By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
TIOGA CENTER — The two-time defending Section IV, Class C champion Tioga Tigers graduated five starters, including three all-state performers, but longtime coach Bob Seymour returns a solid group for 2017, including three all-state performers.
“We lost a really good group of seniors,” said Seymour, entering his 28th year at the helm of the Tigers.
“We lost Jesse Manuel in center field and on the mound, and Tanner Folk behind the plate — both first-team all-state, and Jake Evanek at second base, a fifth-team all-stater.
“We lost five starters, but with Parker and Pierce (Hendershot) back as the nucleus that helps a lot,” added Seymour. “We’re still waiting for Mitchell (Taylor) to get healthy, he hasn’t been able to practice.”
Senior Parker Hendershot is a two-time first-team all-star, while sophomore Pierce Hendershot is a returning second-team all-state pick, and junior Mitch Taylor earned a third-team all-star nod last year.
Seymour is not as concerned with the new pitch-count rules as many of his peers are, unless the weather becomes more of a factor.
“I don’t worry about the new pitch-count rule given a normal regular season,” he said. “Where it’s going to be a potential problem is when you have a flurry of rain outs and cancellations and you end up playing four or five games in a week.
“Then it really becomes a game of maneuvering and calculations,” noted Seymour.
“I’ve been doing this a long time and I don’t think many of us have ever overused a kid to win game.”
“We’ve always tracked pitch counts,” added Seymour. “The thing is 50 pitches early in the season is a lot different than 50 pitches in May. And, 50 pitches in two innings is a lot different than 50 pitches over four or five innings.”
The Tigers returns plenty of experience on the mound, led by Taylor, the Hendershots and senior Damon Rockwell. Seymour notes he has four or more five pitchers who have JV or limited varsity experience.
A key will by Taylor’s health, notes Seymour.
“If Mitch (Taylor) isn’t ready to pitch that puts more of a strain on the other guys, and puts more of an emphasis on throwing strikes.
“The good thing is we have guys who can throw strikes,” said Seymour.
The Tigers will look for several of last year’s reserves and players up from the junior varsity ranks to fill in the voids.
Junior Justin Rockwell will start at catcher, while senior Damon Rockwell will also see action there.
Senior Tyler Whitmore will play first base with Will Lanning likely to spell him at times
Taylor will likely play second base once he’s healthy, but sophomore Derrick Barto and junior Nick Klossner will see time there until then.
Pierce Hendershot will shift from third base to shortstop this year, while Parker Hendershot moves from shortstop to third base.
Seymour notes Damon Rockwell will be his “utility guy” this season.
“Damon Rockwell will be our fill-in guys in the infield at second and third base, and possibly at shortstop on occasion,” he said. “He’ll start someplace for us and will probably see some time in the outfield as well.”
Nick Klossner and Damon Rockwell will see time in center field, and Taylor is also an option there once healthy, said Seymour, while Nick Cotto and Gabe Martin will see time in left field, and Hugh Singer and Will Lanning will see time in right field.
Seymour’s biggest concern for 2017 is keeping everyone on the field.
“Numbers-wise we’re not real deep right now,” he said. “We’re at 12, but we already have one injured. We’re scrambling right now.
“With the numbers we have, my biggest concern is just staying healthy,” added Seymour.
The longtime Tiger mentor believes this team’s senior core will be a driving force in 2017.
The fact we have so many seniors is a big plus,” he said. “Parker (Hendershot) has been a leader in the preseason, even more so vocally than he has in the past. He’s always been a leader through his actions on the field, but this year he’s stepped up vocally.
“These seniors have been a part of back-to-back Section IV championships, and they want to continue that trend,” Seymour added.
Seymour knows his team is now the hunted, but doesn’t believe there’s any extra pressure on this group.
“I’ve always said it’s tougher to stay at the top than to get to the top,” he said. “I’ve told the kids, we’re coming into the season with a target on our backs. Everyone is going to want to beat us, and they’re going to save their best pitchers for us. They’ll do whatever it takes to knock us off.”
“I don’t know that there’s any extra pressure to win again. I certainly don’t feel any,” said Seymour.
“I’ve always treated every year the same. I’ve told the kids that they’re two-time defending champion, but that means nothing. They have to go out and prove themselves,” he added. “We’ll take it one game at a time, and everything will fall into place.”
Seymour has the same expectations of this year’s team as any other.
“Our goals are the same every year,” he said. “Win as many games as possible, win the division and earn a chance to play for the IAC Small School title, and then make a run at a Section IV title.”
Around the IAC: “Mike Bennett is back at Edison and he’s always going to do a nice job,” said Seymour. “Waverly is always a big rivalry for us. and Notre Dame is going to be tough.
“We only play those teams once, but they’re important games for us in terms of playoff points,” noted Seymour.
“Our division only has four teams again this year with S-VE, Candor, and Newfield, and Candor and Newfield are Class D schools, so we don’t get many points if we win those games.
“We have Sidney and Sayre on our non-league schedule, those will be good tests for us,” added Seymour.
Tioga opens the 2017 campaign this afternoon when it hosts Newark Valley.
IN PHOTO: Tioga’s Parker Hendershot.