By George Bremer
The Herald Bulletin
PENDLETON, Ind. —
There’s bound to be an odd feeling at Pendleton Heights this season.
For the first time in 32 years, fans will look into the home baseball dugout and not see the face of head coach Bill Stoudt staring back at them.
It could be a startling adjustment for some, and no one is more aware of that than the man who is replacing the legend.
“I’m one of those people,” said Travis Keesling, himself a 1995 Pendleton Heights graduate and a former player and assistant coach under Stoudt. “But the philosophy and ideals are not going to change. I love this program, and Coach Stoudt built this program. I learned everything I know from him.”
Keesling spent four seasons on the Arabians staff from 2000 to 2003 then left to become a head coach himself at Wes-Del and Greenfield-Central. Along the way, he even managed to lead Anderson Hockett during the American Legion team’s final two summer campaigns.
So he’s a familiar face to many local fans.
That’s more than can be said for the majority of Pendleton Heights’ 2013 roster.
The Arabians’ four Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament championships are the most by any school, and their eight title game appearances are matched only by rival Anderson. But Keesling isn’t the only reason the defending tournament runner-up has a whole new look this spring.
Just two players — third baseman Brogan Gary (.395 batting average, one homer, 15 RBIs) and outfielder Kurt Talbert (.208, 0, 7) — return at the same position they played a year ago. Hunter Cook (.411, 6, 37) moves from designated hitter to first base, and Chandler (.200, 0, 7) and Augdan (.296, 0, 7) Wilson will have expanded roles. Cody Altherr (6-2, 2.85 ERA) is the only pitcher on the staff with varsity experience.
So it’s a relatively fresh start in Keesling’s debut season, and Pendleton Heights appeared to be a bit shell-shocked in last week’s season-opener against Hamilton Southeastern. But the new head coach was greatly impressed with the Arabians’ improvement during a doubleheader split against Hoosier Heritage Conference rival Greenfield-Central three days later.
And his expectations as the team prepares to open the Muller tourney Tuesday against defending Class 2A sectional champion Madison-Grant should sound familiar.
“We always want to come out and win it,” he said of the defacto Madison County championship. “There are a lot of good teams this year, and it’s going to be harder than ever to get back to that championship game. But we’re making big strides with a young team, and I like our chances.”