With a fall schedule that consisted of scrimmages against two NCAA Division I programs, two NCAA Division II programs, and an NAIA Program, Chargers skipper Dash O'Neill believes his team is prepared to play this spring. "I think when you play these four year schools it helps you in so many ways. They are usually older and more polished than anyone else you are going to play all year and if you can go toe to toe with them it helps you figure out where your team is at. I really like our club, and I think if we gel the right way we can be pretty special this year." Keep reading for a preview of each position group after a fall of hard work.
Behind the plate, GHC returns three players from last year's team including first team All-Conference performer David Smith and Mercer commit Ben Olson. Patrick Walker provides depth behind the plate and is one of the captains of the team in '22. O'Neill is excited about his veteran catching and believes it will be a key ingredient this spring. "I don't know how you could have better catching than we have right now. All three of our guys are excellent defenders, and Smith and Olson are both run producers that should make an impact in the lineup every day. Patty Walk is one of the most respected players on the ballclub for a reason, so I feel very good about the catching corps in 2022."
One area where the Chargers do not have a wealth of experience returning is on the infield, where they will put fresh faces at every position, but O'Neill does not see that as a problem. "We were so good on the infield last season that it leaves some big shoes to fill out there, but I really think the guys we have can pick up right where we left off. Moody was set to be our leadoff man and second baseman last year when a broken finger cost him most of the year. He's a sparkplug for our team and a guy who loves to compete. Chris Gaiter is another one who could have played alot last season if he was healthy, and with him and Caden Smith at first base we have two elite JUCO defenders and solid bats from both sides of the plate. Zayd Brannigan and Parker Poteet were great no matter who we played this fall and are both steady defenders at short. Mitchell Walker is the guy everyone on the team loves to play with because he does everything right, and Ethan Anderson might be the most explosive athlete in the conference. So yeah, I hate that we lost the four great players we lost, but I couldn't be more fired up about the guys we have right now"
Returning starters Conner Todaro and Max Kops will bolster the outfild for GHC in 2022 and they will be joined by several exciting players that add to the team on both sides of the ball. Coach O says that one of his more difficult tasks this spring will be juggling his talented outfield. "You can't do better than Todaro and Kops, they both do it all. Love and Tienda both have serious speed and power and they have tons of range. Slate can really hit and he is a heads up reliable player. Shipley has real juice in the bat, and Freddie Reams could be the X-factor because he is capable of doing so much damage. The hard part for those guys is that they can pitch too! I have some good problems to deal with in the outfield, but I feel good knowing I have so many options."
The pitching staff should be a healthy mix of returning veterans and exciting new arms in 2022. First teamer Conner Perry returns along side Jacob Ryan and Baylor Akin who each held spots in the starting rotation a year ago. Ryan Suppa and Chandler Wood return after spending the second half of 2021 closing out games for GHC, and Zach Valentine, Caleb Garner, Cason Rich, Hal Stelljes, Steven Thompson, Bubba Luke and Garrett Sagro round out the list of returning pitchers who should make an impact in 2022. To support his returners, O'Neill added transfers Gage Vailes, Zach Murray, Keegan Pulford-Thorpe, Hunter Goodwin, and Eric Moore to his staff. It is also worth mentioning that Ethan Anderson, Freddie Reams, Nate Shipley, and Adam love are two way players who could factor into some big roles this year. Like most coaches, Coach O'Neill believes his team will go as far as his pitching staff carries them. "We have a lot of depth on the mound this year and that is something that can be the difference in a solid year and a great one. I love feeling like we have alot of different looks and skillsets to throw at the opposition, and I think this group is poised to take '22 by storm."
Be sure to check out the Chargers this spring when they open up on February 1st at Lakepoint against Emmanuel College.