By Chris Parker
Exeter baseball won 14 games last spring including an unbeaten run through the conference. The Tigers added another 11 wins this past fall. They will look to keep that momentum going with three all-conference players returning and three seniors to lead the team.
Seniors Corey Hilburn (pitcher/shortstop/centerfield), Gretzky Lee (middle infield/pitcher/outfield), Trenton Raney (outfield/designate hitter) and Cooper Patterson (outfield) will be team leaders according to head coach Matthew Tripp.
Hilburn will be the team’s top pitcher coming off a first-team all-conference selection last year with JJ Felipe (sophomore), Wyatt Lemson (freshman) and Aaron Beck as the other top starters. Gretzky Lee, Zach Lee, Kason Nelson and Jesse Eaton are all capable pitchers as well who will throw in many situations.
Hilburn went 4-5 last year with a 2.98 ERA. He hit .339 with 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases.
Zach Lee returns behind the plate at catcher. He was a first-team all-conference selection as a freshman last year while hitting .329 with 11 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Nelson will also see time at catcher in his freshman year when Lee is on the mound. When not catching or pitching, Nelson will play third base.
Joseph Hatfield, Hilburn, Zach Lee, Gretzky Lee, Wyatt Lemons, Levi Gautney, Felipe and Eaton are all candidates for time on the infield.
Gretzky Lee hit .232 with 12 stolen bases last year.
Beck, Trenton Raney, Cooper Patterson, Morgan Zinn, Felipe, Hatfield, Eaton and Kason Arjona are all players who could see time in the outfield.
Beck hit .290 with 13 RBI and six stolen bases last year.
The depth across the field will be a strength for Exeter.
“We will probably have more depth than any team I have coached at Exeter. We have always had some talent but it tends to fall off quickly and you end up with some weak bats in the lineup and/or some questionable defensive positions. I feel we will have everything covered from top to bottom in the lineup and many options in the field to find that winning combination,” Tripp said. “After losing the conference player of the year in Hank Woods, you always wonder who will step up and fill that gap. We had multiple players looking to fill that role in the fall. Corey Hilburn came out at the top of the heap in the fall, but I believe Zach Lee and Kason Nelson still have some more to say about that. JJ Felipe being with us gives us another young man to throw in the running for that game changing type of player. I will end up with quality players sitting on the bench every game. That’s a tough thing to deal with individually, but as a program, that’s an amazing place to be. Having options is a luxury I have never exp
erienced and I believe we will have that this spring.”
Exeter opens the season on Mar. 18 at Miller.
“I expect us to compete in every game we play. We have several talented teams on our schedule and these will be hard fought contests. We must compete and keep ourselves in a position to win every one of them,” Tripp said. “Last year we took the conference championship without dropping a game. Our competitors are improving and they will be prepared for us. The last three district championship games we have left with a runner-up trophy and a sub-par performance. Our district championship performance has got to change. We absolutely believe the conference and district championships are within our grasp. If we will learn to compete in every game we play, in every practice we conduct, in every drill we participate in, these things will take care of themselves. We expect our boys to compete on the field, in the classroom, in the community, and most importantly in life.”