LIMA — When we last saw the Lima Locos they were doing a celebration dogpile near the mound at Simmons Field.
The Locos had just won the 2017 Great Lakes Collegiate League championship by defeating Grand Lake two games to one in the best-of-three championship series.
It marked the Locos’ fifth GLCL championship (1993, 2004, 2011, 2015, 2017) and second in three years.
The Locos also won the Central Division title with a regular-season record of 30-11.
“It was a great season,” Locos veteran right-hander Cole Baker said. “For a short season, everybody came together and rallied around each other to bring home a championship for this organization, team and fans.’’
There have been a number of changes since that day last August.
First, only two players are back from that championship team.
There is also a new coach.
Former head coach Brian Garman is working with the Anaheim Angels Class A team, the Inland Empire 66ers.
The new head coach is Jared Gaynor, the pitching coach at NAIA Arizona Christian University, in Phoenix.
Gaynor, who is from Cave Creek, Arizona, pitched two years (2010, 2011) at South Mountain Community College in Phoenix.
From there, he pitched two years at George Mason and was an all-Atlantic 10 pitcher in 2014.
Gaynor pitched four years of professional baseball in independent leagues until he had Tommy John surgery last winter.
Gaynor has several philosophies on hitting and pitching in the summer wood-bat leagues.
“I’m a good blend of new age and old school,” Gaynor said. “I don’t believe in one over the other. When it comes to bunting, I think there’s a place for it, but I’m not going to be sacrifice bunting in the first or second inning. But if it’s late in the game, I’m not afraid to drop down a bunt to put a guy in scoring position.
“I’m also very active on the bases. We have a lot of guys who can run and speed is going to be one of the strengths of this team. My goal is to steal two, three bags per game.’’
As for pitching, Gaynor will have what he calls a “conservative approach.”
“I’m not going to run a guy out there for 120 pitches,” Gaynor said. “I’m not here to hurt a pitcher. I want them to develop and work on things. We have a full staff, that I think is fully capable of pitching successfully, so I have no problem using four or five pitchers in a game.’’
Gaynor would like to name a closer and set roles for everyone in the bullpen.
But he added, “I don’t necessarily think a closer should just pitch the ninth inning. Sometimes the game is on the line in the seventh inning. Sometimes the game is on the line in the eighth inning. Whenever I think is the highest leverage situation, that’s when I’m going to go to my best relief pitcher, if he’s available that night.’’
The returnees from last year’s championship team are right-hander Brad Croy (Bowling Green State/Ottawa-Glandorf) and UNOH right-hander Baker.
This marks Croy’s third season with the Locos.
Last summer Croy went 2-1 with a 1.95 ERA and was named to the all-GLCL team. “We’re hoping to get another championship this year,” Croy said. “Playing Grand Lake (in the championship) was pretty exciting. It was a big crowd and a great atmosphere.’’
While Croy has been a starter with the Locos, he closed at BG this year and had five saves.
Baker went 2-0 with a 4.84 with the Locos last summer.
Five players are from the area or pitch at UNOH, including Croy and Baker.
Right-hander Jake Meyer (Spencerville) went 2-0 with a 5.57 as a freshman at Georgia Highlands. In 21 innings, he had 21 strikeouts.
Left-hander Austin Swift (Kalida) was 1-2 with a 4.00 at Indiana Wesleyan. He struck out 19 in 18 innings.
Right-hander Mitch Ebben (UNOH) went 7-0 with a 2.49 in relief for UNOH, which recently returned from the NAIA World Series. He struck out 47 in 51 innings.
One player whose statistics jump off the roster sheet is Clarendon College (Texas) center fielder Mark Castelblanco. He was named to the junior college all-region team and was the conference player of the year.
Castelblanco was 10th in the nation in hitting (.454), third in the nation in home runs (25) and second in RBI (93).
Oh yes, he also stole 20 bases and had an on-base percentage of .550.
Another outfielder with impressive numbers is East Georgia’s Nathan Fancher. He hit .377 with five home runs and 37 RBI. His on-base percentage was .481.
Outfielder Judd Ward hit .264 at Auburn.
Among the infielders, Kennesaw State’s Tyler Simon batted .311 with three home runs and 26 RBI. His on-base percentage was .371.
Danville Area infielder Jaxon Shirley hit .321 with a .395 on base.
Infielder Jarrett Smetana (Kent State) hit .311 for Galion in the GLCL last summer.
“Offensively, I think we’re going to be pretty scary,” Gaynor said.
For the first time, the GLCL is allowing teams to have a maximum two players who just graduated from high school and will be college freshmen in the fall.
The Locos nabbed LSU-signee Cade Beloso, who recently graduated from New Orleans John Curtis High School.
Beloso was named the Gatorade state player of the year in Louisiana. The 6-foot, 220-pound first baseman hit .489 with 14 home runs and 38 RBI, in helping his team to the Division I state title.
The pitching staff has a number of pitchers who will hit at least 90 mph on the radar gun.
Bobby Milacki (Arizona Christian) went 6-5 with a 4.26. He struck out 87 in 82 innings.
Devin Smith (William Carey) went 7-4 with a 3.65. He struck out 73 in 81 innings.
LSU’s Trent Vietmeier went 1-0 with a 4.74 out of the Tigers’ bullpen.
Lefty A.G. Ayala (Texas A&M/Corpus Christi) was 5-1 with a 2.86 ERA in relief.
Another solid reliever is Missouri State’s Nate Witherspoon, who was 1-0 with a 3.24.
The Locos open at Irish Hills (Albion, Mich.) at 5 p.m. Saturday.
The home opener is at 7 p.m., Thursday, June 14, against Grand Lake at Simmons Field.
Reach The Lima News sports department at 567-242-0451.