Tuesday, March 6, 2018

"Aggressive" Metamora Baseball ready for 2018 season

Kyle Bartman throws it over to first in a photo from last season. The junior shortstop is one of three returning full-time starters for Metamora in 2018. PHOTO / MIKE ROEDELL
Metamora, IL - The Metamora baseball program is just six days from their 2018 season opener and home opener against the Pontiac Indians. The Redbirds are one season removed from a year in which they went (16-14) and lost in the Regional Semifinal to Bloomington, 2-0. Eric Stone is in his 17th season at the helm of this program, and according to the IHSA website, needs just 11 wins for win number 300 at Metamora, standing at a current record of (289-268-1). The last one to do that is his predecessor, Bob Schlemmer, who went (301-258) in 18 years. Stone thinks his sport is in "an interesting transitional period", citing new rules that came up last season.

"You have the pitch count rule that was introduced last year. I think that's changed the mindset of some of the coaches and some of the programs, looking at their scheduling, looking at the structure of their pitching staff."

Another challenge that Stone thinks is present is the travel baseball teams, while also adding that there are both pros and cons to the situation.

"In years past, you'd have your guys play together in the summer and form some continuity and build chemistry. We have guys that played on five, six, seven different teams. Sometimes that's a challenge when a group comes back together in the spring and how well they mesh. The good is that some of them are playing at higher levels and getting opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise get."

Stone believes that his, along with numerous other programs, have solved the problem with open gyms. He says that it "gives the opportunity for guys that intend to try out for the varsity level to be in the gym working out together and just be around each other."

According to Stone, the attendance has been great in these open gyms at MTHS, while talking about another quality that has blossomed amongst his players.

"Into the first week of the season, where practice began, you're in that routine where you're together every day. To our pleasant surprise, the chemistry has been very, very good."

Coach Stone thinks there's three returning full-time starters that stick out for him.

Logan Hadfield (Sr. C - Signed with ICC)
- "Had a nice year for us as a junior. He's going to be leaned on heavily to provide leadership on the field."
Michael Blough (Sr. P/3B)
- "One of our top returning guys on the mound. A full-time starter, did a lot of really good things for us last year."
Kyle Bartman (Jr. SS)
- "Started for two years and is now a junior. He looks really comfortable. Has gotten a lot stronger. He's done a lot of really good things over the summer. I know he has high ambitions and goals to play beyond the high school level. Confident that he'll be playing college baseball at some point."

Ryan Vogel, a junior for the Redbirds, was also a name that Stone mentioned. Vogel was recognized by Prep Baseball Report as a "top middle infielder".

Stone has a lot of praise for the junior.

"He's done a lot of great things on the summer circuit. We look at him as being a guy that can really help."

The Mid-Illini, to Stone, has Morton and Dunlap as teams that "jump out". He says "they have all-conference type players back.

Stone thinks Morton and Dunlap will match up quite well, with their pitching staff being the reason behind that.

The non-conference schedule is something that Stone thinks will test the Redbirds.

He thinks games like traveling to O'Fallon on March 17th to play Plainfield North, who is "loaded" according to Stone. Also that day, the Redbirds will play Harrisburg, another quality team.

Stone also thinks games like Peoria Notre Dame and Galesburg are also of significance on the non-conference schedule. The Redbirds will host the first annual Central Illinois Showcase on March 30th and 31st. It features teams like Normal U-High, Chicago Solorio Academy, O'Fallon, and Oak Lawn Richards, who is a 4A program. Again, all those games are happening before the March portion of the baseball season is complete.

Stone agrees that the past success of the program has helped draw in these quality programs.

"If we e-mail Oak Lawn Richards or O'Fallon, then they read those coming from Metamora, they have a little more interest in playing because of the level that we've played at."

Past success is one thing, but Stone believes that there are new strengths with this years team that will hopefully turn into success, going on to say that defense will be a plus. Depth on the mound will also be a strength for the Redbirds.

Metamora opens the season in six days (March 12th) on a Monday, hosting the Pontiac Indians.

Next Metamora Baseball Game (Season Opener):
Monday, March 12th - 4:30 pm
vs. Pontiac Indians (L in Regional Quarterfinal in 16-17)
@ Al Mulberry Field - MTHS

Twitter Follows:
Metamora Baseball (@MTHS_Baseball)
Metamora Athletics (@MTHSAthletics)
Alex Staab (@StaabAlex)

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