Riverview baseball raises expectations, targets playoffs

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Monday, March 18, 2019 | 9:36 PM


Riverview baseball coach Bill Gras asked his players during practice to write down one personal goal and one team goal on a note card and give it back to him.

While the individual goals were different, the team goals had one thing in common: make the playoffs.

Gras, in his second year with the Raiders, believes his team can take a big step forward after finishing 5-10 overall and 4-10 in Section 3-2A play last season.

“I think we can contend for a playoff spot, partly because there are new teams in the section that I don’t know much about,” Gras said. “The three teams that are left from the other section, I think we can compete with them. We competed with Apollo-Ridge last season. We lost both games but were still competitive. But with another year under our belt, I think we’ve improved a lot.”

The Raiders graduated only two seniors and return six starters.

Senior Ben Blacksmith returns to head the pitching staff and plays shortstop when not on the mound. He will be leaned on heavily.

“He throws the ball hard,” Gras said. “I think last year we had two top pitchers, and he was one of them. I’m expecting him to take another step forward. I’m looking for him to be a leader for us.”

Junior left-hander Mark McClelland slots in as the second pitcher, and he also plays first base and will be a middle-of-the-lineup hitter.

Senior Noah Black, described as a “fireplug” by Gras, patrols center field.

“He really gives you 110 percent,” Gras said of Black. “He goes 100 miles per hour. He can handle the bat well. If I need him to bunt for a hit, he can. He’s patient at the plate, and he can take walks.”

Sophomore Ryan Aber returns after missing half of last season with a broken ankle. He played catcher last season, but Gras plans on moving him to third base to avoid some of the grueling aspects of playing behind the plate.

Junior Will Franciscus played some catcher last season, but his true position is second base, where he is expected to play this spring.

While most teams only use a few pitchers throughout the season, things could be different with the Raiders, who might use a “committee” some games.

One newcomer is junior Luke Killmeyer, who also plays hockey.

“This is my second year at Riverview, and I had heard of him last year,” Gras said. “I asked around, and he’s a hockey player, and everybody told me he didn’t want to play because he has hockey. My second or third day at practice in the first week, he walked into my locker room and said he missed baseball.”

Killmeyer is expected to play catcher this season, a position that suits him well, Gras said.

Riverview opens its season March 22 at home against St. Joseph.

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