There were challenges going into the 2019 season for the Litchfield High School baseball team, who went 8-13 the year before, but lost seven players to graduation.
Not only were the Panthers missing several players from last year's team, but those players held key positions, with five of the seven accounting for more than half of Litchfield's innings pitched in 2018.
The result this year was some new faces in some new places for the Panthers, who went 6-15 for the 2019 season.
Litchfield did have a few veterans on the team, including three who played in double digit games the year before. Two of those three, Billy Beckham and Jake Jurgena, were seniors, with Jeremy Frazier rounding out the class of 2019 for the Panthers.
Beckham, who led the team in innings pitched and strikeouts in 2018, was the Panthers' workhorse on the mound with 37 innings pitched, 60 strikeouts and an ERA of 3.41. Beckham also batted .260 for the year with a team-high 15 RBIs and one of two Litchfield home runs as he earned all-conference honors for the second time in his career.
Jurgena played in 16 games as a junior and was among the team leaders in runs, but was saddled with injury woes in his senior year and only had 17 at-bats total.
After playing in just eight games as a junior, Frazier was a bright spot on the mound for the Panthers. In his first year of varsity ball on the mound, Frazier had half of Litchfield's wins (Beckham had the other half) and pitched 16.2 innings, often in relief, with a 6.30 ERA.
Sophomore Jacob Frerichs was the only other player entering the 2019 season that had extensive playing time, both in the field and on the mound. The junior-to-be pitched in eight games for Litchfield this past season, striking out 33 batters in 25.2 innings with an ERA of 4.91.
Frerichs made his biggest impact with his bat though, batting .346 with 11 RBIs, 12 runs scored and the Panthers' other home run.
His batting average would be second only to Brady Bishop, whose breakout season in basketball carried over to the baseball field as well. Despite missing a handful of games due to surgery, Bishop, who earned all-conference honors, tore the cover off the ball at the plate with a .444 batting average. He also led the team in runs scored with 14 and struck out just two times in 36 at-bats.
Fellow juniors Clayton Walch and Nick Braasch were also frequent starters for Litchfield, while Blake Rentz and Anthony Boston also saw time on the field.
In addition to Frerichs, Chase Hires and Caleb Jurgena also earned playing time in their sophomore years, while Cam Frerichs also got a taste of varsity in his sophomore season as well.
Like Hires and Jurgena, freshman Blaine Stewart was a frequent starter for the Panthers and even saw some time on the mound for LHS, with eight strikeouts in 17.2 innings. He and fellow freshman Drew Hartzell will undoubtedly play bigger roles next year.
Which begs the question, how will things be next year? If nothing else, the Panthers will have some experience, with seven players returning who played in at least 13 games. What they will need is someone to step into Beckham's role as ace, a job that Frerichs may be ready to fill.
Litchfield does have another stumbling block though, as Head Coach Chris Headrick resigned to take a job closer to his hometown of Bloomington.
The key will be how fast the players can adapt to their new coach and if they can continue to build on the experience they gained in 2019.