By Kyle Daubs
Who cares if it’s a rivalry game right off the bat?
That is the feeling for both Mattoon and Charleston baseball programs. Charleston hasn’t played a game since March 17 due to inclement weather, while Mattoon played its first game of the season on Monday for similar reasons. On top of that, the Green Wave haven’t been able to play on their home field because of renovations.
Despite all of the adversity, CHS head coach Daniel Bennett said Saturday morning’s game at CHS is going to be a good game.
“I can’t speak on Mattoon’s team but any time these two schools get together you know you it’s going to be a good one,” said Bennett.
Charleston is 1-0 on the season after a 12-2 win over Westville. The Trojans return senior First-Team All-Apollo selection Kendall Pankey. The Trojans feature seven seniors on the team, including pitchers Conner Woodley and Kyler Sweeney as well as Logan Beals, Collin Patterson, Caydin Reed, and Jeb Vanatta.
The Trojans also feature a deep junior class, which includes William Applegate, Eoin Dahlke, James Hess, Jacob Morrisey, Josh Sipes, Alec Sellers, and Matthew Ebinger.
“The key for us to win is being able to find our timing at the plate and minimizing the mistakes on defense,” said Bennett. “We haven’t played a game since March 17 due to weather, but it’s March, and we can’t make excuses. Our kids need to be gamers, obviously, it’s very early in the season still but we have a tough test to start our conference schedule. Mattoon has a great baseball history and we are looking forward to the challenge to see where we are at as a team.”
Mattoon began its season with a 9-8 loss to Olney East Richland in an error-filled game. The Green Wave outhit the Tiger 12-5 but committed five errors.
“In order for us to be successful in the game, we must limit our own mistakes,” said MHS coach Jarod Kiger. “A majority of the shortcomings we had in (Monday’s) game were self-inflicted. We have a few days to iron out some of these items. I was really proud of the way we continued to battle and our approach at the plate, as we compiled 12 hits. As this is the beginning of the conference season, guys will be excited to go and we must keep our composure and control what we can control.”
Gone from last year was unanimous All-Apollo pitcher Meade Johnson, who is now playing at Heartland Community College. Meade also led the team in most hitting categories. Mattoon also lost its second-leading hitter, First-Team All-Apollo first baseman Austin Baker, its speedy starting centerfield in Gavin Gonzalez and infielder Drew Coffey.
The Green Wave, though, returns First-Team All-Apollo designated hitter Zach Wetzel, who could also see playing time at first base. Cooper Bergstrom is set to catch for his third varsity season.
Last year, Mattoon’s Meade Johnson outpitched MLB prospect, Ben Hess, in the game that counted towards the conference standings. This year, it’s going to be a new set of players for both teams that lost a core group from last year’s team.
“As far as our opponent, it is difficult to say what stands out,” said Kiger. “They, like many others, have not had the opportunity to play many games. This limits the information we have on certain players who are having early season success.”
Who: Charleston vs. Mattoon
Records: Charleston (1-0, 0-0) vs. Mattoon (0-1, 0-0)
Where: Marty Pattin Field
Time: 10 a.m.
Players to Watch: Jeb Vanatta (CHS senior), Connor Woodley (CHS senior), Kendall Pankey (CHS senior), Zach Wetzel (MHS senior), Cooper Bergstrom (MHS senior), Kaiden Rice (MHS senior)