Along with speed, power and dominant pitching â€” parity has taken a place among the mainstays of Seventh Region baseball.
In each of the past five years a different school has claimed the regional crown and this season, six of the top 25 teams in the Kentucky High School Baseball Coaches Associationâ€™s preseason poll hail from the region.
No. 3 Eastern leads the pack, followed by No. 4 St. Xavier, No. 6 Male, No. 13 Trinity and No. 19 Ballard.
â€œI expect us to be right in the mix,â€ said Eastern coach John Morris. â€œBut Iâ€™m sure thereâ€™s about five or six other coaches that are telling their kids the same thing.â€
The Eagles, who fell to St. X in the regional final last season, are led by a pair of senior UofL signees.
Six-foot-five ace Robert Strader throws a fastball in the mid-80s and went 4-0 with an ERA of 1.0 after moving up from junior varsity late last season.
According to Morris, the lefty â€œwent from a JV pitcher to one of the best pitchers in the state by the end of the year.â€
Jonah Philley (4-2, 2.13 ERA) is second in Easternâ€™s pitching rotation and is also a linchpin at shortstop. Philley hit .336 last season, including 31 RBI.
St. X returns eight seniors and will look to return to the state tournament under first-year coach Andy Porta.
Senior hurler Alex Mercer, a Western Kentucky University signee, went 5-1 last season with a 2.27 ERA, while senior centerfielder Jake Johnson batted .322 and stole 18 bases.
The introduction of less lively BBCOR bats this season will change the game, according to Porta.
â€œI think everybody is in the same boat with the BBCOR bats. You have to play small ball, the gameâ€™s going to change a bit,â€ said Porta.
The bats reduce the trampoline effect during contact and were implemented nationwide this season as a safety measure.
â€œItâ€™s going to make a huge difference,â€ said Morris. â€œWhen balls are hit to the outfield, itâ€™s probably going to cut down 10 to 15 feet. Home runs are going to be doubles or long fly balls.â€
The reduction in pop may prove advantageous for the Male Bulldogs, whose modus operandi for years has been a superb bunting game and the ability to advance runners and manufacture runs.
â€œThatâ€™s what we do â€” get them on, get them over and get them in,â€ said Male coach Todd Driskell. â€œWe try to play percentage and strategic baseball … because we just donâ€™t have those guys that are going to come up and hit it out of the ballpark.â€
PRP King of 6th
In the Sixth Region, all roads to the state tournament must go through Pleasure Ridge Park.
The No. 7 Panthers, regional winners in four of the last six years, are led by juniors Hunter Johnson (P/1B, .370) and Josh Beams (3B, .400).
Veteran Coach Bill Miller is entering his 33rd season and needs only five victories to move to No. 2 on the stateâ€™s all-time wins list.
Hereâ€™s a snapshot of Louisville-area teams:
No. 3 Eastern
Coach: John Morris (11th season).
Last Season:Â 31-8, lost to St. X in regional final.
Key Players: Robert Strader (Sr., LHP), Jonah Philley (Sr., P/SS) and Michael Davis (Sr., CF/P, .405, 21 RBI)
Coach Morrisâ€™ Outlook: â€œWe have a good nucleus of guys; good pitching and defense. Our Achillesâ€™ heel is going to be our hitting and how well we put runs together.â€
No. 4 St. X
Coach: Andy Porta (first season).
Last Season: 28-11, lost to Central Hardin in state semifinal.
Key Players:Â Alex Mercer (Sr., P, .301, WKU signee), Jake Johnson (Sr., CF, .322, 18 stolen bases), Colin McFarland (Sr., P/INF, .333) and Andrew Willinger (Sr., 1B/DH, Florida Southern signee).
Coach Portaâ€™s Outlook: â€œI like our chances. I love our team speed, defense and pitching. Weâ€™re not going to be the type of team thatâ€™s going to make mistakes and run ourselves out of innings and try to do too much.â€
No. 6 Male
Coach: Todd Driskell (17th season).
Last Season: 27-7, lost to Eastern in first round of regional tournament.
Key Players: Trey Simpson (Sr., LHP), Blake Oyler (Sr., P) and Tyler Adams (Sr., DH).
Coach Driskellâ€™s Outlook: â€œWe have a solid team. Almost every single team (in the Seventh Region) has one legitimate pitcher that can shut you down. Weâ€™re trying to be patient and keep things in perspectiveâ€¦weâ€™d like to be playing our best baseball at the end of the season.â€
No. 13 Trinity
Coach: Steven Tompkins (10th season).
Last season: 17-13, lost to St. X in first round of regional tournament.
Key players: Austin Warner (Sr., LHP, Bellarmine signee), Connor Hill (Jr., SS) and Tyler Marshall (Jr., 2B)
Coach Tompkinsâ€™ Outlook: â€œWe are young, but a lot of players gained valuable playing experience last season. With our strength of schedule, we will be very competitive at the end of the season.â€
No. 19 BallardÂ
Coach: David Trager (second season).
Last season: 27-10, lost to Eastern in regional semifinal.
Key Players: Travis Kelley (Jr., CF), Dayton Rausch (Sr., SS, .400) and Wes Phan (Sr., 3B/P).
Coach Tragerâ€™s Outlook: â€œWeâ€™re going to have to pitch well and play defense to compete at the highest level.â€
Rounding out Region Seven (2011 records in parentheses):
Christian Academy (24-10) lost four of its top five hitters to graduation, but returns senior Ian Holbrooke (LF/1B), who notched 10 home runs last season. The Centurions entered this week with a 4-0 record, including a 10-inning win over St. X on March 19.
Whitefield Academy (20-10) is looking to capture its fourth-straight district title and should get a boost when senior pitcher/catcher Cameron Smith (1.91 ERA, .385) returns. Smith underwent ACL surgery in November and is due back soon.
Manual (11-19) will be ledÂ by senior catcher Josh Bynum, who has signed with St. Josephâ€™s College (Ind.).
Third-year coach Josh Wolff characterized Bynum as possibly â€œthe best defensive catcher in (the) region and state.â€ In their second game of this season, the Crimsons knocked off PRP 5-1.
Jeffersontown (18-13) returns seven starters, including senior P/1B Des Avis (.484) and senior P/SS Cody Maerz. Maerz, a Murray State signee, had a 2.00 ERA last season.
Atherton (11-20) returns seven starters including Spalding signee Javier Guerra (P/OF), who recorded seven double-digit strikeout performances in 2011.
Seneca (4-21) is led by Larry Williams, a 1992 alum, and will take the reins at his alma mater. The RedhawksÂ return four starters, including seniors Ryan Fowler (P/SS) and P/2B Ryan Dichiara.
Waggener (14-14) returns four starters from a team that fell to Trinity in the district tournament. Senior catcher/3B Walter Frederick hit .350 last season.
KCD (16-6) will likely get major production from junior P/3B/catcher Will Smith, who hit .458, stole 16 bases and went 6-2 on the mound with a 0.87 ERA.
Moore (18-16) seniors Tyler Richards (P/SS, .323, 15 stolen bases) and Mark Hoff (1B, .378, 30 RBI, 20 stolen bases) headline a team that features four returning starters and a new coach in 22-year-old Trevor Moore.
No. 7 PRPÂ
Coach: Bill Miller (33rd season).
Last season: 31-8, lost to Mercer County in state semifinal.
Key Players: Hunter Johnson (Jr., P/1B), Andrew Bramley (Sr., P), and Josh Beams (Jr., 3B).
Coach Millerâ€™s Outlook: â€œThis is probably the least experienced team that Iâ€™ve had in quite a few years. Theyâ€™re not going to start out as good as weâ€™d like them to, but itâ€™s where you end a season.â€
Coach: Greg Lauder (5th season).
Last season: 23-7, lost to Holy Cross in first round of regional.
Key Players: Blake Beamer (Sr., P/OF, 3.12 ERA) and Dallas Adkins (Jr., SS/2B, .412).
Coach Lauderâ€™s Outlook: â€œAfter losing 12 seniors we will have a very young team with limited varsity experience.â€
Coach: Jeff Bowles (10th season).
Last Season: 24-9, lost to PRP in the regionals.
Key Players: Coulten Maupin (Sr., P/CF, .340, 1.38 ERA), Tyler Minogue (Sr., SS, .376, 15 stolen bases) and Hunter Wood (Jr., catcher, .389).
Coach Bowlesâ€™ Outlook: â€œWe return lots of experience from a 24-9 team that expects to contend for the 24th District and 6th Region titles.â€
Coach: John Hodges (first season).
Last season: 19-16, lost to PRP in the regional final.
Key Players: Hunter Tipton (Sr., P/1B, Bryan College signee), Patrick Remines (Sr., P/1B) and Blake Dewsnap (Sr., catcher).
Coach Hodgesâ€™ Outlook: â€œWe are a senior-loaded team with very little experience. It is a very talented group, but the big question is how will the lack of experience hurt us.â€
Rounding out Region Six:
Holy Cross (1-18) returns senior Chad Conway (P/3B, .405, 25 RBI) after suffering a torn labrum midway through last season.
Valley (3-17) returnsÂ seniors Jake Allgood (P/CF) and Matt Owens (2B).
Western (1-10) first-year coach Jared Baker inherits six returning starters and will look to improve.
Doss (6-21) returns eight starters and will lean on shortstop Sherson Shermon for production. The senior hit .321 last season.
Evangelâ€™s (2-14) senior SS/P Timmy Janes will be the teamâ€™s top arm.
Iroquois (1-8) junior P/2B Desmond Gibbs will lead Iroquois (1-8), which returns two starters and has a new coach in Travis Bell.
Portland Christian (4-14) first-year Portland Christian coach David Blake inherits all nine starters from last seasonâ€™s squad that fell to Central in district play.
Fairdale (12-21) Coach David Hicks will lean on three-sport star Boo Crabtree to guide a squad that is lacking varsity experience. The 6-foot-5, 210-pound junior P/SS is also the Bulldogsâ€™ starting quarterback and averaged 12.5 points and 8 rebounds last season for the basketball team.
North Bullitt (17-21) junior shortstop Clayton Kelly (.364) returns for the Eagles after missing the last 15 games of the 2011 season with a broken jaw.
Southern (14-16) returns seniors Scott Belt (P/SS), Sam Rein (P, INF), Blake Hall (utility) and Chris Fisher (CF) will anchor coach T.J. Gravesâ€™ first season.
Central (10-17) coach Grady Foster is expecting a â€œbreakout seasonâ€ from junior outfielder Kevin Campbell. Kamahl Hess (Sr., SS, .456) also returns.
Schools not listed did not respond to requests for information.
Contact columnist Chris Cahill at firstname.lastname@example.org.