SPRING CREEK – When the Spring Creek baseball team steps on the diamond in 2018, the Spartans will vie to defend their regional championship season without several key faces – taking a slightly different approach.
“We lost our 1-6 hitters from last season. We still have some speed but not as much, and a lot of our power is gone – so we’ll probably have to manufacture runs and play small ball a little more than we have in the past,” said Spring Creek coach Scott Gilligan.
Spring Creek had two players who were chosen as 1st-Team All-State selections last season, graduating both center fielder Jon Jund and infielder Matt Shanks.
Jund provided a lot of pop for Spring Creek’s potent lineup, leading the team with a .528 batting average and four home runs – topping the roster with 17-extra base knocks along with a team-high 12 doubles.
His 56 hits led the Spartans by 15 over the next-closest teammate, equaling the advantage with 49 runs scored.
Jund ranked third on the roster with 32 RBIs.
Shanks finished second on the team in batting average of players with 21 or more at-bats – hitting .410 for the season – driving in 33 runs (second on the team).
Ranking second in several other categories, Shanks closed the year with 41 hits and 34 runs scored.
He showed versatility on defense, playing primarily at third base – shifting to second when now-senior Dakota Larson stepped to the mound.
The Spartans also graduated 2nd-Team All-State players Matt Ferreira and Sheldon Wilkinson.
Ferreira led the Spartans with 36 RBIs, tying for second with two home runs and finishing third with nine doubles and 33 runs scored.
Wilkinson was dangerous with the bat in his hands as a designated hitter, smoking 14 extra-base hits – smashing two home runs, including one during the state tournament – tying for the team high with four triples.
He tied for third on the roster with 32 RBIs, finishing fourth with eight doubles and 36 hits – tying for fourth with 29 runs.
The Spartans also graduated pitcher Matt Millis and right fielder Mitch Owsley, each earning 2nd-Team All-League honors.
Millis closed the season with a 3.24 earned-run average, finishing with a 6-1 record and two saves.
He led the Spartans with 65 punchouts against 20 walks.
Owsley, returning from a torn ACL from the football season, gradually regained his burst – enabling him to leg out 12 doubles (second on the roster).
His speed translated into two doubles (fourth on the team), tying for fourth with 29 runs.
Owsley doubled as a relief pitcher, leading the Spartans with four saves and closing with a 2-1 record with a 3.09 ERA.
Spring Creek will need someone to step up and fill the void left by graduated pitcher Thomas Anderson, who increased his production and became a major factor on the hill for the Spartans.
Anderson posted a 5-2 record with a 3.02 ERA – going the distance in two ballgames – finishing second on the team with 33 Ks.
While the powerful bats and number of athletes who left the program are many, the Spartans actually return a large number of their position players – including gas on the bases.
Senior Dakota Larson is the only returning player who earned All-League recognition last season for Spring Creek – earning a 2nd-Team All-North nod at shortstop.
Larson led Spring Creek’s defense with 55 assists, using his top-gear gas to top the roster with nine stolen bases.
On the mound, he provided several remarkable outings – leading the team with eight wins against just one loss – tossing two complete games.
He finished third on the team with 32 strikeouts.
Offensively, he closed with the third-best batting average of Spring Creek’s regular hitters with a .400 average and closed in third with 40 hits – adding four doubles.
He provided one of the most crucial moments of the season during Spring Creek’s march to a regional title, laying down a bunt on May 12 against Elko in South Tahoe – reaching on an error and allowing Anderson to score the game-winning run in a 7-6 barn-burner in the eighth inning that booked the Spartans’ trip to state and position in the regional championship game.
“We have some guys coming back that hit the ball well last year, Dakota and Jason Painter made some big plays for us,” Gilligan said.
Painter played in left field last season, making some crucial hits at the plate for the Spartans.
In the do-or-die regional final against the Indians on May 13 – down to Spring Creek’s final two outs and facing a 9-7 deficit – Painter picked the perfect time to go deep for his lone homer of the year, sparking a 10-9 comeback victory for the regional title.
Painter’s speed allowed him to tie for the team high with four triples, ripping a one-out, three-bagger with his head down and rounding second against the hold sign of Gilligan against Boulder City during the state tourney at Faith Lutheran High School.
He finished second in stolen bases with six swipes.
Spring Creek brings back its man behind the plate, senior catcher Jake Webb.
As a junior, Webb finished second on the team with 177 putouts – adding 20 assists – throwing down 13 of 42 attempts on steals.
Senior Caden Jangard will be back at second base for the Spartans, finishing third on the roster as a junior with 45 assists.
As the season progressed, he became more of a contributor at the plate – finishing with a .355 batting average and three doubles.
Stepping back into a position he shared last season with Shanks is junior Brock Gilligan, who will take the controls at third base.
In limited ABs as a sophomore, he hit .387 and drove in 11 runs in just 38 plate appearances.
Despite the losses of Millis and Anderson on the bump, Gilligan said the Spartans “have a lot of arms” to go along with Larson.
“We only have about four or five guys who don’t pitch. I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing,” he said. “We have to find out who the best ones are and get innings from the others.”
Senior Thomas Ledford threw well for the Spartans as a junior in limited work (11-2/3 innings) – leading the team with a 2.4 ERA and closing with a 31 record – allowing a miniscule .081 average to opposing hitters.
During his junior year, now-senior Levi Yaunick gave Spring Creek 12-2/3 innings of work, posting a 2.76 ERA.
Gilligan also expects senior Michael Armstrong to factor into the Spartans’ rotation, not allowing an earned run in 4-2/3 innings last year.
To replace Ferreira at first base, coach Gilligan expects senior Jake Oliphant to step into the position, and he is also excited about the healthy status of senior Chris Brunson – who has battled through several shoulder and arm injuries that required surgery.
Brunson was used primarily as a baserunner last year, scoring the winning run in the regional championship in Spring Creek’s 10-9 comeback win over the Indians in South Tahoe.
The Spartans’ first step toward another regional-title season will begin with non-league contests during the Route 66 Baseball Classic, opening the season with an 8 a.m. pitch Thursday against Lee Williams (Kingman, Arizona) at River Valley High School in Mojave Valley, Arizona.