Milford High baseball squad embracing challenges heading into 2018

MILFORD – Consistency has been key for the Milford High baseball program over the last three seasons, as head coach Nick Brannan and his Bucs have earned three consecutive DIAA state tournament appearances.

Opening-round losses in each of those three seasons, however, has kept the Bucs squad hungry to take the next step in the tournament.

So far, this year’s squad is embracing that challenge.

“You can’t replace postseason experience, and everyone who’s returning this year has had some, so they understand what it’s like and I think they’re hungry to go ahead and advance,” coach Brannan said. “We’ve played some decent teams in the first round, and we welcome the challenge each year. It’s a struggle playing in a tough conference, our schedule is very difficult, but we’re excited by the challenge of it.”

Early into the 2018 practice schedule, Brannan and his coaching staff have worked hard to introduce the newcomers to the team’s culture and expectations.

Senior Bryce Greenly, shown here batting against rival Lake Forest last April, is poised to be one of the leaders of the 2018 Milford baseball squad (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

“We’re just trying to introduce the kids who are beginning in the program to what our expectations are to try to get them to rise to the standard,” he said. “We have a certain way we want things done and these kids have really taken to it. They’ve worked hard so far, and the hustle is noticeably improved this year, so that’s encouraging.”

“We’re a close team,” senior Bryce Greenly said of the team chemistry so far. “Some of us are closer than others, but that’s something we’re working on out here too. The coaches have really made a point to work on team chemistry. So, there’s a lot of competition. It’s fun.”

After graduating a strong group of six seniors last season, another of the many challenges facing the 2018 squad is filling the void left behind.

“It’s exciting because you don’t replace those kids – that’s just not the reality of it – but what it does is it creates the opportunity for the next kid to come in and take hold of a position and maybe offer something the kid we lost didn’t offer,” coach Brannan explained. “While some kids could hit well, maybe these newcomers offer something we were missing. So, the opportunities are there and it’s just very exciting to see some of these younger kids attack it. Competition makes everyone better, especially if you embrace it. It’s been fun so far.”

In order to bring out the competitive spirit in his players, coach Brannan and his staff don’t currently have a set time table when it comes to naming starters and solidifying the team’s opening day lineup.

“Hopefully by March 22,” Brannan said, with a laugh, when asked when he’d be setting his starting lineup for the season.

Thursday, March 22 is when the Bucs will be opening the 2018 regular season schedule, traveling up north to Hodgson Vo-Tech for a 4 p.m. first pitch.

“Our roster is fluid, and it needs to be because once we start to slot kids into positions, sometimes certain kids will start to get comfortable and think they’re entitled to it. We want to let the kid who doesn’t think he has a chance know that he does. It just builds the competitive spirit, and that’s what these kids need to embrace.”

Although he’s not promising starting spots to anyone just yet, there are a handful of returners who are sure to make an impact both on the field and in the dugout.

Last year’s Bucs baseball squad poses with The Bat after beating Lake Forest, 9-2, in the annual Battle of the Bat showdown April 1 (The Chronicle/Ben Heck).

“We have returners like Chad Reichhold, Brock Hilligoss, Bryce Greenly is a senior, he’s going to be a big player for us like usual. Caden Stanley will be back, he’s a three-year starter for us as a junior, we’ve got some new kids that we’re excited about entering the program either as a transfer or ascending from J.V.”

“So, the beautiful thing is that when kids see there’s an opportunity, it lights a fire under them. And this is the right time – opportunity is very present.”

Coaching staff changes

There are a few changes to Brannan’s coaching staff this season.

“Dan Kimmel is going to be a varsity coach this year,” Brannan said. “I have two alum joining the staff this year: Devon Reed, who is a 2011 grad, is going to be assistant J.V. coach and Nick Jefferson, who is a 2013 grad, he played for me as well, he’s going to be the head J.V. coach. Coach Ryan McNulty, who was a J.V. coach last year, is going to be a varsity coach with us this year.”

Mike Casale is also listed on the team website as an assistant coach for the Bucs.

“We’ve got some great guys who know exactly what they’re talking about,” senior Caden Oplinger said of the coaching staff. “I’ve known most of them since I was in tee-ball. They really know what they’re talking about, so I think they’ll be great with the new guys coming in to build the program up.

“They really gel well with the kids, it’s a blessing to have men like that around because that way you just let them coach,” coach Brannan said of his staff. “They’re going to demand things from the kids and it’s good to just have a different voice from time-to-time. We’re trying to win games one relationship at a time.”

Goals for 2018

“The first goal is to win the first game,” Oplinger said. “Second goal is to win the second game and we’ll go at it from there.”

“Our goal is definitely to win the Henlopen South and make the state tournament. It’s baseball, so after that anything can happen,” Greenly added.

Milford has a scrimmage play day Saturday, March 10 against Appoquinimink and Charter School of Wilmington.

After that, the Bucs will play two more scrimmages, both at home, against Newark Charter (Wednesday, March 14) and Conrad (Monday, March 19).

Milford opens the regular season schedule Thursday, March 22 on the road before the team’s home-opener against Caesar Rodney Monday, March 26.

Sports Editor Ben Heck can be reached at bheck@newszap.com.

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