Without a full roster yet, the start of the 2019 American Legion campaign for Napoleon’s River Bandits has been up and down.
“We’ve played really well at times and there have been times we haven’t,” said Post 300 skipper Chad Donsbach, who also spent time at Defiance College and Ayersville. “Like the first game against Sandusky, we didn’t pitch it very well but we swung it extremely well and picked it extremely well. Then the next night against Circleville, we did both. Then Monday night against Ottawa on Monday night, they outplayed us all night but we still had a chance to win. But then we ended up giving up three unearned in the bottom of the ninth and got beat 6-5. We’ve been up and down a little bit.
Continued Donsbach: “I attribute that to having guys coming in and out. We’re not at full strength consistently. We haven’t really gelled completely yet because we haven’t had everybody there all the time. I really like what I’ve seen. I think this could be a really, really, really good Bandit team. We’ve got to get to that point where everybody is going to start being there every day and we know the routine and we know the lineup. Everybody plays their role and continues to work hard to change those roles. Once we figure that and get to that point, this team’s going to be very, very strong.”
Due to Antwerp’s run to the state tournament, along with showcases and graduations, the Bandits are waiting to put their full squad together.
On the hill, Napoleon High School rising senior Landon Willeman is expected to be a front-line starter this summer along with Christian Petersen (Patrick Henry) and Caleb Frank (Fairview). Antwerp hurler Austin Lichty is another arm the Bandits are counting on as a weekend guy while the fourth and fifth options in the rotation are being figured out.
“We don’t have those high velocity guys like we’ve had in the past,” said Donsbach. “I think they have the ability to command the strike zone with a couple of different pitches and have enough stuff to get people out. I think we’re going to swing it top to bottom in the lineup. We have a lot of guys that can flat out swing the bat and be able to do some damage against quality pitching.”
Napoleon fell short of a district title a year ago, but still played in the Great Lakes Regional due to playing host to the tournament for the second straight year. The Bandits concluded the year 31-20.
Donsbach expects defense to be a major strength this summer.
“The biggest difference with last year and this year is how we’re going to be able to play defense,” remarked Donsbach. “Our infield is athletic as it’s ever been in terms of up the middle with Jeron Williams (Archbold) and Landon Willeman and Zac Brickel (Hicksville) out in center field.”
The corner infielder spots are expected to be manned by Defiance’s Brandon Shafer and Fairview’s Hunter Bostater playing third base while Bostater’s brother, Austin, and Jake Smith (Napoleon) are on the right side.
“We’re going to pick it which is going to give our pitchers that much more confidence to pitch to contact because they know behind we’re going to make the plays,” assessed Donsbach. “This team can be really, really good. I’m really excited about this team. We’re an older team in terms of seniors so I think there’s going to be a calmness about us because we’ve had some guys in big situations before.”
Donsbach wants to see improvement with his squad’s communication and baserunning.
Dakota Benner (Montpelier), JT Rice (Archbold), Alex Shanks (PH), Levi Gonyer (Otsego), Caleb Farr (Napoleon), Caden Brown (Ayersville), Nathan Vold (Ayersville) and Bryer Bentley (Montpelier) round out the Bandits roster.
Donsbach looks at Pemberville as the top team in District 1 while seeing Ottawa as much improved. The Bandits were schedule to play Toledo last week but the game was rained out. Findlay rounds out District 1, which is a team the Bandits will not see until a possible tournament game.
Whitehouse, another traditional District 1 team, is not fielding a team for the second straight year.
“District 1 is probably the best district in Ohio and it’s going to be tough,” said Donsbach. “You’re going to have to compete hard.”
Napoleon’s regular season is highlighted by its annual journey to Alaska. The Bandits will play in the Alaskan Airlines Series starting June 28 and will finish up the trip on July 7.
The Bandits will also partake in the Gopher Classic in Minneapolis, Minn. July 12-16.