RIVERSIDE — While coaches, athletes and fans cheered the resumption of the high school sports of baseball and softball, the added guidelines like social distancing during practice drills and no high-fives will have to be followed to a tee.
“It’s definitely going to be different this baseball season,” Highland head baseball coach Seth Milledge said.
Different could also mean the coronavirus and its spread ends up canceling the season.
One thing Milledge said has to happen for the season to be considered a success is “getting to finish the season.”
Milledge starts his fifth year at the helm of the Highland High School baseball program with a 75-35 record after the Huskies went 13-11 last year and 8-6 in the Southeast Iowa Super Conference North Division, finishing fourth in the loop.
This year’s race in the North figures to be interesting after last year when one game each separated the top three finishers. Pekin (17-9, 10-4), which placed third, went to the state tournament while Mediapolis (19-9, 12-2) was first and Hillcrest (13-8, 11-3) was second.
“I think it’s up in the air this year,” Milledge said. “We’ll see how it plays out. I think pitching and number of arms will be key.”
Graduated senior pitchers accounted for 11 of the Huskies’ 14 wins. Highland returns an honorable mention pitcher in Chase Schultz, who had 34 strikeouts and 14 walks as a freshman last year.
Highland has two second team performers returning for their senior season in Bill Laughlin and Cael Yeggy. Yeggy had an on-base percentage of .429 last year and Laughlin batted .377 with four doubles and two home runs.
Other returning letterwinners are sophomore Luke Miller, who started at second base as an eighth-grader, seniors center fielder Mason McFarland and senior infielder Grant Colbert, who will spend some time on the mound.
“We just have to be playing fundamental baseball and putting the team in the best position to win games late in the year,” Milledge said.
The Huskies were successful on 94 of 103 stolen base attempts and 45 of those success return.
promising newcomers for the Huskies are junior infielder Bryce Thompson and sophomores Connor Grinstead, outfield, and catcher Trevor McFarland.
“We’ll be young this year,” Milledge said. “We lost seven seniors off of last year’s team. The guys we have returning are ready to compete.”