---- — WINDSOR — The first year of the Windsor/Stew-Stras baseball co-op couldn't have gone much better for the Blue Devils, as they advanced to the Super-Sectional round before bowing out.
Now, with much of the core coming back, they're hoping to add a National Trail Conference championship to that first-year resume.
There's a new man at the helm as Rodney Monbrum took a new job, and now new coach and Windsor athletic director Mike Taylor takes the reins to take a shot at the NTC.
"I feel like we've got a good chance in the conference," Taylor said. "The upper-level teams are pretty competitive. You're going to have to have a number two pitcher, a number three pitcher. You can't really count on one arm in a conference with schools that are traditionally pretty solid.
The Blue Devils graduated three seniors, with Gunner Theis' power bat leaving the middle of the lineup. Aaron White and Ben Helton also graduated from the pitching staff, leaving Taylor to find the aforementioned second and third pitchers.
If he has to rely on one pitcher, there aren't many better in the area than Christian Vonderheide. The senior was an IHSBCA All-State member, and went 9-1 with a 0.93 ERA last year.
He also hit .392 in the middle of the lineup with a .551 on-base percentage, and will anchor the offense and the pitching staff.
"He's pretty impressive," Taylor said. "I've been fortunate to coach some good players over the year, and he's really special."
Working behind Vonderheide in the rotation will be Alex Allen, who didn't pitch much during the spring, and newcomer Devin Deremiah will bring a lefty to the rotation.
Still, Taylor's keeping plenty of arms fresh and plenty of options open to pitch, and it will all come down to efficiency.
"It's a matter of throwing strikes and getting head of hitters," Taylor said. "If you throw strikes and keep it down in high school, you've got a pretty good chance. We're going to be pretty solid."
Allen and Hayden Cole will form Windsor/Stew-Stras' big three offensively with Vonderheide.
Brandon Helmuth also returns to the infield coming off a strong summer campaign with the Altamont Post 512 Junior Legion team that finished fourth in the state. Dylan Ohnesorge is tentatively penicled into the first base slot, and Taylor said Tristan Warner's athleticism will most likely earn him some playing time.
Offensively, it's also about efficiency in Taylor's strategy.
"My philosophy is to look at on-base percentage," he said. "If you've got guys who can get on base in a number of ways, there's always a number of mistakes high school teams are going to make and (we can) take an extra number of bases."
A number of freshmen could also see playing time behind the starters, but Taylor still has to figure out his optimal lineup.
The NTC season starts off with a big one for the Blue Devils, as they'll take on South Central in a Cumberland sectional final rematch Thursday. Windsor/Stew-Stras defeated South Central 3-1 in that sectional final to advance to Super-Sectionals and end South Central's season.
WINDSOR: Nic Hutchinson, Zach Caywood, Tyler Kemper, Andy Harris, Tristan Warner, Devin Deremiah, Hayden Cole, Alex Allen
STEW-STRAS: Jacob Kramer, Mark Jones, Dylan Ohnesorge, Christian Vonderheide, Brandon Helmuth, Bryce Bugger, Derek Moschenrose, Josh Overbeck, Collin Ohnesorge, Blake Nichols