Play ball! After one-year absence, high school baseball, softball are back – The Pioneer

Big Rapids baseball coach Sam Daugherty talks to his team prior to a Monday practice. (Pioneer photo/John Raffel)
BIG RAPIDS – Tuesday is a day Big Rapids baseball coach Sam Daugherty and other baseball skipper has been looking forward to for a long time.
After a spring wiped away from COVID, the Cardinal baseball and softball teams are ready for their 2021 season openers on Tuesday. The visitor will be Morley Stanwood.
The softball twinbill was set to be 4 p.m. at the high school with the baseball doubleheader 4 p.m. at Win Kellum. The high school baseball field, which has new drainage, should be available soon, Daugherty said.
Monday was the first day Daugherty had anything close to a full team at practice. The weather was around 70 degrees, and significantly warmer than in past seasons around this time of year.
“We have 13 on the roster,” Daugherty said. “The JV team has 15.
“We started the second week in January indoors with those not playing another sport. That was about six people. We had a good winter workout. It’s taken awhile to get everyone out here. We’re a little short at the moment.”
Daugherty said there will be an impact on having no baseball in 2020 could have on your 2021 season.
“It will have a major impact as the majority of players who are currently playing in 2021 have not played baseball at the varsity level. It will probably take half of the current season for them to become acclimated to the speed and skill of the game at the varsity level,” Daugherty said. “However, it will be the same for every program.”
The 2020 BR senior group “was just an exceptional group of young men who had put in a lot of work and effort to play their final high school season for Big Rapids,” Daugherty said. “This included: Craven Bird, Ben Decker, LJ Graves, Cam Clark, Jack Somsel and Ian Couch. Bird and Graves were returning starters and both were primed to have good seasons and Ben was going to be our full-time catcher. I can only imagine how it must have felt to have their senior year taken from them completely and we are dedicating this season to them.”
Big Rapids seems to have plenty of talent.
“This season we will have two returning pitchers from 2019. Keaton Ballard, who was our top pitcher as a sophomore and threw a 3-hit complete game against Cedar Springs in our District game,” Daugherty said. “Sawyer Meeuwes was the winning pitcher in the Tom Ryan Tournament Championship game in 2019 . Both are seniors this year.
“Also, seniors Austin Vennix and Maurice Camphor will play key roles for our ballclub. They both were brought up from JVs
for our District Tournament in 2019. Austin and Mo have put a lot of work in this winter and are looking forward to their senior season. Both are versatile players who will start the season in the infield and will be top of the lineup hitters for us. Eric Standen and Xavier Prince, both seniors, have looked good in practice this spring and are looking forward to their first varsity baseball experience. Both are left-handed batters who are exceptional athletes. Those two, along with junior Jamal Strickland, will constitute our outfield. All three run well and are excited about finally getting to play some baseball.”
Sophomores Ben Knuth and Will Strickler are sophomores who will start the season on varsity.
“Ben will be our shortstop and Will gets the starting nod behind the plate as our catcher,” Daughtery said. “They are part of an outstanding sophomore baseball class that includes Brett Root, Brody Sleeper and Bradyn Foster as exceptional players as well. Like every other team in the state we are a ‘great unknown’. My personal expectations would be for us to continually improve all season in order for us to be very competitive at District Tournament time. I really want the players to enjoy this season like no other, particularly since 2020 was completely wiped out totally by Covid.”
Predicting the team’s fortunes, “is hard to tell with no previous season,” Daughterty said. “We will know more once we get in to competition. If I had to say currently, I would say starting pitching with Ballard and Meeuwes and possibly hitting with the work the guys put in this winter (would be strengths.
“Clearly, I think ‘Team Defense’ will be the area we will need to continually improve on. This group has actually never played together at the varsity level and it will take us awhile to jell.”
As for the CSAA Gold, “historically, Chip Hills and Fremont have been among the top teams and in 2019, Central Montcalm won the conference, Daugherty said. “Reed City, Newaygo and Tri County are always highly competitive and have given us fits over the years. I would say the conference is wide open.
“We are just happy to have a season and to be outside playing baseball. I think all of us have a better appreciation for the game than we’ve ever had after losing last year.”
John Raffel is a Big Rapids native and has a B.S. degree from Ferris. He is an active member of the Lutheran Church.

source