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3 weeks ago

Olympian Baseball: East Baseball - 2021 Olympians

Deep and Talented / Olympians return six starters from 2019 state runner-up team

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After taking Hamilton Southeastern to the brink in the 2019 Class 4A state baseball championship game, Columbus East felt it had some unfinished business to attend last year.

Unfortunately for the Olympians, they never got that chance. A team that returned all but three players from that state runner-up squad saw its season, along with everyone else’s, canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Obviously, it’s disappointing,” East coach Jon Gratz said. “I’d say it’s more disappointing for the players that didn’t get to play. I think we had a chance to have a pretty good team.”

Opponents likely aren’t feeling sorry for the Olympians. East returns six players who were starters in 2019.

Two of those starters are pitchers. Senior left-hander Kaden Wise, who has committed to Olney Central, and senior right-hander Clayton Taylor, who is headed to Indiana State, were the Olympians’ No. 2 and 3 starters as sophomores.

“Those guys are very experienced,” Gratz said. “They pitched a lot throughout the tournament as sophomores. I kind of look to them to lead the way with our new guys. But we have a lot of young guys who are champing at the bit to see what they can do.”

Senior Parker Harrison, a Wright State recruit, returns in center field. Senior T.J. Barkhimer was the right fielder in 2019 and could play left or right this year. Taylor, who played left field when he wasn’t pitching, could play left or right or third base, and Wise could play left or right.

Senior Ben Major played second and third base in 2019, and junior Harry Major played second when Ben was at third. Those two are battling for the shortstop job, and whoever doesn’t end up there, will play second or third, along with junior Will Rieckers.

The only spots where the Olympians won’t have experience are at first base and catcher. Juniors Tyler Bumbalough and Josh Luedeke are battling at first, and junior Alex McComb and sophomore Chase Zapfe are vying to replace last year’s Johnny Bench Award winner for Indiana, Dalton Back, behind the plate.

“I feel like those spots are going to be pretty solid,” Gratz said. “We have a lot of depth at most positions. We have probably the most depth we’ve had since I’ve been here.”

Sophomore Will Boyer, junior Ethan Ianni and senior Jose Martinez will join Wise and Taylor in the pitching rotation. Barkhimer, Harry Major and Luedeke also could see some innings on the mound.

Juniors Logan Christophel, Ty Uphaus and Dylan Niese and sophomore Chase Harrison are battling for time in left and right field.

“It’s tough not having a lot of the season last year,” Gratz said. “We didn’t get to see this year’s junior class. That’s kind of something we’re looking at, to fit the pieces together. We definitely have some good guys back, and they’ve been providing good leadership, so we’re definitely pleased with that.”

Gratz feels he has a team that will be solid in pitching, hitting and defense.

“(Hitting) was the one thing I was kind of worried about,” Gratz said. “We lost a lot of our top bats from two years ago. I originally thought that could be our possible weakness, but I’m feeling pretty good about whoever we have in our lineup. I think we ought to be pretty good defensively. We don’t necessarily have a bunch of big-time guys, but we’re as well rounded as we’ve ever been.”

While East is receiving votes outside of the top 10 in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll, MaxPreps has the Olympians ranked No. 1 entering the season.

“Honestly, we don’t know much about teams until they start playing, especially since we didn’t have a season last year,” Gratz said.

Despite the team’s near-miss at a state title the most recent time it suited up, East currently is more focused on the process than the end result.

“We don’t talk about stuff like that,” Gratz said. “We just talk about getting better every day and controlling what you can control. If we do that, we can make some noise in the tournament. But we just have to keep doing what we do and get better every day.”

The 2021 Columbus East baseball schedule:

April 1;vs. Zionsville at Noblesville Inviational;6 p.m.

April 2;vs. Center Grove in Noblesville Inviational;10 a.m.

April 3;at Noblesville Inviational;TBA

April 6;Cathedral;5:30 p.m.

April 8;at Seymour;5:30 p.m.

April 10;at Floyd Central (DH);11 a.m.

April 14;at Madison;5:30 p.m.

April 16;at Jeffersonville;6 p.m.

April 19;Edgewood;5:30 p.m.

April 24;at Jasper Invitational;11 a.m.

April 27;at Bedford North Lawrence;5:30 p.m.

April 29;at Jennings County;5 p.m.

May 1;Bloomington South (DH);10 a.m.

May 3;Southport;6 p.m.

May 5;Roncalli;5:30 p.m.

May 7;Columbus North;6 p.m.

May 10;at New Albany in HHC Tournament;5:30 p.m.

May 12;HHC Tournament;5:30 p.m.

May 14;HHC placement round at TBA;5:30 p.m.

May 18;at East Central;5:30 p.m.

May 19;Bloomington North;6 p.m.

May 20;Franklin;5:30 p.m.

May 22;at Noblesville (DH);Noon

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