STRASBURG — Only two seniors graduated from last year's Stewardson-Strasburg High School baseball team, and Coach Mark Wascher has 12 returning lettermen at his disposal as he begins his 31st season at the Comets' skipper.

"First baseman Jacob Tabbert and second baseman/pitcher Justin Mechling helped lead the team to an 8-9 record last fall and second-place finishes in both the regular season and tournament of the National Trail Conference," said Wascher of his departed seniors.

Wascher has a nice, balanced group of five seniors, six juniors, four sophomores and four freshmen on hand, with seniors Chris Koontz and Jaden Widdersheim poised to provide a formidable one-two punch in the pitching rotation.

"Steven Thomas has been in center field the past two years and is seeking his fourth varsity baseball letter," Wascher continued. "Micah Slifer saw lots of time in right field last year and has gained valuable varsity experience."

Outfielder Lucas Doedtman rounds out the seniors, while the half-dozen juniors are all returning letterwinners.

"Clayton Brandt has been a mainstay behind the plate for two years already," said Wascher. "But he'll see more time at shortstop as classmate Lucas Helton begins to move in as the team's signal caller."

Helton can also pitch and play on the infield, while Luke Rincker is a talented jack-of-all-trades for the Comets.

"Rincker can just about do it all on defense," said Wascher. "He doesn't catch, but besides pitching he has played infield and outfield spots.

"Gabe Wascher will shuffle between second base and third base. Kyle Helmuth, the team's leading RBI man last fall, is an outfield and pitcher, but his playing time may be limited as he is playing football (for Shelbyville) as well."

Additionally, James Overbeck will get a shot at some time at first base and as a backup catcher.

Nicholas Ferris and Zach Rincker lettered as freshmen a year ago, while Tanner Bowers and Brendan Wascher are the other two sophs on this season's roster.

The freshmen are Dylan Arnold, Justin Fulk, Ben Helton and Gunner Thies.

"Both Zach Rincker and Ferris are pitchers," said Wascher. "Rincker is a speedy outfielder and Ferris can play all the infield positions."

Wascher, who has compiled an impeccable record of Stew-Stras baseball history and statistics, says last fall's team fielding percentage (.944) was the best in school history.

"Defense is a strength of this group," said Wascher. "Nearly half the squad could take the mound and keep us in ballgames, with Widdersheim, Koontz and L. Rincker doing the bulk of the work. Experience with upperclassmen at most of the positions has to be a strong point."

As it was at times last year, lack of offensive punch could hurt the Comets' cause from time to time.

"We struggled to score runs last fall," said Wascher. "We batted just .256 with only 23 extra-base hits."

Stew-Stras' coach also feels the NTC will be a touch league.

"To have a successful NTC season, teams must be at the top of their game when they take the field," said Wascher. "Teutopolis, Dieterich, St. Anthony and Beecher City return the bulk of their teams. "Altamont has one of the area's best pitchers (senior Brian Suckow). Windsor and St. Elmo have been improving, while Neoga and Brownstown have a good nucleus of returning lettermen. Once again, Teutopolis will be the team to beat."

Wascher says he hopes to see his club take a run at the top of the league . . . something that seems to happen with the Comets most years.

Stew-Stras opens this season Thursday on the road to South Central.

That trip to Kinmundy could provide Wascher with a milestone victory; in 36 total seasons of coaching fall and spring prep baseball, his current record is 699-453-9.

Dustin White can be reached at 217-347-7151 ext. 123 or dustin.white@effinghamdailynews.com.

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