LIMA — The Lima Locos have run a gauntlet of emotions over the last two years.
In 2015 they won the Great Lakes Collegiate League championship on a game-winning double by Billy Lipari in the 10th inning of Game 3 to defeat Hamilton at Simmons Field.
Last summer ended with Hamilton eking out a 2-1 win in the deciding Game 5 victory over the Locos in the best-of-five championship series.
While this year’s Locos team has a new mix of players, strong feelings remain from the veterans.
“Going five games with Hamilton, there’s some unfinished business,” Locos veteran outfielder Ross Adolph said. “We’d like to finish that off and go out with a championship this year.”
In all, six players return from last year’s North Division champion Locos who finished 28-13.
Two others players return from the 2015 GLCL championship team after not playing in Lima last summer.
There’s also a new head coach.
Wapakoneta High School/University of Cincinnati grad Brian Garman takes over for Chad Ehrnsberger. Garman, the pitching coach at the University of Northwestern Ohio, has been the Locos pitching coach the last three summers.
With the turnover on the roster, Garman said this is a new year.
“To say it’s unfinished business, I’m not sure that’s the label I’d give it,’’ Garman said. ‘’This is a whole new team, except for a couple of guys.’’
However, Garman is well aware the Locos have gone 28-13 last year, 28-7 in 2015 and 27-13 in 2014.
“It’s well known that we’re a team that’s going to compete for a championship,” Garman said.
Garman was drafted by the Brewers in the 17th round out of Cincinnati in 2010. He spent four seasons in the Brewers’ organization, reaching as high as AA, before arm injuries ended his career.
He said he’ll spend the first few weeks of this summer sorting out a few roles for the pitching staff.
“Initially, we’ll go out and give a lot of guys three, four innings at a time,’’ Garman said. “We’ll see what they want to do. And at some point, we’ll settle on a five or six man rotation. Right now I’m focusing on what these guys do and what they’re best at.
“We’ll try to establish a closer and bridge guy, the first guy out of the pen, and beyond that I think pitching’s pitching. It doesn’t matter what the situation is, it’s an opportunity for you to go out and try to get better.’’
Pounding the strike zone will be Garman’s mantra.
“I think the best pitch in baseball is strike one. I don’t care which pitch it is,” Garman said. “You have to get ahead of guys. We’ll talk a lot about overall strike percentage and certain counts. We’ll continue to hammer home first-pitch strikes, winning the 1-1 counts and not wasting pitches up in the count 0-2 and 1-2.’’
Garman is not a big fan of playing small ball and going bunt crazy.
“Small ball is going to be rare, to say the least,” Garman said. “We’re not going to sac (sacrifice) bunt. I am a fan of the squeeze and a bunt for a hit. But we’re not going to get the first two guys on in an inning and bunt them over.’’
Team veterans include pitchers right-hander Brad Croy (Bowling Green State/Ottawa-Glandorf), right-hander Colin Gossard (Findlay/Bath) and 6-8 right-hander Jacob Hulcher (UNOH).
Croy was second on the Locos’ in wins last summer at 5-1 and compiled a 1.92 ERA over 10 games, four starts.
“I hope to (pick up where I left off) and I hope as a team we can win the championship this year,’’ Croy said. “That was a hard one to take when we lost in that Game 5, so hopefully we can come out this summer and do it.’’
Added Garman, “Croy was outstanding last summer.”
Also back from last year are infielder Colin Stolly (Ohio Wesleyan/Lima Central Catholic), outfielder Adolph (Toledo) and outfielder Jared Nixon (Alabama-Birmingham).
Adolph hit .270 with nine doubles and one home run last summer. For Toledo, he batted .272 with seven home runs and 30 RBI. He also stole nine bases.
“I had a great summer and I’m looking forward to it this year,’’ Adolph said. “Last year was as good as it gets, other than the title.’’
Nixon hit .323 with 10 doubles last summer in Lima and stole 11 bases.
Stolly hit .238 last summer with four doubles and 18 RBI. He hit .272 at Ohio Wesleyan with six doubles and 24 RBI.
Returning from the 2015 Locos are first baseman/designated hitter/pitcher Cole Gordon (Mississippi State) and infielder Will Kilgore (Georgia State).
“That dog pile was nice,’’ Kilgore of his 2015 celebration. “I hope we can do that again this year. … I loved the fans, love the community and it’s good to be back.’’
Kilgore was the Locos’ regular third baseman in 2015. He batted .320 with six home runs and 23 RBI.
Kilgore missed last summer with an injury. He returned to hit .261 with seven home runs and 19 RBI at Georgia State this year.
“I broke my collarbone and took off the whole summer (last year),’’ he said. Gordon led the GLCL in hitting in 2015 (.400) with seven home runs and 21 RBI. He was used mostly as a pitcher this spring at Mississippi State and went 2-2 with a 4.59 ERA.
“We’ll use him as both (hitter and pitcher),’’ Garman said. “He’s a great addition.’’
Among the catchers is J.T. Thomas (Mercer), who hit .357 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI.
“Obviously J.T. Thomas is a bright spot, offensively and shows some power,” Garman said.
Infielder Parker Upton (Creighton) hit .330 this spring.
Among the outfielders are Garrett Hodges (Kennesaw State), who hit .321 and Terence Norman (Kennesaw State), who hit .318.
Will Robertson (Creighton) hit .267 with three home runs.
The second UNOH pitcher on the team is right-hander Austin Gridley. Both Gridley and Hulcher pitched well in the Racers’ bullpen this year. Gridley had a 1.35 ERA in seven innings. Hulcher had a 1.29 in 14 innings.
“They both were battling some setbacks (injuries). They both are going to be really good for us,” Garman said.
Ohio Northern right-hander Jack Schaller, from Bowling Green, went 4-4 with a 3.04 ERA in 10 starts with the Polar Bears.
UNOH corner infielder Jack Barrie had surgery and didn’t play this spring.
“If he’s healthy, he’s going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Garman said.
On the mound, Zach Graveno (Mercer) went 6-1.
“I’m really excited about our pitching staff,’’ Garman said. “The expectations are high.’’