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April 2, 2013

2013 Muller preview: Experienced Eagles ready to get rolling

FRANKTON, Ind. — Seven returning starters and a star player about to sign his college letter of intent should make for a strong start to the 2013 season for the Frankton baseball team.

But coach Greg Hughes still has a few butterflies in his belly. For that, he can thank Mother Nature.

The Eagles had four games scheduled last week, but the heavy snowfall that blanketed the area canceled them all. It also has kept the team practicing indoors except for a few informal sessions in the school’s parking lot and one day on the diamond. Frankton will have just one day of practice after returning from spring break next week before opening the Nick Muller Memorial Baseball Tournament against Central Indiana Conference rival Elwood on Tuesday at Pendleton Heights.

“It’s hard to say (where expectations are),” Hughes said. “We don’t know where we stand. We’ve only been on the field once, but I think Elwood is in the exact same boat we are.”

The opening round of the Muller tourney has been an albatross for the Eagles in recent years.

Last season, Frankton lost 1-0 against eventual champion Alexandria in the first round then rallied to win its next two games and finish in fifth place. This year — with a host of returning letterwinners including four-year starters Trevor Hughes, Jon Griffey and T.J. Eads — the Eagles are hoping for something more.

Elwood won the tournament title in 2009 and Alexandria claimed the trophy last spring. Frankton sees no reason it can’t join its CIC brethren.

“We feel that way every year, to be honest,” Coach Hughes said. “That’s just the attitude we have.”

Everything starts with senior Trevor Hughes who attended the Pittsburgh Pirates’ baseball academy in Bradenton, Fla., in December. He’ll soon sign with Lincoln Trail Junior College, and he’s happy to have that business out of the way before the start of his final high school campaign.

“I talked to him the other day about it,” Coach Hughes said. “He said it takes a lot of pressure off of him. Now he can just worry about playing ball.”

In addition to Griffey, Eads and Hughes, the Eagles welcome back junior Logan Weins, sophomore Blaine Reed and sophomore Bailey Threet. Matt Kunce — who hit .400 last year in a brief call-up from the junior varsity — and junior pitcher Austin Webb also figure to be big contributors.

Greg Hughes likes his pitching staff with Webb, Weins and Eads at the top. But Frankton lost three starters from last season’s 14-12 campaign — designated hitter Jeff Cleek, and outfielders Tyler Harvey and Wes Alexander.

The latter two players hit at the top of the batting order, and Hughes said he’s still looking to replace them on offense and defense.

The early season figures to be a feeling out period as coaches get their first real looks at their teams outdoors. That could make for an even more unpredictable Muller tournament than usual.

“I think everybody’s going to be rusty,” Coach Hughes said. “Most coaches don’t know what they really have yet. We’ve got seven starters back in the field. We feel good about that.”

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