The Holden high school baseball players are digging in their cleats for the upcoming season under first-year head coach Charlie Castle as the players vie for playing time, and look to find their roles on the team.
Coach Castle takes over head coaching duties for former head coach David Riley who spent 22 seasons in the role. Coach Castle served as Riley’s assistant for 19 of those years.
“I am humbled, nervous, and excited to get the chance to lead the baseball program,” says coach Castle. “Coach Riley built Holden into one of the premier programs in the state. We hope to continue that tradition, and even build upon that. I definitely miss coach Riley’s passion for the game, and his desire to make a positive impact on all the players who put on a Holden uniform. I am sure I will be leaning on him for advice throughout the season, and he will always be welcome around the program.”
Coach Castle is coming off of a season in which he himself was selected as the National High School Baseball Coaches Association Region 5 Midwest Assistant of the Year.
He now replaces coach Riley who during his tenure as the head coach of the Eagles, and one season as the head coach for Leeton, posted a career record of 332-185. Holden collected nine conference titles, six district championships, and the third-place state tournament trophy in 2018 while under the leadership of coach Riley.
Castle takes over a program which put up an overall record of 11-12 last season, and played to a 5-5 record in the MRVC-East. The Eagles finished as the district runner-up in a memorable, rain-soaked game which Holden lost by one run to Warsaw in extra innings.
“We lost in the Class 3, District 13 championship game, 17-16 in 10 innings to Warsaw in one of the craziest back-and-forth games ever,” recalls coach Castle.
Gone from that district runner-up team due to graduation are Andrew Catron, Andrew Hyatt, Avery Graves, Levi Rockhold, Wyatt Barron, Ryan Miller, Blake Ricketson, and Tanner Atkins.
Catron, Miller, Graves, Rockhold, and Hyatt are starters from last season who leave holes to be filled this year.
Catron earned all-state recognition in his center field spot. Miller was a solid defensive cather. Graves played several defensive roles, including stints on the pitching mound before bing limited by a mid-season injury.
“We really missed him,” said coach Castle in reference to Graves. “Levi Rockhold was a solid defensive player at first base in Avery’s absense before getting hurt himself late in the year.”
Coach Castle describes Hyatt as a “good glove” to be replaced in right field.
Seniors this season include Chance Agcopra, Danny Hartzler, and Hunter Higgins. They headline a preseason roster that includes 36 players.
Although a solid core of pitchers returns from last season, coach Castle and his assistant coaching staff will be looking for them to hit with accuracy their new target behind home plate once a starting catcher is designated.
“We have one big question – can our pitchers throw strikes?,” states coach Castle. “If so, we are capable of winning 20 games, and competing for a conference title. If not, we likely will hover around the .500 mark again.
“Last year, outside of our ace Garrett Smith, we really struggled. The rest of our staff had 120 walks in about 85 innings.”
Smith’s stat line shows a record of 5-3, an ERA of 0.92, 68 strikeouts, 12 walks, and 38 hits allowed in 53 innings.
“The good news is nearly all of our pitching is returning, plus we have some kids that played on the lower levels last year who are capable of helping us throw strikes,” notes coach Castle. “As a team, I think we will also be better in the field, and I think we will be able to improve significantly over our .269 team batting average….
“We also have to find two replacements for two very key positions, catcher and first base, as well as centerfield where Andrew Catron was an all-state pick after hitting .460 with two homers, and 25 RBI.”
Castle also identifies Hyatt’s vacancy in right field as a key hole to fill as a youth movement appears to be underway in filling a couple defensive spots.
“Early on, it looks like a pair of freshmen, Aiden Christian and Kale Tryon, will get the chance to start at catcher and first base, respectively,” reports coach Castle.
The outfield spots appear to be spoken for, as well.
“In centerfield, it looks like senior speedster Hunter Higgins will get the opportunity to start,” says coach Castle. “Higgins hit well on the JV level last year, and gives us some much-needed speed. In right field, early on it looks like it could be Justin Radunsky.”
Returning starters listed by coach Castle include Smith, a junior who, as noted pitched and also played third base last season, sophomore Aiden Morarity who pitched and played shortstop, senior Danny Hartzler who played left field and pitched, sophomore Lane Siemer who played second base and pitched, and junior Carson Gard who played a utility role and pitched.
Other players competing for starting spots include senior Chance Agcopra at first base, and sophomore Americo Mabrey at catcher/utility. Juniors Travis Bruns, Bryce Faust, and Dom Sizemore, along with sophomore Wyatt VanMeter sit at the top of the depth chart for playing time in the outfield.
Coach Castle lists junior Tyler Hankins, and sophomores Brody Bay, Lane Inglis, and Isaac Bell as new pitching prospects for the varsity squad.
The assistant coaches helping coach Castle prepare the baseball team for the upcoming season includes second-year assistant Jeff Smith who served as a volunteer assistant last year, and first-year assistant coach Trent Pritchard.
As graduated seniors are replaced, returning starters move into another season of experience, the season plays out, and coach Castle steps in to follow in the footsteps of long-time head coach Dave Riley, the new head coach is optimistic of the upcoming season and the future of the Holden baseball program, in general.
“Despite having just three seniors, we have good numbers with 36 kids playing, and 15 of them being freshmen, which is great,” says coach Castle. “Our freshmen class is solid, and stacked with pitchers, catchers, and good infielders. Our JV team should be experienced, and competitive as well.”
The Holden baseball team begins the season on the road by playing a doubleheader on the road versus Reed Springs High School this Saturday, March 19.