When Ben McDaniel took over as Columbus North baseball coach last summer, he made it a point to make sure his team got bigger and stronger.
So McDaniel enlisted the help of Bull Dogs football coach and strength coach Tim Bless. They hope some added offseason strength training will pay off in their first sectional baseball title since 1995.
“We’re thankful the football staff accepted the baseball players into their offseason workouts,” McDaniel said. “We spent a good deal of time in the offseason in the weight room, and we’ve noticed a huge difference since we’ve been able to get back outside. There’s no doubt we’re going to be an athletic team this year, and we look to capitalize on our athleticism.”
North lost ace pitcher Daniel Ayers, who is now playing in the Baltimore Orioles farm system. But the Bull Dogs return another bona fide star in junior shortstop and Louisville recruit Devin Mann, who batted .500 with 11 doubles, six home runs, 29 RBIs, 25 stolen bases and
28 runs scored in earning team MVP honors.
“Devin has done a lot for his offense to improve,” McDaniel said. “It’s hard to improve on the numbers he had last year, but he’s coming in expecting to pick up where he left off, and he has the best interests of the team at heart.”
Senior Christian Glass and sophomore Collin Lollar and were North’s No. 2 and 3 pitchers last season. Glass, who will be preferred walk-on at Xavier, went 5-2 with a 3.80 ERA, and Lollar went 3-4 with a 2.77 ERA.
“Lollar has been upper 80s during the offseason and has gotten stronger and picked up considerable velocity,” McDaniel said. “He worked extremely hard in the offseason on his off-speed pitch.
“Christian Glass was a very big contributor on the basketball team, and we’re happy that Christian was able to maintain his throwing even during basketball season,” he said. “We’re excited to see what he can do this season with his velocity and with the control he exhibits on his offspeed pitches.”
Sophomore Canaan Baum (0-1, 3.36 ERA) and junior Cody Burton will also see time on the mound. Mann and sophomore Brice McDaniel will share the closer’s role.
Junior Evan Finke (.221, three HR, 18 RBIs) returns at catcher, and Brice McDaniel (.344, 10 RBIs) and Cody Burton (.288, 12 RBIs) are back at first and third. Junior Jon Cox, sophomore Hunter Liggett, freshman Cooper Trinkle and senior Morgan Murdock are battling at second.
“Second is an open battle for us,” Ben McDaniel said. “We’ve seen some healthy competition so far.”
Baum (.345, 16 RBIs) moves from right field to center. Senior Will Dorenbush (.290) takes over in left, and Lollar will be in right when he isn’t pitching. Cox, Liggett, Trinkle, Murdock or junior Josh Hogan could play right when Lollar is pitching.
“Those guys are very versatile,” Ben McDaniel said. “We’re not very deep, so we’ll look for some guys to play different positions.”
After going 24-3 and winning a Conference Indiana title in 2012, the Bull Dogs struggled to a 14-12 record and a first-round sectional exit last season.
“This has been a transformation year for us in the offseason,” Ben McDaniel said. “I’m very thrilled with the young talent, from the freshman group on up in the program. We have a great coaching staff that I enjoy coaching with.
“It’s a very tight-knit group,” he said. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason. They’ve kind of jelled, and we’re excited about this year. I’m not sure what the expectations are with a young team and a new coach, but there is a lot of excitement this year.”