JACKSON — A former standout on the diamond will now try to stand out in the coach’s box at Haller Field.
That’s because Lance Rolston takes over the reins of the Jackson High School baseball team.
Rolston is the Ironmen’s third head coach in as many seasons, and has the task of meshing together some varsity veterans and inexperience.
Rolston, a former star at Alexander, played for four years at Ohio State and was part of two teams which captured Big Ten championships. He was selected co-captain of the Buckeyes his senior season.
His coaching experience includes one season as the head coach at Nelsonville-York, and one season as an assistant at his alma mater of Alexander. He is a 1998 graduate of the school.
But, a decade later, he finds himself coaching the Red and White of the Ironmen instead of the Red and Black of the Spartans.
Rolston inherits six seniors from last year’s rebuilding team, one which finished just 3-9 in the Southeastern Ohio Athletic League.
Jackson then lost to Athens in both the SEOAL Day of Champions ninth-place game and the Division II sectional semifinals.
It was the first season in six in which Jackson failed to advance to the district tournament.
However, with only four seniors, the Ironmen were on the inexperienced side last season. Rolston believes that this spring will mark much improvement.
“It’s a pretty strong group back,” said Rolston. “I’d say, in all aspects, we’re senior dominant. On paper, we look pretty good. In practice, we look pretty good. We’ll see how it is come game time. We have to mix and match and try to get our best nine out there.”
The half-dozen seniors will lead the way, paced by ace pitcher Tyrus Coyan, a two-time all-SEOAL selection.
Coyan also landed first-team Division II all-Southeast District honors.
“We’re looking for a big year out of Tyrus,” said Rolston. “I think he has a lot of potential.”
Catching Coyan will be Wellston transfer Chris Comer, who previously caught and played third base for the Rockets.
Returning at shortstop and second base respectively are seniors Bruce Smith and Stephen Ferris. Senior Evan Osborne may play some third base, but will likely return to his position in left field.
“We have a great corps of seniors,” said Rolston. “We’re looking forward to those guys really stepping up. Our seniors are now leading the program. They are learning our somewhat new gameplan of what I’m looking for. We have a very experienced infield, and that’s something that is huge.”
Rolston also talked about some juniors, including first baseman Anthony Malone and centerfielder Kyle Newsom.
Senior Brandon Muzzy and sophomore Eric Landrum are also expected to battle for a starting spot in the outfield.
Another sophomore, last year’s catcher Nathaniel Haller, is being moved to third base.
“We have six seniors, but we have some good sophomores and juniors who we expect to step up and do a nice job for us,” he said. “What I learned most from (Ohio State) Coach (Bob) Todd is that if you can get one or two freshmen or sophomores every year to step in your program and play, it has a cycling effect on your program.”
Rolston expects the Ironmen to carry between 12 or 15 varsity players throughout the season. He estimated that three or four Ironmen will play both varsity and reserve.
That group includes John Owsley, Brian Jarvis, Bradley Fulton and Travis Walker.
Austin Wyant is out for four to six weeks, recovering from a broken thumb.
Rolston added that pitching depth must develop, as Malone is the second hurler behind the left-handed ace Coyan.
Muzzy, Smith and Jarvis are also expected to pitch. Muzzy did not play last season, and Smith tossed in spare situations.
The Ironmen lost the services of the graduated Dillon Cryder, an all-SEOAL performer who was the second starter behind Coyan.
“Pitching can be an area of improvement and strength,” said Rolston. “We may be inexperienced early on in the season, but hopefully, we won’t be come the tournament. Baseball is different as far as varsity experience. You play almost every day, anywhere from 23 to 26 games.”
Twelve tilts of which are in the SEOAL South.
When asked about the league, Rolston admitted his unfamiliarity, having played and coached in only the Tri-Valley Conference.
“I don’t know much about it, really,” he said. “The SEOAL is a little different for me.”
He did say, however, that “the teams in our division (SEOAL South) are very strong.”
Portsmouth (8-4) edged out Ironton (7-5) and Gallipolis (7-5) last season for the South Division championship.
“Everyone you look at, it’s going to be tough,” said Rolston. “With our schedule, you can’t throw Tyrus every game, so we have to learn to adjust that way too. It’s not an easy schedule.”
The non-league slate includes Saturday doubleheaders with Vinton County (April 5) and Waverly (April 12).
County rivals Wellston and Oak Hill are also on the schedule twice.
Two tilts against SEOAL North opponents — Logan and Athens — are considered non-league.
The annual Ironmen Classic, a four-team tournament, is set for Saturday, April 19.
Jackson was scheduled to open the season on Monday, but its league and home contest with Chillicothe was postponed.
The Ironmen, instead, will open the season today at Oak Hill.
First pitch is set for 4:30 p.m.
Rolston anticipates his Ironmen improving as the spring progresses.
I’m not expecting to turn heads the first two weeks of the season,” he said. “I am expecting the kids to play hard, get better, and gain some momentum each and every week.”
Assisting Rolston this season are John Ervin at the varsity level and Tony Castina (head coach) and Tyler Swackhammer with the junior varsity.
All four Ironmen coaches have college baseball experience. Castina, like Rolston, played Division I, while Ervin and Swackhammer played at the University of Rio Grande.