A baseball player never forgets the first time he laces up his cleats, buttons up his uniform, and takes the field for his school.
Six University High School players will have that moment today, as the Trailblazers kick off their season with a double-header in the Viking Classic.
What’s surprising is that none of the six players are freshmen. They’re all transfer students.
Additions to the Roster
Juniors Garrett Hill, Will Spence, Cade Carlson, and Zach Jannsen, along with sophomores Kolton Stevens and Kevin Lee, are the six new additions to the Trailblazers’ baseball roster this season, but few of them, if any, are new to the sport. Head Coach Chris Estep and Assistant Coach Reid Andrews are thrilled to add new talent to an already strong roster.
“We had several kids transfer in, so to say we have lofty expectations this year would be an understatement,” said Estep. “We’re looking to make a real run in the state tournament this year, and I think that’s pretty widely known. […] I think the team is going to come out of the gate quick, and people are going to be surprised.”
Pitching Staff & “Murderers’ Row”
Two of the new players in particular bring a needed strength to the team – pitching.
“Our pitching staff [will be a strength this year],” said Estep. “Cade Carlson and Garrett Hill both have Division I arms, and they’re going to garner some attention this year. Butler, Ball State, and the University of Cincinnati are coming in to see them throw [at last week’s scrimmage], and this always bodes well for the other players too.”
“We have a few pitchers who can do different things well,” added senior Kyle Richards. “Zach Jannsen has pretty good placement. Garrett [Hill] and Cade [Carlson] can throw pretty fast. Dawson has a weird side-arm throw that half of the batters don’t know how to hit.”
In addition to pitching, Estep and Andrews also see promise in the Trailblazers’ middle infield and in the top six of the batting order. Those first six batters – sophomore Dawson Estep, sophomore Michael Bounsall, Hill, junior Hudson Bebo, Carlson, and Richards – have the potential to be University’s own “Murderers’ Row,” a reference to the merciless batting lineup of the 1927 New York Yankees.
“With those 3-4-5-6 guys, it’s a possibility they could hit a home run every time at bat,” said Andrews. “That’s going to be fun, especially with Dawson and [Michael] Bounsall on base the majority of the time. They’re going to get on base a lot, and those 3-4-5-6 guys are going to bring them home.”
A Busy Off-Season
Home for the University High School baseball team is Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield, which Estep founded. Estep began coaching the Trailblazers in 2008, the team’s second season.
Each day after school, players pile into cars to make the drive to Roundtripper for practice. It is a drive they are familiar with, as the team began working out together in August.
These optional workouts started out at three days per week, and then the team increased it to four. Players would lift first, focusing on strength and agility. Then, depending on the weather, they’d work on throwing, fielding, or hitting.
“It’s been on them to come in [during the off-season],” said Estep. “We don’t make it mandatory because of the school and because a lot of the students play other sports. But our thing is, if you’re not playing another sport, you need to be coming in. And they’ve done an exemplary job.”
“We’re all pretty used to each other, and we know how we play, because we’ve been playing together since the beginning of the year,” said Richards. “We know each other’s abilities a lot better this year than we have in previous years.”
Team Chemistry & A Culture of Hard Work
Strong team chemistry is something the coaches and players both see in this year’s team. This has stood out especially to some of the new players.
“It’s a lot more uplifting [at University], said junior Garrett Hill. “I’m coming from a 4A school where it’s really serious and it’s hard to have people think, ‘Hey, this is still fun!’ When we go to practices here, it’s fun, we’re smiling, and we mess around while still getting our work in. A lot of us hang out in and out of school, so it’s more like a friendly team.”
It’s this chemistry and sense of camaraderie that has everyone on the team working hard.
“A lot of people are working hard outside of practice,” said Richards. “Tyler Wott started kind of behind because he had to finish the basketball season, but he and Will [Spence, also a basketball player] have been staying after to throw to try to catch up with our pitchers who’ve been with us the entire time. We also have players like Will [Mables] and Garrett [Hill] who have work too.”
“[Nick] Mazzini’s been working super hard,” added Hill. “And Ben Westerkamm came off a fractured back injury last season. He couldn’t lift until like February. […] He’s pitching and hitting again, still working hard on his back.”
Starting Off the Season
How their work will pay off will be seen as the team begins their season today in the Viking Classic. This is the first year for the Trailblazers to compete in this Unionville, TN tournament. They will play two games today and two games tomorrow, April 1.
The Trailblazers’ first home game will be Monday, April 10 against Speedway High School. The game begins at 5:30 p.m. at Roundtripper Sports Academy in Westfield (16708 Southpark Dr, Westfield, IN 46074).