Butler returns bulk of key players

With seven of its hitters back and the majority of the starting pitchers also returning, Vandalia-Butler appears to be in good position to make a deep postseason run in the Division I high school baseball season.

That’s what the Aviators were counting on in 2015, too. Then along came Northmont ace Ben Mangen and out went Butler.

“We’re solid but there’s a lot of good teams around,” veteran Aviators coach Trent Dues said. “Baseball in the area is really good. The whole southwest Ohio is full of good baseball, especially in the Cincinnati area.”

The season began for most teams last weekend.

It would be hard not to lump Butler with the area’s best big-school programs, which are plentiful. Senior ace pitcher Mitch Gremling (7-2 as a junior with 47 strikeouts and a 2.53 ERA) and Damon Dues, Trent’s junior son who excels at shortstop, are both headed to Wright State University to play. Dues and junior third baseman/closer Todd Burley led Butler with 45 hits each last season.

Other key returners are Matt Grossman, Torin Fletcher, Chandler Craine and Dusty Lewis. Burley was 5-0 as a pitcher last season and Zach Crawford 5-1. Besides all that proven punch, freshman pitcher Braedon Norman no-hit Edgewood 5-0 on Tuesday in his first varsity start, striking out five.

Butler (3-0) is scheduled to host LaSalle at noon Saturday. Butler also will play non-conference games against Elder, Hilliard Davidson, Hamilton, St. Xavier and Moeller. Bettering last season’s 22-6 record might be a stretch, but that’s the goal.

“We’ve got to play quality teams to play at the quality level that we want to play at,” said Dues, in his 22nd season with the Greater Western Ohio Conference North Division defending champions. “I believe you’ve got to do it. You’re not going to get any better if you don’t play them.”

• Northmont will take a 1-1 record into next week’s spring break at Fort Walton Beach (Fla.), where it plays five Kentucky programs. Tanner Lee scored a team-high 24 runs to go with 28 hits (.429) last season for veteran Thunderbolts coach Chuck Harlow.

Northmont (19-12), Beavercreek (18-11) and Troy (22-7) all lost in D-I district finals last season.

• Bellbrook (22-8) dropped a D-II regional final in 2015 to Columbus Watterson. Senior Cody Clark led the Golden Eagles last season with 34 hits and 29 RBIs and batted .380.

• Waynesville (26-6) lost to eventual D-III state runner-up Summit Country Day in the regional final. The Spartans were hard hit by graduation. Senior Nate Hiles produced 29 RBIs from 33 hits last season.

• Fort Recovery (25-6) lost to eventual D-IV multiple state champ Newark Catholic in a regional final. Returning Redskins Jackson Hobbs (pitcher), Jacob Homan (infielder) and Kyle Schroer (outfield) were named All-Midwestern Athletic Conference as juniors last season.

• Thirty-two area teams will play in a series of mostly doubleheaders at Fifth Third Field, home of the Dayton Dragons. First up is Urbana vs. Graham at 7 p.m. on April 12. This is the 11th straight year high school baseball regular-season games will have been played at the venue.