By Mark Lewis
Local Sports Journal
Last year was a huge year for the Montague varsity baseball team.
The squad finished with a 23-7 overall record, and a 14-0 finish in the West Michigan Conference, and made a run to the regional finals.
Heading into 2014, Wildcat head coach Kevin Buchberger has high hopes his team can make its dominance a permanent thing.
“We are extremely excited for 2014 and want to build our program off the 2013 season,” said Buchberger.
Standing in its way, of course, is a field of teams quite aware of the threat Montague poses.
“With such a successful 2013,” said Buchberger, “the target is on our back and every team will be giving us their best. I expect our team to be competitive in every game and hope to end the season in the top half of the West Michigan Conference. I would love to see a long state tournament run.”
To make that happen, the Wildcats will need to overcome the lack of five departed All-Conference players, including pitcher Tristen Schultz, catcher Brandon Stine, infielders Chase Casebolt and Zach Gaule, and centerfielder Jacob Marsh.
“They were a very experienced group and were also great leaders. We will definitely miss them,” noted Buchberger, “but we also have very good players ready to fill in their positions. We have a very strong core group of returning starters coming back”.
Senior Ben Rupert will broaden his duties from center field, splitting time this season at catcher as well. Rupert is a terror at the plate, batting .380 with 20 RBIs last season.
Another senior returner, Chayce Lohman will join with sophomore Jacob Buchberger to form what could be the league’s best one-two punch from the mound. Lohman pitched a 5-1 record, compiling a 1.42 ERA in 54 1/3 innings pitched, and throwing a no-hitter against Morley Stanwood in the regional semifinal win.
The sophomore Buchberger was even more dominant, going 7 – 0 with a 1.16 ERA in 36 1/3 innings pitched in 2013. The returning All-Conference, All-Area, All-District, All-Region player Buchberger also will man the infield when he isn’t on the mound.
Lohman, the leadoff hitter, and Buchberger, who scored 23 runs and drove 16 more as a freshman, finished with batting-averages of .275 and .349, respectively.
Sophomore Cameron Brayman rounds out the Wildcats’ potent pitching/fielding/batting combination. Brayman batted .288 last year, and was a force at third base, making three clutch diving plays to hold Lohman’s no-hitter in the regional semifinal.
“Cameron didn’t get the post season awards like the other guys,” said Coach Buchberger, “but his play speaks for itself. I felt he was the best third baseman in the area.”
He added, “I expect great play from these returners. As they go, our team will go.”
Other returners include seniors Ryan Loudermilk, Bryce Raeth, David Rogers, and Cody Gjertsen.
First-year varsity players, seniors Chris Carroll and Alex VanVleet, along with juniors Isaac Atkins and Coty Tufts, will contribute, and senior Devon DeVries and juniors Brett Bumpus, Kris Humphreys, and Micah Woller, will supply depth.
“All of these players are very good,” said Coach Buchberger, “and are ready to accept the challenge to keep Montague Baseball on top.”
The conference slate will test Montague’s campaign to repeat as titleholders. Whitehall returns a ton of maturing talent, while Mason County Central, Hart and Ravenna return their best pitchers from last year.
“Oakridge, North Muskegon, and Shelby will also be very good,” noted Coach Buchberger. “I expect the West Michigan Conference race to be tight from beginning to end and any team is capable of winning it.”
Wildcat non-conference opponents include Muskegon Catholic Central, Kent City, Spring Lake, Reeths Puffer, and Grand Rapids West Catholic.
“We will be battle tested come playoff time and playing this level of competition will help us make a run,” said Buchberger.