Coming off of 25 wins a year ago, the Crawfordsville baseball team is out to a hot start this season and has a mountain of potential with an experienced club. The Athenians (5-1) were 25-5 (13-1 Sagamore Athletic Conference) last season, winning the league and finishing ranked as the No. 3 team in Class 3A. This season they started at fourth in the polls and are already up to second.
“Winning 25 games last year with a fairly young and inexperienced varsity line-up has given this group a lot of confidence going into the season,” said Athenian skipper John Froedge.
The experience comes from three first team All-Sagamore selections and two more second teamers. Trent Johnson, Caden Jones and Chase Dowell were first teamers to go along with Johnson’s selection as an All-State pitcher. Brendan Dowell and Payten Abney were second team All-SAC.
“Having four-year starters in Caden and Trent, along with three-year starters in Brendan, Chase and Payten gives us a very good nucleus to build around,” said Froedge. “Sophomore Josh Blackburn started all 30 games as a freshman and classmate Will Kellerman was a part-time starter as a freshman. We also have a very strong freshman class.”
Hall of Fame coach Froedge is entering his 36th season and is looking for his 22nd Sagamore Conference Title, 14th sectional title, sixth regional title, and third semi state and state crowns. His clubs have won 20 games in 22 of the last 26 seasons and won 30 games twice. They’re 167-20 against league opponents since 2004.
Johnson will lead a pitching staff that returns all but two innings of work from a year ago. Johnson was 11-2 with 127 strikeouts and 20 walks last season. Those 127 Ks were the fourth most in a season by an Athenian and 11 wins was fifth best on record. Johnson’s ERA was 0.99. He gave up just 12 earned runs. Chase Dowell (8-1) and Brendan Dowell (5-1) bring back more than 100 combined innings of experience from last season where they struck out a combined 99 batters against 30 freebies while allowing just 25 earned runs. Chase Dowell posted an ERA of 1.38.
“We are fine with the new pitch-count rule,” Froedge said. “After going back over our games last year, I don’t think it will impact us much. Plus, with anticipated pitching depth, it should give us an advantage over the course of a 30-game regular season that is played in just over eight weeks. I think the biggest impact may well be in the Sectional and Regional rounds of the tournament. But in the end, everyone is playing under the same rules.”
Johnson and Jones, both four-year starters will be vital parts of the lineup as well. Johnson hit .357 and scored 34 runs last year. Jones drove in 32 runs and batted .363. He slugged three homers. Brendan Dowell (.315) and Abney (.310) also had averages above .300 a year ago.
“Without a doubt, we need to improve offensively from last spring. Our pitching and defense carried us in 2016; runs were hard to come by,” Froedge said. “Based on off-season and early-season workouts, I believe we will be a much better hitting team. We usually can scratch out a run here and there, but it helps so much mentally to know you can have a big inning at any time. Last season, we had very few big innings.”
Crawfordsville returns to action after a short break on Saturday. The Athenians play host to Fountain Central’s Mustangs at 11 a.m.