Great expectations

Columbus North made a huge breakthrough last season when it won its first sectional baseball title in 19 years.

But the Bull Dogs’ season ended in heartbreak when they fell to Castle 3-2 in nine innings in the regional semifinals. This year, with 9 of 10 starters back, North hopes to make a longer postseason run.

“Externally, I think we have some high expectations,” second-year coach Ben McDaniel said. “We were excited for the sectional championship last year, but that was last year. It’s a new year, and we have new challenges. We’re approaching it just like we did last year.”

Back to lead the Bull Dogs is senior shortstop Devin Mann. The Louisville recruit led North with a .433 average, 14 doubles and five triples and added two home runs and 24 RBIs.

The Bull Dogs return their top two pitchers in senior Cody Burton and junior Collin Lollar. Burton, who is headed to Indiana State, went 3-3 with a 3.48 ERA; and Lollar, who has committed to Ohio State, went 6-2 with a 3.00 ERA.

“They’ve both put in a lot of work honing their craft from a pitching perspective,” McDaniel said. “We’ll rely on them from an offensive perspective, just as we did last year.”

Senior Evan Finke (.426, two HR, 26 RBIs), who is headed to Snead State, returns at catcher. Junior and Purdue recruit Brice McDaniel (.388) is back at first, and sophomore Cooper Trinkle (.330) returns at second. Burton (.330, two HR, 21 RBIs) plays at third when he isn’t pitching.

Junior Canaan Baum, who batted .374 and led North with three homers and 42 RBIs, returns in center field, and Lollar (.333, 14 RBIs) plays right when not pitching. Junior Hunter Liggett (.341, 18 RBIs), who won the team’s Mr. Versatility Award last year, takes over in left.

“We’re definitely led by our seniors this year,” Ben McDaniel said. “The innings and the contributions that this senior class has are definitely a lot bigger than they were last year. We didn’t have a lot of experience in our senior class last year. They have been leading this program through the offseason.”

One of those seniors, Jon Cox, went 6-0 with a 3.18 ERA and also can play infield and outfield. Sophomore Nathan VanDeventer (1-0, 2.80 ERA) will pitch and play third.

Baum and freshman Jake Petrusky also will see some pitching action, and Mann and Finke could throw a couple innings here and there. Sophomore infielder Wade Rankin, sophomore outfielder Korry Drum, freshman infielder Tyler Finke, junior catcher Ben Thompson and senior first and third baseman Ben Baker also could see action.

“Our goals are almost the same as last year,” Ben McDaniel said. “We focus mainly on game-by-game goals vs. the season. We’d like to win conference for sure. We’d like to win another sectional championship. But we’re focusing on at bats and individual contributions on a game-by-game basis.”

“We weren’t a very good bunting team last year,” McDaniel said. “When we needed to when it counted in our regional, we weren’t able to. We also need to have a better team ERA.

One of the other areas Ben McDaniel hopes to see continued improvement is in the team grade-point average. The varsity had a 3.54 GPA, but the overall program’s GPA was only 3.25.

The coach drew comparison of that statistic to the varsity team’s and program’s records. The varsity went 24-6-1, but the entire program’s record was just 33-21-2.

“We had a great season as a varsity program, but getting better from the bottom up is our focus for the entire spring,” Ben McDaniel said.

[sc:pullout-title pullout-title=”At a glance” ][sc:pullout-text-begin]

Saturday;at Franklin (DH);10:30 p.m.

Monday;East Central;6 p.m.

Tuesday;at Bedford North Lawrence;6 p.m.

April 10;Super Prep Tournament at Louisville;8 p.m.

April 11;Super Prep Tournament at Louisville;10 a.m.

April 14;Perry Meridian;5:30 p.m.

April 16;Shelbyville;5:30 p.m.

April 18;at Columbus East Tournament;9 a.m.

April 21;Franklin Central;5:30 p.m.

April 22;at Jennings County;5:30 p.m.

April 24;at Hauser;5 p.m.

April 25;at Roncalli;11 a.m.

April 28;Southport;6 p.m.

May 1;Seymour;5 p.m.

May 2;Greensburg (DH);10 a.m.

May 6;at Columbus East;5 p.m.

May 7;Greenwood;5:30 p.m.

May 8;at Floyd Central;6 p.m.

May 13;at Bloomington South;6 p.m.

May 16;Conference Indiana at Bloomington;noon

May 19;Indianapolis Lutheraen;5:30 p.m.

May 22;at McCutcheon Tournament;8 p.m.

May 23;at McCutcheon Tournament;11 a.m.