For the first time in nearly two decades, the Charleston baseball team has a new coach. The Trojans are coming off their first IHSA Sectional Championship in 61 years, but first-year head coach Daniel Bennett believes this team has the talent to make a run at the Apollo Conference and another shot at a regional championship.
Here is a preview of the upcoming season.
2021 TEAM RECORD: 26-10 (3-3)
2021 REVIEW: The Charleston Trojans had a magical season. The team overcame losing its best starting pitcher, No. 1 Illinois recruit Ben Hess, to win 26 games and its first Sectional Championship since 1960. It was the first Elite 8 berth for Charleston in 61 years and the team nearly found a way to qualify for the state tournament.
The team, though, fell flat in the Apollo Conference. Pegged as the top team in the conference, the Trojans finished .500. That included conference losses to Teutopolis, Effingham and Mattoon. With that said, the team made up for its conference woes by making a deep playoff run. After the season concluded, longtime head coach Derrick Landrus stepped down after compiling a 354-193-2 record in 17 seasons at his alma mater. Landrus was five wins from tying his own former baseball coach, Bob Lawrence, as the all-time leading wins leader in CHS history.
KEY PLAYERS: The Trojans return one member from the All-Apollo Team – senior, first-teamer Kendall Pankey. The Trojans feature seven seniors overall – pitchers Conner Woodley and Kyler Sweeney along with Logan Beals, Collin Patterson, Caydin Reed, and Jeb Vanatta.
The Trojans also feature a deep junior class that includes William Applegate, Eoin Dahlke, James Hess, Jacob Morrisey, Josh Sipes, Alec Sellers, and Matthew Ebinger.
“I can’t speak for the players that graduated last year, but I can tell you what they did for the Charleston community was nothing short of special,” said Bennett. “In a crazy COVID year and not being able to play the season before, that team brought life and energy to not just the baseball program but the Charleston community as a whole, and it was fun to follow their post season run last year.
BIGGEST CHALLENGES: The team lost a lot of key players. While Dane Harrington is the only lost All-Apollo player, Cory Spour, Cade Landrus, Ty Courtney, and Peyton Daughtery were all contributing players. Plus, it can be difficult for a first-year coach.
Bennett worked five years as a PE teacher and Athletic Director at a Decatur middle school level. Three years ago, he was hired at Charleston Middle School where he served as a volunteer assistant with Coach Jon Hanner for the CMS baseball team. He has also served three seasons as the eighth-grade basketball coach and spent the last two seasons as the track coach at CMS.
Bennett said finding the right assistant coaches was one of the first things he had to sort out, and he is excited with the personnel he has on the staff.
“Charleston High School has been blessed with a rich history in baseball,” said Bennett. “There have been several great players and great coaches at CHS. Coach Landrus had an outstanding career with CHS. The transition, so far, has been great. The players have been dedicated to our offseason program and I can’t stress enough how helpful my assistant coaches have been. One of the first things I asked in my interview for head coach was whether or not our JV coach, Jim Miller, would be returning. He has been around the game for years and it is a blessing to have a baseball mind like his in the program. Coach Ken Baker, Coach Steve Simpson, and Coach Dayton Simpson have also been with every step of the way making this transition an easy one, and I could not have done it without those guys.”
Winning the Apollo is always the first goal.
“Obviously, our goal for the season is always to win the Apollo Conference,” said Bennett. “We have a great group of players returning this year and we should be competitive. Last year’s team set high expectations for our baseball program and, hopefully, we can keep building on that success.”
KEY GAMES: Charleston opens up the season by hosting Salem on March 23. The first Apollo Conference game will be on Saturday, April 2 against Mattoon. Other Apollo Conference games include at Lincoln on April 9, at Mahomet-Seymour on April 16, home against Effingham on April 30, at Mount Zion on May 7, and home against Taylorville on May 14.
Click here for the entire spring sports schedule, which can also be found on the upper-right of the website.
Seniors: Logan Beals, Jeb Vanatta, Kendall Pankey, Collin Patterson, Kyler Sweeney, Caydin Reed, Conner Woodley
Juniors: William Applegate, Jacob Morrisey, Eoin Dahlke, James Hess, Josh Sipes, Alec Sellers
Sophomores: Aidan Archibald