By Kyle Daubs
Drake’s lyrics “Started from the bottom, now we’re here” might be fitting for the Apollo Conference this season.
After a rough conference season last year, Mahomet-Seymour could make the jump to the top. Despite finishing last in the Apollo last season, the Bulldogs won an IHSA Regional Championship and potentially have the best overall prospect in the conference.
Senior Blake Wolters has committed to Purdue University, which might make up for the loss of two college baseball commits in Nate McFall (SWIC) and Andre Norman (Danville Community College). First-Team All-Apollo selection Chase Wagers is back, too, making Mahomet-Seymour the only team with two first-team selections back this year.
“The whole conference will be tough with Mt. Zion, Charleston, Taylorville, and Mattoon having respectable rosters,” said Lincoln coach August Casson. “Mahomet and Effingham could be the favorites. Both will be good this year with good arms and some contributing players back for another season. Should be a great year for Apollo baseball, up and down.”
Effingham lost top Apollo starter Jackson Lee to graduation, but returns All-Apollo junior Josh McDevitt.
Lincoln, which finished 17-10 for sixth place, lost All-Apollo second baseman Dylan Singleton, as well as two top pitchers – but the Railsplitters return catcher Sean Raffar, shortstop Trent Koehler and third baseman Trey Schilling.
“The Apollo Conference has a rich baseball history and is one of the best conferences in the state,” said Charleston coach Daniel Bennett. “The way I see it is every team in the conference has a shot to win this year.”
At the top from last year are the defending champions in Mattoon, who were 6-1 in the conference. Mattoon lost three key contributors in All-Apollo pitcher Meade Johnson, now playing at Heartland Community College, First-Team All-Apollo first baseman Austin Baker, and starting center fielder Gavin Gonzalez. Both Baker and Gonzalez are both playing at Lake Land College.
Mattoon retains All-Apollo First Team hitter Zach Wetzel and will have a significant amount of varsity experience returning at various positions
“Unsure of the favorite,” said Mattoon head coach Jarod Kiger. “I know that there is some solid pitching returning. Should make for some great conference games on Saturdays.”
Mount Zion finished second last year, followed by Teutopolis. Mount Zion lost both of its First-Team All-Apollo picks, but did return Second-Team selection Ethan Hamrick. The Wooden Shoes are no longer in the Apollo after a one-year trial. Behind them were the Trojans, who lost key contributors Cory Spour, Dane Herrington, Cade Landrus and Ben Hess to graduation.
“We have a group of seniors this year that had a lot of playing experience last year and we have a lot of pitching back,” said Bennett. “The guys that were part of that great run last year bring valuable experience and leadership to this year’s team.”