MOUNT CARMEL, Ill. -- Expectations sit possibly as high as ever in Wabash Valley as the baseball Warriors enter the season billed as preseason No. 1 according to Perfect Game.
And rightfully so. The Warriors finished the 2018 season 45-11-1 and No. 11 in the nation according to PG and have 12 athletes set to attend Division I programs next fall.
WVC baseball head coach Rob Fournier has been wildly successful in his tenure as the Warriors manager, boasting 924 career wins (.735 win percentage) and 11 Great Rivers Athletic Conference Championships in his his 23 years managing the Warriors, this year appears to be no different for the Wabash Valley.
This installment of the Warriors features a crop of 12 Division I signees, with players committed to schools such as South Carolina, Alabama, Ohio State, among others. Fournier has coached over 250 players who have went on to Division I programs, including over 150 former Warriors playing professional baseball. This group appears to be on the same track.
Five Division I signees appear as likely candidates for their lineup, sophomore center fielder and South Carolina commit Noah Myers highlights the bunch (.318 BA, five homers, 49 RBIs and a .474 OBP). Myers is expected to build on his successful freshman campaign and be one of the most dynamic hitters in JUCO. Myers is complimented by sophomore third basemen and future Buckeye Sam Wilson (.300 BA, one HR, 19 RBIs, .424 OBP). Incoming freshman catcher Zade Richardson oozes draft potential as a slugger and his prowess behind the plate. Richardson figures to be the everyday catcher for the Warriors. Top to bottom, the Warriors have a loaded lineup with a plethora of depth.
There won't be a shortage of arms available for WVC's rotation, but it will likely consist of returning sophomore right-hander and Alabama commit Ryan O'Connell (8-2, two saves, 79 K's, 1.63 ERA), sophomore righty and future Bradley Brave NIck King (18.2 IP, 1.45 ERA, 25 K's). Two newcomers look poised to join the rotation, freshman Cameron Tullar, who boasts a four-pitch repertoire highlighted by his fastball (tops out at 89 MPH per Prep Baseball Report), and freshman Antoine Kelly. Kelly was selected in the 13th round of the MLB draft, but opted to attend WVC instead. The 6'5 Chicago native southpaw boasts a fiery fastball (tops at 95 MPH according to PBR) and boasted just a 0.66 ERA and 5.2 K/B ratio in his senior year of high school at Maine East High School in Illinois.
Key fixtures in the Warriors bullpen will likely be returning sophomore and Campbell commit Jon Beymer (18 IP, 15 Ks, 6 ER), sophomore southpaw and NC State commit Andy Samuelson (9.1 IP, 16.39 K/9 ratio, 17 Ks), sophomore righty and Louisiana Tech commit Janier Puente (15 IP, 6 ER, 15 K's), and sophomore right-hander and future Hilltopper Mason Vinyard (10 IP, 5 ER, 8 K's).
Other newcomers include freshman Manny Gonzalez, University of Cincinnati transfer Cael Baker (Division I 2017 Ohio player of the year), Blaine Billim, and Connor Fenlong.
Top to bottom, this may be the most loaded the Warriors have been in some time. Coach Fournier is well equipped to manage such a luxurious roster full of expectations and will look to lead the Warriors back to the NJCAA Division I World Series, where they last appeared in 2017 (finishing third).
Their season is rapidly approaching, with their first game coming on Feb. 9 at Jackson State Community College at 2 p.m. The Warriors will play their first home game on March 1 against Moraine Valley Community College at 3 p.m. as they begin their campaign for yet another GRAC title and possibly even higher aspirations.