Deer Lakes baseball will be young but won’t lack experience

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Sunday, March 21, 2021 | 4:07 PM


The last time the Deer Lakes baseball team took the diamond, Justin Brannagan was a freshman and Ryan Rodgers was a sophomore.

Now, a year after the coronavirus pandemic canceled the spring sports season, Brannagan and Rodgers are the only two returning letter-winners for the Lancers. Although his team lacks varsity experience, Deer Lakes coach Josh Tysk, who is entering his fifth season at the helm, says the Lancers have plenty of baseball experience to go around.

“As far as experience goes, we don’t have a lot because we lost a lot,” Tysk said. “When you have those kids who were going to play a lot as juniors or the guys who made the varsity squad before we got shut down who would’ve played a good bit as sophomores, it’s difficult.”

“We’re fairly young or inexperienced varsity-wise, but we have plenty of years of baseball experience since these guys have been younger.”

As a freshman, Brannagan was one of the top run producers on an 11-9 Lancers squad in 2019. He hit for a .317 average and drove in 20 RBIs on 20 hits. He also recorded 20 innings pitched, developed a 2.41 ERA and only allowed seven earned runs.

“He’s definitely a guy that we are going to have to rely heavily on, and he’s going to have to take on a much bigger role as far as somebody on the mound,” Tysk said. “But I think he’s ready for that, and he’ll probably hit in the heart of our order. He did that two years ago as a freshman, and he basically hit in the two-hole all year long and started every game. We’re going to need to rely on his experience.”

Rodgers was another big contributor for the Lancers as a sophomore. With the speed that he showed during soccer season and the Lancers in need of an extra outfielder, Rodgers made a transition from the middle infield to right field two years ago and started almost every game for the Lancers while hitting at the bottom of the order.

This season, Tysk said he’ll move back to the middle infield and provide the Lancers with a top-of-the-order presence.

“This year I think we are the opposite: We have graduated so many infielders through the last two years that now he is going to be able to move back in because we have some guys who are going to be able to step up and play the outfield,” Tysk said.

Outside of Rodgers, the Lancers only have three seniors, but all three should play.

Josh Walker will see some quality time in the infield, and he could pitch, along with AJ Pagone.

With the missed season, some of the Lancers lost out on a year to get used to pitching at the varsity level. But Tysk said he’s tried to give his players as many opportunities as possible to face live pitching during their downtime.

“You’re going to see better varsity pitchers this year so I think that’s an area that we’re concerned with, and we might have to persevere in adjusting to a higher-quality pitching staff on the opposite end,” Tysk said. “I think that’s the biggest downfall to not being competitive, but this offseason our pitchers have countless live at-bats against our hitters and vice-versa. So, we’ve had several opportunities to see a lot of live competition at-bats, even though it’s in a practice setting.”

Brannagan and southpaw Jacob Danka will be the Lancers’ one-two punch on the mound to start the season this year, and Pagone will be a quality arm out of the bullpen. He also could receive a spot start or two.

But, the versatility of the Lancers pitching staff is something Tysk believes will be one of their strengths.

“We don’t have a guy who throws 90 miles per hour, but we have some kids who know what they do best and they are able to work the strike zone against good hitters because they understand what they are capable of,” Tysk said.

Greg Macafee is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Greg by email at gmacafee@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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