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MOUNT WASHINGTON - It is always nice to have experienced pitching back at the high school baseball level.
The Bullitt East Chargers, who went 24-9 last season, return pitchers who started 15 of those games and picked up nearly half of the victories. The Chargers have six pitchers back who saw some varsity action last spring and veteran head coach Jeff Bowles says that seven other players could see action on the mound.
"We're still in the process of finding four guys rise up over the others to grab a spot," Bowles said last week.
Bowles, who has two regional titles under his belt as the Charger head coach, has gone into previous seasons with his top pitchers already identified and he has gone into seasons with a lot of candidates and he has whittled that group down to a starting rotation by mid-season.
"I would obviously take Matt (Bowles at John A. Logan Junior College) and Brandon (Alphin at the University of Louisville) back in a second, but I think somebody might notice," the coach said with a big smile. "I'll take whittling I down. I like having choices.
"Nobody in this group will be throwing 80 innings," the coach added. "We can be quick with the hook. We have guys chomping at the bit. That competition should make us better."
The Bullitt East program has won eight straight district titles and the Chargers have never lost a post-season district game since realignment put them in the 24th District six years ago. That success means that a lot of players want to be part of the program.
The roster for the 2012 season has 46 players and Bowles said that 26 players could see varsity action. The varsity will be made up primarily of seniors and juniors with a couple of sophomores.
"We're a little older and that is good," Bowles said of having nine seniors. "This group is a lot of fun to be around. There is a lot of comradarie. We have a lot of experience back.
"We have a lot of kids who have put in a lot of time," the coach added. "We had entrance interviews and told them where they stood and that if they wanted to change that it would have to be through their practice habits."
The top returning pitcher is senior Coulten Maupin who had a 1.38 ERA and a 4-0 record in 40 innings of work last season. Fellow senior Brett Hatfield had a 3-1 record with a 2.52 ERA while senior Trevor Gonzalez went 3-1 working extensively in relief.
One pitcher who had a strong off-season was senior Bradley Johnson who recently signed with Olney Junior College. Two other pitching candidates who saw action last season are senior Josh Stearns and junior Jacob Woodruff.
There is also balance in that group as Johnson, Gonzalez and Woodruff all throw from the left side.
Bowles will also be looking for mound time for juniors Austin Money and Jonathon Recktenwald as well as sophomores Zac Ching and Chase Patton. Junior Chris Ethridge is another left hander and sophomore Alex Ralph and junior Derek Jones are also pitching candidates. Junior catcher Hunter Wood could step in and work as a closer.
The good news for the Chargers this season is that there is an extra week in the early part of the campaign before the team heads to Florida for spring break.
"We'll spread the innings out and everybody will have enough to get set," Bowles said. "We should have a rotation and roles for everybody else by the time we get back from Florida. I'm glad we have that extra week."
There is also experience behind the plate as Wood returns after starting the last two seasons. Wood will also provide power in the middle of the line-up. The back-up catcher is senior Zack McMillen.
On the infield, the Chargers will return Alex Richardson at first base. The junior hit over .400 during the second half of last season and was named to the All-Region Tournament squad. Depth will come from Gonzalez and Patton.
The Chargers have depth at second base where either Money or Ching will start. Ching transferred into the area last summer and played with the strong Mount Washington based Under-13 squad that won the USSSA World Series title.
"They are both capable of starting for just about anybody we play," Bowles said. "They can play multiple positions but they are certainly good up the middle."
One of those two will shift to shortstop next season, but in 2012 the shortstop will be Tyler Minogue. The senior will also be the team's lead-off hitter.
Rounding out the infield will be either Hatfield or senior Michael Faul at third base. Depth at that spot will come from Ralph or sophomores Chase Williams or Bailey Meyer.
The is also plenty of talent in the outfield for Bullitt East.
"This is the best defensive outfield we have ever had," Bowles said.
The starter in centerfield will be Maupin when he is not pitching and Woodruff will be in leftfield. Woodruff has been a starter since he was an eighth-grader.
"Coulten catches everything that goes out there," Bowles noted.
In right field, the Chargers can look to either Stearns or fellow senior Adam Howell. Two other candidates for playing time in the outfield are junior Chris Ethridge or Patton.
"It will take us three weeks to figure out who we should have in the line-up," Bowles said. "We can have a line-up with no outs. The guys that can hit will be in there."
The Chargers opened the season on Monday with a win over Oldham County and they will take on Fifth Region power Elizabethtown at home on Thursday.
Bullitt East has another competitive schedule as they play all of the top teams in the Louisville area with the exception of Pleasure Ridge Park.