By Michael Dean Smith
With a small group of key returning players this season, Challengers baseball manager Evan Agona says a series of road trips to the Carolinas in early March will provide good competition ahead of conference play beginning on March 23.
“Our initial goal on the field is to try to get back to win that conference championship again,” Agona said, referring to the team’s OCCAC championship in 2016. He spoke with The Voice about two weeks before the season opener in Jamestown, North Carolina on March 3.
Looking to the 2018 spring season, Agona said returning pitchers Dylan Brister and Dustin Redish will be joined by Doug Smith, who was part of the 2016 roster but out last season due to injury. The gloves of Jeremy Chambers and Miguel Ecarri are expected to be key for the outfield and infield, respectively.
“We don’t have a lot of experience either on the mound or in the field beyond those couple guys,” Agona said, adding some of the incoming players have never played an inning of college baseball. Matt Hildebrandt and Garrett Robberts are expected to return to the middle of the batting order this year. The pair was responsible for 21 of 62 home runs last season, and Hildebrandt’s 13 homeruns ranked 24th nationally.
“Around them [Hildebrandt and Robberts] we’re going to be a little bit more athletic, a little bit more well balanced,” Agona said of the offensive strategy.
The Challengers finished last season with a 45-14 overall record and fell to conference rival Sinclair Community College for the 2017 OCCAC championship. With only two of last season’s losses at home, Agona hopes the non-conference road trips will prepare them for a four game road series against Sinclair beginning March 23.
The Challengers’home opener will be against the University of Northwestern Ohio Junior Varsity on March 27.