Macklin will start in right field.
"Gunnar has a very strong arm, a lively bat and runs very well," said Fawbush, of his replacement for Nick Hall. "Stidam will see action at third, second and on the mound. Faurote will split time in the outfield and may play some first base.
The main catcher for the team is yet to be determined. Ben Baker, Will Busse and Hakes "are all capable of doing a great job behind the plate," said Fawbush.
"I love the number of catching options we have and the problem it creates."
Fawbush lists his starting pitchers as Fuelling, Bauman, Landon Baker, Voglewede and Macklin. Joe Baker, Matt Chronister, Cale and Wilder will all pitch as well, and will likely see action in relief.
The new coach feels that the defense will be very solid, and he likes the hitting prospects of the club. "I think a lot of people will be shocked they witness just how good of a hitting team we are," said Fawbush.
"Not just hitting for power or connecting, but these kids can hit to the right side to advance runners, and they can bunt."
He notes that this club will hit-and-run, bunt, steal bases and "do what we can to challenge the other team," said Fawbush.