Last year's state playoffs were not kind to northeast Indiana teams, none of whom made it past the regional finals. But spring returned this week as baseball teams were allowed to start official practices, and games can begin as soon as March 25.
Angel DiFederico, New Haven: The catcher was a Class 3A all-state selection in 2018, batting .466 with 42 runs and 35 RBI. The senior, a Purdue Fort Wayne recruit, has a career fielding percentage of .988.
Grant Besser, South Adams: The senior struck out 21 batters in a no-hitter last season against Northeastern, just one short of the state record. He pitched in 22 of the Starfires' games in 2018, winning nine with a sparkling 0.40 ERA. And he's got pop, too, batting .495 with 18 doubles, six home runs and 27 RBI.
Tanner Clark, Columbia City: A pitcher and outfielder, Clark hit .520 in 2018, scoring 27 runs and batting in 23. The Grace College recruit and Class 3A all-state honorable mention selection had a 2.55 ERA in nine appearances for the Eagles.
Kevin Brown, Adams Central: The senior averaged 21 points for the Flying Jets during the basketball season, but he's signed to play baseball at Saint Francis. He had an 2.15 ERA and record of 7-1 in 12 appearances last season for Adams Central, which went 16-8 but finished tied for third in the ACAC.
Kameron Colclasure, Fremont: Just a freshman in 2018, Colclasure recorded an 0.88 ERA in 11 appearances, striking out 16 and walking 11 in 24 innings. He also batted .336 with an on-base percentage of .407.
South Adams: Led by Besser, who was selected as a Class 2A all-state pitcher, the Starfires look to repeat as sectional champions and make it past the regional round, where they lost to Boone Grove, 1-0, last year. The Starfires are ranked fourth in the Indiana High School Baseball Coaches Association preseason poll.
Fremont: The defending sectional champions lost to Northfield, 3-2, in the Class A Caston Regional title game. Colclasure is just one of several freshmen and numerous underclassmen who contributed to last year's team, which means the Eagles will know what to expect from a playoff run this year and for several seasons to come.
New Haven: The Bulldogs finished in the middle of the NE8 pack last season with a league record of 4-3, but DiFederico is back to lead a maturing pitching staff, as all four of the pitchers who appeared in at least 10 games last season were underclassmen.
Bishop Dwenger: The two-time defending SAC champions have been hit hard by graduation, losing all-state honorable mention honorees Eric Doyle and Eddie Morris, but so have most of the other key programs in the city.
Northrop: The Bruins, who last won a sectional title in 2016, were second in the SAC with a league record of 10-4 in 2018. Northrop received votes in the IHBCA preseason rankings, possibly due to last year's solid team ERA of 2.53.
Can Carroll replace what it's lost? The Chargers went 23-8 and reached the regional championship last season, but they've since lost all-state catcher Hayden Jones and four pitchers with ERAs at or below 3.00. Will the defending sectional champs be able to get another title streak going?
Will Blackhawk Christian rebound? The Braves, who have won 14 sectional championships (and three state titles) since 2001, had a rare down season in 2018, finishing 10-16. With most of the lineup returning, will last year prove to be a blip on the radar?
Who comes out ahead in the ACAC? Five of the conference's seven teams finished with winning records in 2018. South Adams boasts one of the area's best players in Grant Besser, while Adams Central and Bluffton will benefit from senior leaders who have enjoyed success in other sports so far this school year.
Will Huntington North remain the class of the NE8? The Vikings went 6-1 in league play last year as part of a 24-5 campaign but were knocked out of the Class 4A state playoffs by South Side in the sectional championship. Will Huntington North be able to make a deeper run this season, despite the graduation of all-state outfielder Ian McCutcheon?
Getting back to state: If a Fort Wayne-area team does win a state title – or even reaches the championship game in Indianapolis – it would be the first time any local team has done so since Norwell beat Jasper for the Class 3A championship in 2013, when this season's seniors were still playing in Little League.