BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – Fort Madison Head Coach Ron Walker is happy to be playing baseball again.
Iowa is the only state in the nation currently rolling out summer high school sports, and the second year skipper is carrying a big smile on his face.
“We’re playing baseball. I can’t complain at all,” Walker said this week.
The Bloodhounds are coming off the first winning season in 15 years with a 16-15 overall record last summer, despite just a 6-10 record in the Southeast Conference.
The Hounds ended the year with a 4-7 loss to conference champion Fairfield. A game where the Hounds led 4-2 going into the bottom of the fourth. The Trojans graduated 11 players off their 26-5 squad.
Fort Madison loses just two seniors in Dayne Cordray and Jordan Gerdes. Walker said the Hounds will have their Nos. 2, 4, 5, 7 hitters back and will have some really fresh arms, and talented underclassmen.
“Coming out I didn’t know what we were going to get healthwise and didn’t know what your mindset would be. Let’s face it, we’ve all gone through some adversity the last few months with the whole COVID thing,” Walker said.
“But I think some of them took it upon themselves to come and condition. They want to be here and are buying in to what we’re doing this year.”
Walker will be looking for Brandon Reichelt again to help set the pace offensively this year, along with Jason and Vasin Thurman, and Jace Burgher as the upper classman. Then the team gets pretty young, but not without experience.
Landes Williams hit .221 as a freshman last year and started 80% of the Hounds games behind the plate. Reichelt led the team hitting .339 while suffering through some injuries and illnesses during the season. He also led the team in RBI with 24 and had five doubles.
Jason Thurman hit .255 with 18 RBI, while Vasin Thurman hit .250 with 19 RBI. Burgher was the only other Bloodhound to hit over .200 at .204.
On the mound, Fort Madison will miss the arm of Corday, who sported a 2.40 ERA going 5-3 with 36 strikeouts. But Walker said Jason Thurman, Burgher and Reichelt will see time hurling this year. But Matt Hopper, Matt Steffensmeier and Landes Williams will get a good chunk of innings as well.
“We’re gonna see. Brandon will give it a run. Jace, Jason Thurman, Landes and Kane Wiliams, Hopper, Steffensmeier, they’re all gonna get time,” Walker said.
“But that’s gonna be the question this year. Pitch counts are down from where we normally come in because we missed our March workouts. We’ll take care of the arms and walk a little cautious early on.”
Tate Johnson started every game as a freshman in right field last year and saw some action in center. Walker said he’s trying some different things this year, but will piece the team together to take advantage of different player skills sets.
Two-time Iowa all-stater Chris Ramirez, a member of the Hounds’ 2000 3A state championship team spoke to the Hounds earlier this week. Ramirez was named the 2018 Division II National Coach of the Year by the Collegiate Baseball Writers’ Association and is currently the head coach of Lenoir-Ryhne University in North Carolina
“The kids got to visit with Coach Ramirez earlier and he talked about being moved his sophomore year from 3rd to center field and he wasn’t happy at all about that move,” Walker said. “But he learned that made the team better and they won a state title the next year.”
Walker said Reichelt may move to 1st base this year, where he saw limited action last year behind Vasin Thurman, who had just one fielding error in 217 chances last season. Thurman will move to third.
Landes Williams will handle a majority of the time behind the plate in his sophomore year, and could be backed up by freshman Kane Williams.
“Other kids that are gong to fill some roles for us and help us out along the way,” Walker said. “I”m excited to see what they do.”
The Hounds have 28 on the roster, and just two years out from having to cancel the junior varsity schedule have way through the season, the Hounds are fielding a full junior varsity squad and a full freshman squad that will have six games this year.
The Bloodhounds start the season Monday night at Mt. Pleasant with a double header at the Mapleleaf Athletic Complex. Then travel to Burlington for a 7 p.m. game with the Grayhounds, who join Fort Madison, Mt. Pleasant, Fairfield, Washington and Keokuk in the Southeast Conference this year.