After winning consecutive league titles from 2004 to 2006, and advancing to a regional final in 2005, Jeff Bradford’s 26-3 Warren Warriors seemed poised for its coveted trip to the state tournament in 2007.
Boasting two dominant starting pitchers and one of the more prolific offensive attacks in school history, the road to Columbus and the school’s first final four appearance appeared to be well within grasp.
Unfortunately the story rarely follows the script, and such was the case for Bradford’s group, as the Blue Lions of Washington Courthouse would play spoiler for the second consecutive year, this time outlasting Warren in an extra inning thriller, 4-3.
Having stewed over the extra inning loss in last year’s district finals for the past nine months, the Warriors find themselves eager to put the 2007 season behind them and usher in the 2008 season.
“I really thought last year was our best chance to get to state… Unlike most teams we had two go to guy’s on the mound. Our ball club didn’t really change whether Tyler or Daniel were on the mound, and that was rare, said Bradford. We just couldn’t quite finish, and it was a tough pill to swallow, but our guys are just going to use that as motivation for improving this year.”
Given the depth Warren returns in 08, their urgency seems more than understandable.
Boasting the return of six starters from last year’s squad, Warren has its sights set on improving on last year’s 26-4 season.
“We set out to get 24 a few years back, then 25, and then 26 last year. We aren’t necessarily shooting for 27 wins this year or 30 for that matter, but it would sure be nice,” said Bradford.
Thanks to the return of five players who last year batted over .300, Warren will have the offensive makeup of a team capable of improving on their 26 wins in 2007. Headlining the list of returnees for the Warriors are several offensive threats, most notably last season’s cleanup hitter Daniel Wagner (.306 avg, 31 runs, 29 rbi), power hitting lefty Cory Hooper (.379, 34 runs, 26 rbi), and the clutch hitting catcher Tyler Spence (.366, 23 runs, 30 rbi).
In the return of this trio Bradford believes his club will be more than capable at the plate.
“We might not have the power hitter that we have had in the middle of the lineup this season, but the guys we have can put the ball in play with consistency and put pressure on pitchers.”
While the group remains virtually intact at numbers four, five, and six in the order, the club must fill the void left by a trio of seniors, and ironically the teams’ one, two, and three hitters.
“It is tough to replace last years seniors, they made up our top three in the order, added Bradford. (Ethan) Bonnette was on base constantly, Garrett (Proctor) was one of those kids who could do a lot of things with the bat and he always played his heart out, and Tyler (Wynn) of course is playing D1 now.”
Vying for the job of replacing the aforementioned Proctor, Bonnette, and Wynn is a series of candidates, most notably juniors Nate Heiss, Jeremy Murphy, and senior Justin Adams.
While offensively the club may be even deeper than last season, the Warriors must improve on the mound as it seems that with the departure of staff ace Tyler Wynn the club is left searching for a reliable arm outside of projected starter Daniel Wagner.
Early candidates hoping to ease the burden on the mound left by Wynn is a series of right handers, senior Josh Ward, senior David Lemon, and junior Justin Pettit.
“Josh (Ward) will likely be our number two this year. He has got a live fastball can locate it pretty well and we expect his mound presence will be a bit better now that he is a senior,” noted Bradford. “David (Lemon) has thrown well in relief and we would like him to step up and be a closer for us.”
While youth may be a concern on the mound, Bradford was granted no reprieve as it seems that some inopportune scheduling will force the Warriors to mature quickly. Early season dates with defending league champion Zanesville and rival Marietta will test the Warriors in opening weeks should give fans a good idea about whether or not Warren will have the pitching to mount another tournament run.
If the yearly improvement is any indication, the Warriors should be primed for yet another run come May and with a few breaks the venerable Bradford may finally get his elusive trip to the state’s final four.