Butler baseball coach on return after missing 2020 season: ‘There are a lot of unknowns’

Butler High School senior and Louisville commit Boston Smith is one of five college-bound Aviators. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED
Butler High School senior and Louisville commit Boston Smith is one of five college-bound Aviators. Greg Billing/CONTRIBUTED

VANDALIA – The Butler Aviators knew what they had coming into the 2020 high school baseball season with eight college commitments from a district championship team.

This season? That’s the question Butler coach Trent Dues is trying to figure out. And he’s not alone.

The high school baseball season officially starts Saturday, the first time teams will take the field since the spring of 2019. The 2020 season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. That means the only players with varsity experience are juniors and seniors.

ExploreFormer Trotwood-Madison standout commits to Missouri

Butler hosts Springfield in a non-league game at noon on its new artificial turf infield. It’ll be Butler’s first regular-season action since playing in the Division I regional semifinals on May 30, 2019.

“I still feel for the 2020 class because it would have been a special season,” Dues said.

The 2021 season has potential, too. Butler returns five college recruits with Boston Smith (University of Cincinnati), Quinton Hall (Eastern Kentucky), Carson Clark (St. Mary’s), Kaden Echeman (Land Lake Community College) and Cameron Hendricks (Edison State Community College).

“We’ll see,” Dues said. “We have some quality guys but there are a lot of quality teams around.”

That includes the Miami Valley League, which debuted in the fall of 2019. The 2020 spring championships were left vacant.

“It’s weird because there are a lot of unknowns,” Dues said. “We missed a year so you don’t know what a lot of guys can do. We’re figuring it out.”

Smith returns as the Aviators’ leading hitter from 2019 with his .400 average as a sophomore. Hall hit .371 and Mike Masters .286. That trio combined for 243 varsity at bats in 2019.

The other 10 seniors and juniors on the roster have a combined 27 varsity at-bats.

The Aviators aren’t alone in those numbers. Chaminade Julienne senior A.J. Solomon is the only player with varsity experience in a program that has appeared in three straight D-II state finals with two state championships. Centerville has a program-record 14 seniors and between them returns 78 varsity at-bats from the 2019 season, but Ethan Muckerheide has 76 of those plate appearances.

“We’ve got a good nucleus but there is some really good baseball in the area,” Dues said. “I think we should contend. But I feel like the baseball is getting better and more competitive. That’s the way it should be.

“I think everybody is hungry. Last year, we really had a good quality team. Yeah it was a big disappointment but we’re happy to be back.”

Looking for a positive from last season Dues did find this: The Aviators were able to install their new artificial infield through fundraising and funds originally designated for spring break trips to Myrtle Beach, S.C., in 2020 and this season. Those funds were instead used for the infield.

“We fundraised it and, honestly, COVID helped put us over the top because we didn’t go to Myrtle Beach for two years,” Dues said.

Dues said the baseball field had between two and three inches of rain fall on it on March 18. The field was available to play on by Friday morning.

“That’s unheard of,” Dues said. “I love this field.”

PLAYERS TO WATCH

(all stats from 2019 season)

Myles Blasingame, senior, Coldwater: Started on Cavaliers’ 2019 state title team along with Zack McKibben.

Will Cook, senior, Miamisburg: University of Louisville commit hit .463 with 9 doubles, 22 RBI and 26 runs scored; struck out 45 batters in 38 innings with 5-2 record and 4.61 ERA.

Rylan Craft, senior, Valley View: Hit .321 with 22 runs, 5 doubles and 17 RBI; pitched team-high 44 innings with 34 strikeouts; 0-3 record and 3.65 ERA.

Matthew Dapore, senior, Springboro: Air Force Academy recruit for football; hit .440 with 14 runs and 16 RBI; joined by Akron commit Ian Pennington and Wright State commit A.J. Ewing.

Lucas Day, junior, Troy Christian: Led Metro Buckeye Conference with .457 average and 10 doubles and was second with 27 RBI; scored 23 runs.

Aydan Evans, senior, Xenia: .457 hitter with 10 doubles, had 25 RBI, scored 32 runs and stole 21 bases.

Matt Graveline, junior, Centerville: Ohio State commit cracked lineup on then-senior dominated team in 2019; hit .333 with 12 runs scored.

Cam Harrison, senior, National Trail: Cross County player of the year after hitting .395 with 37 runs scored, 14 RBI and 18 stolen bases; 7-1 with 1.86 ERA striking out 38 and walking six.

Gerald Leach, senior, Northridge: Hit .325 and scored 17 runs, had 6 doubles and 134 RBI; 1-0 with 6.30 ERA in 10 IP.

Andrew Lunne, senior, Oakwood: The Lumberjacks’ top returning hitter at .387; also scored 14 runs.

Matt Salmon, junior, Tippecanoe: Hit .270 with 12 runs and 12 RBI; tossed 38.1 innings with 4-1 record and 2.55 ERA, striking out 31.

Charlie Schafer, senior, Beavercreek: Wittenberg University recruit is one of seven college commits for Beavers; hit .242 with 16 RBI; 3-1 with 0.53 ERA in 26.1 innings pitched with 35 strikeouts.

A.J. Solomon, senior, Chaminade Julienne: Gardner-Webb University recruit; hit .325 with 35 runs, 19 RBI and 29 stolen bases.

Boston Smith, senior, Butler: University of Cincinnati recruit hit .400 with 11 doubles, 32 runs scored, 24 RBI and 17 stolen bases; one of Aviators’ five college commits along with Eastern Kentucky’s Quinton Hall (.371, 21 RBI, 15 stolen bases; 5-2 with 2.26 ERA and 46 strikeouts in 46.1 innings).

Hunter Warner, senior, Fairborn: Hit .485 with 29 runs, 19 RBI and 11 stolen bases; 2-2 with 4.71 ERA in 22.1 innings with 19 strikeouts.

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