By RYAN CZACHORSKI Daily News
Effingham Daily News
---- — WINDSOR — Most schools across the state can’t say they come into this spring with with a 2012 regional title under their belts.
Windsor/Stew-Stras can top that, however, as they come into 2013 as the defending champion of two regionals.
The newly dubbed Windsor/Stew-Stras Blue Devils are playing their inaugural season as a co-op program, fresh off the Blue Devils and Comets each winning regional titles.
Rodney Monbrum takes the reins as head coach, with Matt Shoaff from Stew-Stras assisting. So far, the transition is going smoothly.
“It’s been fine, the kids know each other. Both coaches are the athletic directors at each school, so it’s been as smooth as can be,” Monbrum said. “If we come out, communicate and play together... if everyone buys into the program, we can win a lot of games and maybe a regional.”
Monbrum went as far to say the team could win 25 games.
Coming out of the gates, however, wasn’t as smooth as expected. Windsor/Stew-Stras started the season Thursday with a 5-1 loss at Shelbyville where the bats never woke up after an Alex Allen leadoff home run.
Allen will play third base or shortstop, depending on who’s pitching. Christian Vonderheide will man shorstop when not on the mound, and Hayden Cole will play third when Allen moves to short.
But with Allen and Vonderheide, Monbrum is very satisfied with that half of the infield.
“They’re both juniors, they’re both college-bound, I don’t think there’s a better left side around,” Monbrum said.
Vonderheide will also lead the pitching staff, along with Ben Helton, Aaron White and a number of seniors filling the fourth spot.
Justin Fulk is stationed in left, with Ian Stremming playing centerfield.
Along with Allen, Cole and Vonderheide, Gunner Theis will bat third, play catcher and serve as a reliever.
Those four all hit over .350 last year, and if things break right, the Blue Devils could have a very potent offense.
“With another year of experience, the first five guys could hit over .400,” Monbrum said.
Right field is a question mark, and Monbrum said he may make use of the designated hitter often to get some talented sophomores some at bats.
With a high-average lineup with some pop, Monbrum also recognizes they need to do more than swing for the fences.
“We’ve got to work on bunting, it’s the little things we’ve got to be able to do or we’re not going to win late in the season,” Monbrum said. “There are kids that are going to get playing time based on being able to bunt.
“We’ve got to be able to bunt the ball in high-pressure situations. We’ll hit our share of home runs, but it’s the little things like baserunning.”
Again, despite the opening day loss, Monbrum expects big things from his squad.
And expectations can be higher thanks to the greater pool of players than the Blue Devils would have to choose from.
“It’s a little different having 24 guys than 10 or 11, like we have in the past,” Monbrum said. “It’s good, we’ll be able to hold kids accountable.”
The Windsor/Stew-Stras co-op is scheduled to play a doubleheader this afternoon in Martinsville, beginning at 1 p.m., weather permitting.
Ryan Czachorski can be reached at 217-347-7151, ext. 135, or at email@example.com.