COAL CITY — The 2013 Coal City varsity baseball team has a few traits head coach Jerry McDowell says he has never had in nearly two decades at the helm.
One unique feature is the composition of the pitching staff. Four of the Coalers' five main pitchers — senior Austin McLuckie, juniors Nate Chapman and Zach Mellen and sophomore Joey Quinn — throw left-handed. McDowell does not recall having more than two southpaws on the same team.
Another oddity is the Coalers' abundance of players that specialize in one area — and their relative scarcity of players that specialize in another.
"We've got a bunch of outfielders," McDowell said. "Usually we'll have too many infielders, if anything, and then you end up moving some to the outfield. It's the opposite for us."
Two of the three seniors McDowell describes as "our core players" — McLuckie and Nate Natyshok — will play in the outfield. McLuckie bit .333 with five doubles and a team-high 14 tolen bases in 2012, and Natyshok was a .314 hitter with eight triples and 29 RBI. The other member of the "core" is third baseman Dylan Hakey, who hit .243 with five doubles and three home runs as a junior.
McDowell says the other starting position players remain a bit of a mystery. Junior Brennen Shetina, who batted .244 in 45 varsity at-bats in 2012, will catch and play on the infield. Senior Joe Micetich is likely to start at one of the middle infield spots. Otherwise, nobody on the 2013 roster batted more than 33 times at the varsity level last spring.
"There's lots of competition," Natyshok said. "I hate practicing indoors. Baseball is an outside sport. I hate it. ... But everyone has sucked it up and brought a lot of effort in practice. We'll be all right. It's a great group of guys.
"I do know that we're going to be real fast. We have lots and lots of speed."
McLuckie worked 52 innings for the Coalers in 2012, which is the highest total among the returnees, and was 5-2 with a 3.63 ERA. Chapman matched his victory total with a 5-1 record and a 1.14 ERA in 43 innings. Alec Wills, the lone right-hander expected to pitch extensively for the Coalers this year, worked 34 innings last season, while Quinn pitched just six and Mellen did not pitch for the varsity.
"We should have a pretty good pitching staff. We have some nice numbers out," McLuckie said. "I would love for us to win regionals. I think we have a shot, even though we're moving up a class (to 3A), which will make it tough."
McDowell says that the Coalers will be challenged as they try to extend their streak of finishing first or second in the Interstate Eight Conference, which has spanned his tenure.
"Sandwich has some nice pitchers. Coach (Kirk) Houchin always does a nice job over at Seneca of having them prepared. Lisle has five starters back from a team that won 30 games. It's pretty stacked," McDowell said. "Wilmington and Herscher will be good as usual on the other side, and Manteno may be the cream of the crop."