By Kyle Daubs
Only one losing season has came out of Coles County over the last decade. For Mattoon, seven teams finished with 20 or more wins in a season, while Charleston had eight teams.
Baseball talent is always popping out of the county, so forming this list was no easy task. For that, we filled out a starting team, which included two pitchers (because normally two pitchers played in a game), a complete infield and outfield, as well as a designated hitter.
We also included five bench players.
P: Austin Warrem: MHS Class of 2015: three-time all-conference selection; finished 24-7 over the course of three seasons with an ERA of 2.04 over that span. He finished with more than 70 strikeouts in each of those seasons, helped lead MHS to Apollo title by winning six Apollo starts and later pitched at Eastern Illinois University.
P: Nick Wilson: CHS Class of 2013: Finished 14-4 over the last two years of his career, earning first team All-Apollo honors each year. In 131 innings, he finished with a 2.44 ERA and 143 strikeouts. He signed to play with Olney Central Community College.
C: Cody Brush: MHS Class of 2012: A unanimous All-Big 12 Conference selection as a catcher. During his two seasons as starter, Brush was a consistent three-hole hitter who batted .460 with three home runs and 32 RBIs. In 2012, he was a core piece in a lineup for a team that reached an IHSA Sectional Championship.
1B: Evan Clark: CHS Class of 2011: His 14 home runs and 53 RBIs in a single season still stand as a school record. His 50 runs in a season were just short of a school record and remain second-most in school history. He signed with Kankakee Community College.
2B: Ryan Sparks: MHS Class of 2013: One of the best defenders on the field, Sparks finished senior year with a team-high batting average and played at Monmouth College, where he enjoyed a four-year career.
SS: Mason McGahey: CHS Class of 2017: A hitting machine, his 120 career hits is seventh-most all-time in school history. He finished with 62 career stolen bases as well.
3B: Ryan Hutchinson: MHS Class of 2014: A three-time All-Apollo selection where he batted .453 his senior year. He signed with Illinois State University, where he started over 80 percent of games his freshman and sophomore seasons.
OF: Peyton Hartbank: MHS Class of 2015: Hartbank was a three-time all-conference selection and possessed blazing speed. He ran a 6.72-second, 60-yard dash, which helped impress the coaching staff at Illinois State University. Hartbank hit .487 his junior season, which included 12 doubles and 15 doubles in summer ball. EIU was also in the mix for his services.
OF: Aaron Bence: CHS Class of 2012: Bence scored the third-most runs in a season when he touched home plate 49 times in 2011. The speedy outfielder stole 68 career bases, a school record. He received interest from EIU before going to both Lake Land College and Murray State University.
OF: Kevin Beard: CHS Class of 2017: Beard redefined speed by breaking the single-season record for stolen bases, swiping 43 in 2017. His new record broke a 39-year mark set by Keith Aten in 1978. Beard is the all-time leader in stolen bases with 83. He later played at Lincoln Trail College.
DH: Dawson Armstrong: CHS Class of 2017: Armstrong finished his career as one of the better sluggers in school history. Armstrong nearly broke Clark’s single-season RBI record by driving in 52 runs in 2017, but he did finish as the career RBI leader with 109. Armstrong ultimately signed with Kaskaskia College to become a pitcher.
P: AJ Diepholz: MHS Class of 2014: A long, durable starter who finished with a 2.33 ERA his senior year. His true shining was during Post 88 American Legion ball where he was known to finish long outings. He also went on to play at EIU.
1B: Sam Gubbins: CHS Class of 2017: Gubbins was a two-time All-Apollo ballplayer that led the team in batting average his senior year, set a single-season school record for doubles, and finished as the career-leader in doubles. Gubbins went on to play at Lake Land College.
P: Hayden Birdsong/Jackson Nichols: MHS Class of 2019: This results in a tie because both were primary factors in why Mattoon won a share of Apollo Conference in 2019. One of each started in every conference game, where the duo allowed just eight earned runs in 48 2/3 innings against Apollo teams. Both went on to play as teammates at Lake Land College.
C: Garrette Branson: MHS Class of 2018: Branson was a standout three-sport athlete before he signed with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University wrestling in Prescott, Arizona. Branson started in some role for four seasons and was a pure slugger.
Apologies: P/INF Jordan Webb: MHS Class of 2012: Webb’s senior season was one for the books. Webb pitched MHS to a Regional Championship over Effingham and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings in the team’s sectional win over Waterloo. Before taking the loss in the IHSA Sectional Championship, Webb had a 5-2 record, 2.02 ERA, 39 strikeouts and 21 walks in 52 innings. He finished first-team All-Big 12 Conference.
One for Fun: OF Keagan Brady: CHS Class of 2019: Brady is known for stretching out the entire 28-second clip “Danger” during his walk-up song. Assistant coach Jim Miller once said Brady is full of “swag.” The real story is that Brady nearly lost out on playing college baseball at Lake Land after he was diagnosed with lateral compartment syndrome, a rare condition where pressure within the muscles builds to a dangerous level and disrupts blood flow to nerves. Brady was told he could have lost his foot and two days later he underwent emergency surgery. After sustaining this in the fall, Brady bounced back and started 33 games in the outfield for the eventual IHSA Regional Champion baseball team in 2019.