MOUNT VERNON — It’s no secret that Mount Vernon is baseball-crazy, especially for its Yellow Jackets.
This season, like in previous years, there is plenty to be crazy over.
“Our goals are the same every year,” Mount Vernon head coach Matt Smith said. “Win 20-plus games. Win the Ohio Capital Conference title. Win the district title.”
Lofty goals, but attainable. That’s saying something, for a program that lost 10 seniors to graduation — seniors who accounted for about 75 percent of the Mount Vernon offense in 2010.
“We have a lot of young kids that don’t have a lot of varsity experience,” Smith said. “But they’re talented. They work really hard. They’re going to be able to play at the varsity level.”
When Smith accepted the job with the Jackets last fall, he had to hit the ground running. After all, he had some big shoes to fill. Doug Savage led Mount Vernon to over 400 wins, 13 OCC titles and three district titles.
“Coach Savage did an outstanding job,” Smith said. “He helped establish a rich tradition here at Mount Vernon. This is a baseball school. I’m humbled to be a part of that.”
It didn’t take long to get to know the players. Smith knows pitching and defense will be the team’s strengths early on.
“They’re going to have to be,” Smith said. “It’s going to take awhile to adjust (on offense). That’s my biggest concern right now.”
Ben Hoar returns as the overpowering ace in the starting rotation. Last year, he pitched the Jackets past Olentangy Liberty in the district finals. Junior Shawn Maxwell is another solid pitcher who can also strike out batters.
Defensively, Ryan Goetzman and Billy Jackson will split the catching duties at the start of the season. Both should provide some offensive fireworks as well. Nate Shuman’s glove will likely give him regular time at second base, while Riley Swanson proved himself worthy last season at shortstop.
“Swanson is one of the backbones of this team,” Smith said. “He’s got a lot of experience. He has a great pop in his bat. And he works really hard.”
At the corners, Jackson and Brandon Dobbs will compete at third base, while Hoar and Maxwell will split time at first.