In 2013, Todd Grieff had to overcome being a new coach at Gardner-South Wilmington. In 2014, he has to overcome having an almost entirely new team.
The Panthers lost nine seniors after going 11-14 overall in Grieff’s first season as their head coach. They have only three returning varsity players. Since they do not have enough players to field a regular sophomore team, their varsity will include the nine underclassmen currently in the program.
Further complicating matters for Grieff is the fact that the weather has kept the Panthers from practicing outdoors, making evaluations difficult. What they have done in the gym, however, has been promising.
“Although we really have an entirely new team, I like what I am seeing and think we can compete even more so than we did last year,” Grieff said. “There is talent on this team from freshman to senior.”
Though 2013 ace Mike Goodwin was among the graduates, Grieff thinks pitching will be a strength. Juniors Brendan Elens, Blake Marks and Kody Kellogg are likely to hold down spots in the starting rotation. Sophomore Scott Horrie, junior Seth Patterson, senior Jeremy Kunz, senior Jordan Wilkey and freshman Connor Hays are all options to pitch, as well.
“I have three solid starters,” Grieff said. “I’m working with a few other kids where I hope one will occupy a fourth starter position and the rest will cover relief.”
Kunz “will fill the power slot of the batting order” for the Panthers, Grieff said. Robison has a revamped batting stance that should be beneficial, Grieff said, and Jack Davidson will add speed to the outfield after he spent 2013 doing track and field. Other key hitters are Marks, Wilkey, junior Tony Bernardy and sophomore Nate Seabert.
“If these kids can stay focused and learn techniques to hitting, we have plenty of bat power,” Grieff said. “One final thing that makes it hard in the gym to work on is having a new team I need to see who has the ability to field ground ball, catch fly balls and understand fundamentals of the game beyond just hitting.”
The River Valley Conference will be “tough” this year, Grieff said, with Beecher, Illinois Lutheran and Grant Park among the favorites.
Because the Panthers have no sophomore team, Chris Gibson will join the varsity coaching staff instead of coaching the sophomores as was originally planned. The varsity staff includes Grieff, Gibson and Chad Harvey.