The Granite City Warriors baseball team finished with 10 wins in Scott Smallie’s first season as head coach in 2015. Front row (L-R) James Marler, Latrell Smith, Matt Woods, B.J. Niesporek and Jordan James; Second row (L-R) Cory Slinkard, Tyler Wheatley, Collin Barrett, Gabe Jarman, Trent Jones and Brandon Merz; Third row (L-R) Sam Watson, Ryan Houston, Ben Klee, Clay Caldwell, Jamie Roustio; Fourth row (L-R) assistant coach Chris Harrison, assistant coach Brandon Robinson, head coach Scott Smallie and assistant coach Jeff Ridenour.
A year ago, the Granite City Warriors had big offensive seasons from D.J. Miller, Bruce Drennan and Ryan Steen.
Both Drennan and Miller batted over .400 and Steen hit .305 with 20 RBIs. All of them earned spots on the all-Southwestern Conference team.
This year, the Warriors will have to find a way to replace those three players. Miller, Drennan and Steen graduated last year and all of them are playing baseball in college. Miller is playing at Ole Miss, Drennan is at SWIC and Steen is at Lewis and Clark.
“To fill those guys’ shoes is almost impossible,” Granite City coach Scott Smallie said.
The Warriors graduated 11 players from last year’s team, which finished 10-24. Still, Smallie is optimistic that his team will turn in a successful season this spring.
“They’re really working hard,” the second-year Granite City coach said. “They’ve worked hard in the offseason. They worked hard over the winter and they’re working hard right now. We had some great practices and great weather. We’ve been able to go outside and do some things that normally we can’t do at the beginning of the year. We’re still working some of the bugs out, but they’re working hard and we’ll continue to do so. I expect big things out of them.”
The Warriors have nine seniors, five of them played in the junior varsity level last spring. Collin Barrett, Clay Caldwell, Ryan Houston, Jordan James, Gabe Jarman, Trent Jones, Brandon Merz, Cory Slinkard and Sam Watson make up the senior class.
“With all of the seniors that we have, it’s going to be a great time out here,” Jarman said. “We’re going to play and give it our all and see how it works out.”
Jarman is the Warriors’ top returning hitter. Last year, he hit .296 with 13 RBIs. Jarman also will be part of a pitching staff that will include Watson and junior Jamie Roustio. Jarman and Watson each finished with two victories in 2015.
Smallie said he hopes for Roustio to have an injury-free season.
“He didn’t get to throw a lot last year because he was hurt,” he said. “He was coming off surgery. He’s going to be one of our top guys on the mound for us. If we get him, Gabe and Sam going, we’re going to have the top three who are comparable with anybody that we play. They’re going to keep working hard and throwing strikes for sure.”
B.J. Niesporek, Matt Woods, Latrell Smith and James Marler are the other juniors. Tyler Wheatley is the lone sophomore.
After starting off the 2015 season at 3-2, the Warriors suffered a seven-game losing streak and never got back to the .500 mark.
“I looked back at the record and we lost some close ones and we lost some not-so-close ones,” Smallie said. “Some of those close ones, you go back to a couple of plays and if you make a play here and there, you’re right back in the ballgame and maybe win a few of those games. We’re focusing on defensive fundamentals, catching the ball and throwing across the plate and being in the right spot and not giving up that extra base, holding runners on better. We have to do a better job of holding on runners and people stealing and not turning a single into a triple because we can’t hold that runner on. It’s the same formula every year, defense, hitting and pitching. If you do that well enough, you’re going to win some games.”
Smallie said the conference will be competitive this year. The Warriors finished seventh at 2-12 in league play a year ago.
“You start at O’Fallon and Edwardsville and then you work down,” Smallie said. “Alton is bringing a lot back. (Belleville) East and West got a lot coming back, too. But who knows at this point? Everybody’s starting over. That’s the best thing about the new season. Everybody’s starting at ground zero and seeing how far they can get.”
The Warriors will play a pair of schools from the Chicago area this year. They’ll play H.D. Jacobs — which finished third in the Class 4A state tournament last year — March 28 at Rent One Ballpark in Marion and Palos Stagg April 8 at Babe Champion Field.
“We’re not only playing the best schools in the area, but we’re playing some big powerhouses from Chicagoland,” Smallie said.
Collin Barrett INF/P
Clay Caldwell INF/P
Ryan Houston OF/P
Jordan James C
Gabe Jarman P/INF
Trent Jones P/OF
Brandon Merz P/INF
Cory Slinkard P/C
Sam Watson P/OF
James Marler P
B.J. Niesporek INF/C
Jamie Roustio P
Latrell Smith INF
Matt Woods OF
Tyler Wheatley INF
March 25 — at Dupo, 4:15 p.m.
March 26 — vs. Washington (DH), noon
March 28 — at H.D. Jacobs (at Rent One Ballpark), 3 p.m.
March 29 — vs. East St. Louis*, 4:30 p.m.
March 31 — vs. Belleville West*, 4:30 p.m.
April 1 — vs. Rock Falls, 4:30 p.m.
April 4 — vs. Highland (at GCS Ballpark), 6:30 p.m.
April 5 — at Belleville East*, 4:30 p.m.
April 7 — vs. Alton*, 4:30 p.m.
April 8 — vs. Stagg, 6:30 p.m.
April 9 — vs. Triad (DH), 1 p.m.
April 12 — vs. O’Fallon*, 4:30 p.m.
April 13 — vs. CBC, 4:30 p.m.
April 14 — at Collinsville*, 4:30 p.m.
April 15 — at Cahokia, 4 p.m.
April 19 — vs. Edwardsville*, 4:30 p.m.
April 22 — at Civic Memorial, 4:30 p.m.
April 25 — vs. Mater Dei, 4:15 p.m.
April 26 — at Belleville West*, 4:30 p.m.
April 28 — at East St. Louis*, 4:30 p.m.
April 29 — at Chatham Glenwood (DH), 4:30 p.m.
May 3 — at Alton*, 4:30 p.m.
May 5 — vs. Belleville East*, 4:30 p.m.
May 6 — at Jersey, 4:15 p.m.
May 10 — vs. Collinsville*, 4:30 p.m.
May 12 — at O’Fallon*, 4:30 p.m.
May 13 — at Waterloo, 4:15 p.m.
May 14 — vs. Springfield (DH), 10 a.m.
May 17 — at Edwardsville*, 4:30 p.m.
May 18 — vs. Mascoutah, 4:30 p.m.