Mehlville baseball team ready for 2006 season

By STEPHEN GLOVER

For many Mehlville Senior High School baseball fans, 2005 was a very, very good year.

The Panthers earned an overall 18-11 record with an impressive trip to the state semifinal game, where they dropped a heartbreaking 4-3 loss to DeSmet. But as that chapter closed, a new one opens with a group of juniors and seniors determined to equal — if not surpass — last year’s accomplishments.

“We should be decent this year,” Panthers head coach Jim Kern told the Call. “Right now we’re still getting our pitchers ready for the season, but I think we should be really strong in the outfield.”

Mehlville returns three starters in the outfield from last year’s squad — center fielder Steve Thurmond, right fielder Barry Gregg and left fielder Kevin Mahler.

Thurmond batted a solid .371 last year, while driving in 11 runs on 23 hits. He also should see time on the mound this season as the team’s closer after appearing in 13.3 innings last year with two saves and a 4.72 earned run average.

“We’re hoping that Steve’s going to close a few games for us this year,” Kern said. “He’s been extremely successful in that role in the past, and if we have a lot of games where we keep things close, he’ll be the one we’ll rely on to shut the door in those games.”

Gregg is the team’s top returning home-run threat this season after hitting three home runs in 2005. The junior also drove in 19 runs on 22 hits, while holding a .293 batting average. Barry also will see time on the mound this season.

“Once he’s able to get his arm in shape and get his pitch count up, I think he’ll help fill that spot that Jake Morgan left open from last year,” Kern said.

Mahler also had a solid season at the plate last year as he batted .333 with 16 runs batted in on 27 hits. The junior also held a 4-0 record on the mound with a 4.85 earned run average.

“Kevin hit well for us last year and will be in the middle of the lineup for us this year,” Kern said. “He has very good speed and an extraordinary good arm.”

Behind the plate this season will be senior Clayton Camp. The senior catcher did struggle on the offensive side of his game last year with a .173 batting average, driving in nine runs on nine hits.

“Clayton is extremely solid defensively and we’re going to need him to help control our pitchers,” Kern said. “I think that with Clayton behind the plate, pitching will eventually be our strongest point this season.”

Ryan Grempler will see playing time at several different positions this season. The senior utility man is coming off a solid summer season with the Johnny Mac Blue Thunder, batting .333 and driving in 12 runs on 21 hits.

“Ryan’s a great kid that’s by far the hardest worker on the field,” Kern said. “We feel comfortable with his ability to play at many different positions for us.”

At third base and also on the pitching mound will be junior Tom Case, who last year drove in 13 runs with 20 hits for a .270 batting average.

“Tom is a solid ballplayer that’s one of our best players in the infield,” Kern said. “He should be one of our offensive leaders this season.”

The shortstop duties for the Panthers this season will go to senior Josh Ruble, who carried a .302 batting average last season with seven runs batted in on 16 hits.

“Josh is coming off a great summer,” Kern said. “We’re going to need him to hit well this season for us at the top of the lineup.”

At second base for the Panthers will be senior Brian Hanewinkel.

“Brian’s solid defensively and has quick hands,” Kern said. “I think he’ll be able to move some runners over when he’s at the plate this year.”

First baseman and pitcher Derek Hibdon was stout at the plate last season with a .412 batting average in just 18 plate appearances. The senior hurler also went 1-1 in 2005 with 10 strikeouts and a 7.95 earned run average.

“Derek spent the majority of his time on the mound last year and has spent a lot of time working hard in the off-season at the first-base position,” Kern said. “I think he’s going to give us a little pop in the lineup this year.”

Another senior who will see time at first base is Kyle Kersting, who did not see any action with the varsity squad last season.

“Kyle is a big kid that will see time at first base and will also hit off the bench for us,” Kern said. “When he’s up at the plate, he can hit one out at any time.”

Another pitcher/infielder who will see a lot of action this year is senior Mike Zeller, who was 6-4 with a 4.18 earned run average last year. Zeller also batted a strong .302 with four runs batted in on 13 hits.

“Mike’s got very good mechanics and throws the ball hard,” Kern said. “He’ll end up being our No. 1 pitcher this year. We expect him to have a very good year.”

Mehlville will travel to Riverview Gardens to play a 4 p.m. Tuesday game in the Northside Classic.