The past several seasons, hopes have been high entering the fall campaign for Jason Duey’s baseball team at Seymour High School.
Three years ago, the Tigers won 30 games for the first time in school history and captured the program’s first Summit Conference championship in 31 years.
Two years ago, Seymour advanced to the “Final Four” for the first time in program history, won 31 games and earned second place statewide in Class 2.
Last season’s high hopes were doused in the spring by the national COVID-19 pandemic.
This season, expectations have been a bit lessened.
That’s because the 2020 version of the Tiger batsmen is a very young ballclub with only four players with significant varsity experience returning to the fold.
“This may sound very political or even cliché, but as long as we get better every day, then our record this fall doesn’t matter,” Duey said.
“We’re not trying to win a championship in the fall. And we’ve got time to get better. I’ve done this long enough to realize that we are very, very young and very, very inexperienced. There will be lumps taken.”
A year ago, the Tigers entered the season minus four key seniors.
This year, they enter the fall minus five key seniors.
“Graduation has hit us really hard the past two years,” Duey said. “If you just look at it, we’ve lost four kids who were All-State players, plus some others who were all-district and all-conference players.
“For a small school like ours, you often don’t reload. You rebuild. And that’s where we’re at now. We’re rebuilding.”
The good news for Duey is that he enters this fall with two key pieces in senior standouts Nathaniel Hosiner and Brock Pearce.
Hosiner, who pitches and catches, was a Class 2 All-State second-team selection in 2019 when the Tigers placed second statewide. Last fall, when Seymour only played a fall season, he was a first-team all-Summit Conference selection and is a two-time all-league honoree.
Pearce was a varsity starter as a freshman at third base.
Another starter on Seymour’s record-setting 2019 team, he sat out last season with an arm injury. But he’s back this fall and will pitch while also playing first and third base.
“One thing we do have that’s a positive is senior experience on the mound with Brock and Nathaniel,” Duey said.
“Both have won several varsity games in the past.”
Offensively, those two will join forces with the Tigers’ other two returning lettermen to give Seymour a solid offensive nucleus this fall.
The other two lettermen are senior Scott Helms, the hero of Seymour’s 2019 state-semifinal win over Silex, and junior Payton Bryant, who earned all-Summit honorable-mention accolades last season.
Helms will play center field for the Tigers.
Bryant will play everywhere.
“Payton is our No. 3 pitcher, he’ll catch when Nathaniel isn’t behind the plate, and he can play about every infield position for us,” Duey said. “He’s very versatile.
“Scott is an experienced outfielder. He’s been in the program for a while, he’s played in big games, and he’s really stepped up for us this fall. I really expect to see him have a big season for us.”
Other than the aforementioned four, there is virtually no other varsity experience for the Tigers on the squad’s 19-player roster.
“The only places we’re set in stone are the four lettermen we’ve talked about,” Duey noted. “That means there are five spots up for grabs in our varsity lineup.”
However, Seymour’s skipper said he’s not discouraged.
“This group of boys is eager to learn,” he said.
“We’ve very inexperienced. There’s not a lot of varsity experience on this team. But I’ve got kids out here in the heat working hard every day. They’re getting better.”
Not in action this fall is sophomore Matthew Benson, who is out with an injury. Benson was a varsity starter as a freshman last fall. Duey said he’s optimistic that Benson, who can play in the infield or outfield, will be healthy in the spring.
The team’s fourth senior is Joe Wiegant, while Bryant is joined in the junior class by Bryson Benson, Caleb Cook, Brycen Owens and Canaan Park.
The six-person sophomore class includes Derek Akers, Matthew Benson, Cohen Koop, Carter Owens, J.J. Valbuena and Lawson Wright.
There also are four freshmen — Brayden Baker, Cason Hickey, Luke Rasmussen and Mason Skyles.
“A couple of the freshmen, Brayden Baker and Luke Rasmussen, will likely be varsity starters,” Duey said.
“I also expect for all of my juniors to see a lot of varsity time, as well as a couple of the sophomores.”
When the Tigers’ fall season opens at Spokane next Monday, Duey said a potential starting lineup would include Hosiner as pitcher, Bryant as catcher, Bryson Benson at first base, Rasmussen at second base, Baker at shortstop, Pearce at third base, Cook in left field, Helms in center field and Brycen Owens in right field.
“That can change, without a doubt,” Duey said. “But if I had to set a lineup today, that would be the lineup.”
Duey is in his fifth year as Seymour’s head coach and is joined in the dugout by assistant coaches Josh Cook and Scott Nicholson.
“I’ve got two great guys and great coaches with me on my staff,” Duey said. “As we are getting an inexperienced team ready for varsity baseball, having their help is so valuable.”
After traveling to Spokane for the season opener Monday, Seymour plays host next Tuesday to Billings.
Both games start at 4:30 p.m.
“We’ll be learning this fall, getting better by playing,” Duey concluded.
“Our schedule doesn’t do us any favors as it’s a tough one, and we play in a very strong conference. But I really do like the attitude and character of this group of boys. We’ll get better as the season progresses.”