By Kyle Daubs

The Apollo Conference is wide open. 

At least that’s what it feels like after a two-year hiatus from baseball competition. 

Not a single player from the 2019 All-Apollo list remains. Mattoon remains the defending champions. Baseball powerhouse Teutopolis is an addition to the conference. 

Baseball is back in Coles County. And even though the Apollo season doesn’t officially begin for about 10 days, it’s never too early to look ahead.

At the top

Charleston is one of the teams favored at the top of the conference, say Lincoln coach August Casson and Mattoon’s Jarod Kiger. The Trojans feature a strong senior unit of Ben Hess, Cade Landrus, Ty Coartney, and Cory Spour. 

Aiden Archibald, William Applegate and Landrus have already begun the season with hot bats for 3-1 Charleston, while Hess, the No. 1 pitching prospect in Illinois and an Indiana signee, is rehabbing an injury with hopes of being ready for the conference season. 

Archibald has hit 5-for-6 with two doubles and four runs batted in, Applegate has gone 4-for-6 with five steals and Landrus has hit a home run, driven in five runs and gone 5-for-13. The Trojans are batting .281 with a .426 on-base percentage.

While Ben Hess is recovering, several other pitchers have stepped up. Conner Woodley, Charlie Spoonhour, Dane Herrington and James Hess have each pitched three or more scoreless innings. Charleston has an aggregate 1.88 earned run average for four games, posting a 0.96 WHIP and limiting opponents to a .163 batting average.

Trojans coach Derrick Landrus believes the layoff could affect all teams in the conference, which makes it hard to evaluate. 

“Several guys we are counting on just haven’t played a lot of baseball lately, due to last year’s cancellation and injuries,” said Landrus. “We will be relying heavily on our senior class in Dane Herrington, Cory Spour, Cade Landrus, Ben Hess, Ty Coartney, and Peyton Daugherty. All will have major impacts.  Our junior class is also going to provide depth, especially on the mound, while sophomore William Applegate will also play a big role.”

Right up there

Mahomet-Seymour’s Nic DiFilippo sees Teutopolis as the conference favorite. Pitcher Andy Niebrugger recently signed with Millikin University. Teutopolis recently blew out Neoga 18-1, a team that beat Charleston, 8-4, about a week ago. A strong lineup featuring Max Niebrugge, Sam Bushur, Evan Addis, and Kayden Althoff has gotten off to a 3-1 start after outscoring its opponents 41-16.

However, both Coles County coaches believe Effingham has the pitching to take the Apollo crown. 

“From a returning standpoint, Effingham and Charleston would probably be near the top of the conference as they have some solid pitching at the front end of their rotation,” said Kiger. “As we have not seen teams play since 2019, I’m quite sure there will be some young men that have put in some time and have improved their games.  These individuals will have a significant impact on their team’s successes.”

Among the newcomers for Effingham was Jackson Lee, who helped pitch a shutout in Effingham’s 13-0 win over Marshall. However, it appears we haven’t seen the best of the staff just yet. 

“Effingham sounds like they are loaded with pitching,” said Landrus. “Other than that, sometimes you don’t know what teams have year in and year out, especially in baseball. After not playing last year, it’s really hard to say.”

Looking to contend

In 2019, Lincoln finished third in the conference with a 6-6 record but has since graduated an All-Apollo pitcher and an All-Apollo hitter. Casson said that the team has three players in shortstop Trent Koehler, second baseman Dylan Singleton, and center fielder Keagan Ferguson that could help make an impact.

Mount Zion tied with Mahomet-Seymour and Charleston two years ago with a 5-7 mark in the conference. Three players return from that season in infielder/pitcher Jonathan Oliger, outfielder/pitcher Dylan Roberts, and catcher Cohen Leach.

Mt. Zion does not have any All-Apollo players returning from the 2019 season.  However, I do have three players who gave major contributions as sophomores that season;  Jonathan Oliger (IF/P), Dylan Roberts (OF/P) and Cohen Leach (C).  

“Not sure what program has the upper hand on winning the Apollo, but I do know the conference is loaded with quality arms and it may be a struggle to score runs in some games,” said Mount Zion head coach Matt Smith. “I am speculating here, but my guess would be Charleston could have the best chance at winning the Apollo.  Lincoln may be the program in the conference who has improved the most since we last played in 2019.”

A darkhorse to repeat?

Not a single coach gave defending champions Mattoon a vote of confidence to retain its title. The Green Wave, who won the conference two years ago with a 9-2 record, feature two pitchers who played a significant role on that team in seniors Meade Johnson and Austin Baker. Baker allowed one earned run, struck out six and scattered four hits across five innings to Centennial in his first start last Saturday.

“These two young men will be our top two pitchers and give us a nice 1-2 punch in our rotation,” said Kiger. “They will also provide some significant offensive support for the team.”

Seniors Gavin Gonzalez and Drew Coffey will be major parts of the lineup as well. Kiger said that the Green Wave will rely on the team’s seniors to help fill the void of losing a large 2020 senior class. 

“These two will be staples in our lineup and provide us with some defensive consistency while also contributing offensively,” said Kiger. “Many other young, inexperienced players will play significant roles as the season progresses.  We will lean heavily on these individuals to fill the voids left by a large graduating 2020 senior class.” 

2019 Apollo All-Conference Baseball Team

First team

Pitchers

Zach Lee, sr., Effingham. Hayden Birdsong, sr., Mattoon. Nate Arnold, sr., Lincoln

Others 

Colton Holiday, sr., Lincoln. Kobe Essien, jr., Mahomet-Seymour. Jordan Veldman, sr., Mahomet-Seymour. Kyle Kinney, sr. Mahomet-Seymour. Brock Smith, sr., Mattoon. Jackson Nichols, sr., Mattoon. Brayton Poland, sr., Effingham. Cooper Jackson, sr., Effingham. Nash Mose, jr., Mount Zion

Second team

Cam Knierim, jr., Mattoon. Nick Bishop, sr., Effingham. Kendall Ballman, sr., Effingham. Kyle Foraker, sr, Taylorville. Tyler Davis, sr., Taylorville. Jonathan Latham, sr., Mahomet-Seymour. Keagan Brady, sr., Charleston. Brenden Eigenbrod, sr., Lincoln.

Final standings

1. Mattoon 9-2. 2. Effingham 8-4. 3. Lincoln 6-6. 4. tie, Charleston, Mahomet-Seymour, Mount Zion 5-7. 7. Taylorville 3-8