Chieftain baseball season takes off with Gilner as coach
The Tonganoxie baseball program has won about 10 games in the last four years and is beginning this year's campaign with its third coach in as many years.
This season, however, more stability will be in the head-coaching ranks.
Andy Gilner begins his first year as the team's head coach, but the veteran THS teacher has been involved with the program since its inception 14 years ago.
Gilner, an assistant for the previous 13, wants to get the Chieftains back to a more favorable tradition they enjoyed in the 1990s when the team usually fielded winning teams and landed a few state trips in the process.
"I think we have to instill in all of them that they can win," Gilner said. "And again, I'm using Tony Pena, but they have to believe in themselves."
Tonganoxie returns a senior class that includes Shane Cooper, Jason Brammer, Nick Volk and Derek Sparks.
For the team to buy into Gilner's concept, the coach needs help from his four upperclassmen.
"The seniors are showing good leadership," Gilner said.
"Sparks is showing qualities of being a leader on the field. I think Cooper is too."
The Chieftains overall have a young squad, but they have experienced youth. A large core of freshmen and sophomores who played last year now have a year to their credit.
That holds true with the pitching staff. Juniors John Volk and Josh Putthoff pitched a majority of innings last year and are expected to do the same. Gilner also is eyeing senior Nick Volk, sophomore Kelton Starcher and freshman Jacob Herrstrom.
"I'm hoping for a lot from our pitching staff," Gilner said.
The Chieftains lost five players to graduation -- Brad Reischman, Chuck Riddle, Kyle Mayse, Phillip Plake and Tyler Robinson.
The team lost some hitting with the exit of that group, but Gilner said this year's team is coming along. Without game experience, the THS coach said it's been hard to pinpoint his top hitters.
"As far as hitting, we're working on it," Gilner said.
The team spends time on some form of hitting each day, but whether players are hitting off the head coach, assistant coach Michael Gilner or a pitching machine, Gilner is eager for his team to face someone else -- an opponent.
The Chieftains were scheduled for a doubleheader on Monday against Ottawa, but rain postponed the games. They will be made up in late April, but Gilner was itching to see how his team stacked up to competition.
"I'm disappointed we didn't play," he said. "We're ready to play."
Gilner, however, will make his debut as a head coach soon -- weather permitting.
Tonganoxie will face Jeff West on Tuesday in Meriden as a tune-up for league play.
"I'm glad we play Jeff West before league next week," Gilner said. "It will be good for us because Jeff West always has a good ball club."
Speaking of strong teams, Gilner sees Mill Valley, Basehor-Linwood, Piper and Santa Fe Trail as some of the tougher squads in the Kaw Valley League.
But no matter who the Chieftains are playing, Gilner is optimistic his team sticks to the basics.
"I hope they just respond to working hard and keeping up fundamentals," Gilner said.