Editor’s note: a previous version of this article stated that Milan won the Division 2 state title in 2009. The error has since been corrected.
The 2015 Milan Big Reds baseball team had a successful season, winning the Huron League title for the first time in 6 years and winning the second-most games in program history. The team’s 30 wins were only four shy of the 2009 Big Reds.
Last season ended in a district final loss to Adrian at Chelsea High, marking the second straight campaign that wrapped up on the Chelsea baseball field.
The Big Reds will have to replace the contributions of Isaac Grubke, Beau Hotz and Thomas Lindeman; Grubke and Hotz were key pitchers for Milan in 2015 – throwing the second and fourth-most innings, respectively – as well as producers on the offensive end; Lindeman was a team leader in six offensive categories.
In addition, Cody Brierley and Konrad Jeppesen will not return to the team. Brierley decided to focus on his future in football, as he will play for Concordia University Ann Arbor next year, while Jeppesen injured his arm in the fall and needed Tommy John surgery. Brierley was a power threat for Milan in 2015, while Jeppesen was one of six Big Reds to pitch 23 or more innings last year and held the second-lowest ERA (1.28) of any pitcher.
Head coach Adam Gilles, now in his 15th season at the helm, has high expectations for his team. “We always have lofty expectations,” he said. “We were the (Huron) League champs last year, and that’s what we want to do again. Losing three of our top four hitters hurt, but we have a lot of experience coming back.
“Our pitching depth is the biggest question mark right now. We have a lot of guys who can throw, but only Zach (Allen), Jaden (Riling) and Eric (Price) are proven varsity starters. I think our defense and offense will be solid.”
Gilles is not concerned with the team’s positional depth. “We have a lot of athletes,” the head coach said. “When you have athletes on your team, that means they can play a lot of positions.”
The team will face some challenges heading into the season, as top pitchers Allen and Riling – who Gilles considers to be part of the top three in the rotation – have been dealing with arm fatigue. The timetable for their returns are unknown. Despite the questions with the rotation, Gilles is more concerned with the health of the duo. “We don’t know how long it will be until they’re ready (to play again),” he said. “Not knowing (when they will be back) is the issue. After that, we have a lot of guys who can pitch, but don’t have much experience.”
The head coach plans on using pitchers by committee until Allen and Riling return. Despite the uncertainty, Gilles hopes that they can each throw an inning on Saturday, when the Big Reds play a doubleheader against Ann Arbor Gabriel Richard. “I’d really like to have them back by April 11,” he said.
The Huron League conference schedule begins that day with a road contest against Monroe Jefferson.
The Big Reds will also be shorthanded heading into the first few games, as Aaron Taylor suffered a head injury in practice and will miss at least five days, ruling him out for the team’s first 4 contests.
The 2016 season is scheduled to begin on Wednesday with a road doubleheader against Ypsilanti; the opening contest is set for a 4 p.m. start.
The home opener against Taylor Kennedy on April 6 will also be at 4 p.m.
* * *
Coaching staff: Head coach Adam Gilles (15th season, 324-142-4 record), assistant coaches Blue Livingston, Vaughn Price and Randy Smith
Saying goodbye: Four seniors graduated from the 2015 squad, three of whom were major contributors. Isaac Grubke, Beau Hotz and Thomas Lindeman provided a lot of offense; Lindeman led the team in six offensive categories, while the former two were second and fourth in innings pitched in 2015.
Welcome back: Milan will feature 12 returning players: Aaron Taylor (P/UTIL, Sr.), Eric Price (P/OF, Sr.), Chase Riling (C, Jr.), Dan Armstrong (P/2B/3B/SS, Sr.), Jordan Sparks (P/2B, Sr.), Jared Grubke (C/3B, Jr.), Jackson Pahle (P/1B, Sr.), Jaden Riling (P/2B/3B/SS, Soph.), Brendan Ferenczy (P/OF, Sr.), Zach Allen (P/2B/SS, Sr.), Daniel Norzaimi (C/OF, Sr.), and Jordan Hendricks (P/1B, Sr.).
Ten of the twelve are in their second season playing varsity.
Allen and Chase Riling provide the most experience; Allen will be in his fourth year on the varsity level, while Riling will be in his third.
New faces: The Big Reds have three new players joining the varsity team – Josh Hall (OF, Sr.), Antonio Walker (P/2B/SS/OF, Soph.), and Denver Jackson (P/1B, Jr.).