Fourteen of the 18 players on the Newark varsity baseball roster are either freshmen or sophomores this spring. At the same time, there is also not a senior on the squad.
“We’re young,” Newark coach JR Veliz said. “They’re coming along real nicely. There are a couple of competitions in the outfield. I hope to have those last couple spots figured out in the next couple days, but it’s hard to tell when you’re in a gym, and especially with us being so young.”
Some roles have already been determined. Third-year starter Matt Eike, a junior, will be the primary catcher. Sophomore Kevin Klock will be the ace of the pitching staff and also start at first base.
The rest of the infield should include sophomore Mitch Schmidt at second base and sophomore Kendall Endres at third. Shortstop, Veliz says, is still “up in the air,” with sophomore Tyler Mulligan and freshman Steve McGrath the top candidates.
Veliz expects junior Zach Ward to start in left field. Who will join Ward in the outfield is in question. McGrath could start in center field when he is not at shortstop. Sophomore Austin Pagel will pay in the outfield when he is not spelling Endres at third.
Beyond Klock, the pitching staff is likely to include freshman Zach Perkins and sophomore Ian Cherney, among others.
“They are just always busy. They are not slackers,” Veliz said of the Norsemen. “With youth, you can get immaturity, but this group is constantly working, trying to get better. I’m hoping Matt Eike and the older guys like him, Zach Ward too, that the younger guys are trying to impress them, and their work ethic is rubbing off.”
Somonauk and Indian Creek, Veliz says, have been the dominant teams of late in the Little Ten Conference.
“On paper, I would say we could compete with those top-tier teams,” Veliz said. “It all comes down to how we do when we head out to the field and compete. I’d be happy if we’re right there in the top three or so.”
The Norsemen hope two streaks end in 2014. One is their three-year run of single-digit win totals, and the other is the seven years they have gone without a regional title. They advanced to the championship game at the Class 1A Putnam County Regional but were defeated, 15-0, by the hosts.
“Double-digit wins is a huge goal of ours, and so is doing well in the conference,” Veliz said. “Getting to that regional championship last year was a good learning experience. Hopefully we can build on it.”