The long awaited opening day and varsity coaching debut for first-year Annawan-Wethersfield baseball coach Logan Willits will have to wait just a little bit longer.

Willits, who took over for Jeff Parsons after an 11-year run as head coach, served as an assistant coach for the prior six seasons. After having games cancelled Monday and Tuesday, the new hope is to get the season started on Thursday, with a projected high in the mid-to-upper 40s.

“We’re getting pretty excited. Quite a few of our guys are ready to go,” said Willits, whose team has yet to hold a practice outdoors. “With the cancellations, it could be a blessing. We’ll actually get to be on a field before we play a game. Inside practices are never great, but we’re getting better every day.”

The Titans bring back a good part of their position player core from last year’s 15-9 ball club, but lack experience on the mound. Out of the 157 1/3 innings throw by A/W hurlers last spring, just 42 1/3 innings of experience are back this year, led by senior right-hander Blake Cheesman.

Cheesman led the staff in earned run average last season at 1.98 and compiled a 4-2 record in his six starts.

“We constantly relied on him to throw strikes and eat innings last year. It was huge for his development,” Willits said of his senior. “We’re planning on Blake taking a step forward and leading our staff, which would be huge for us. He’s definitely pitching to contact and going to induce a lot of soft contact that allows the defense to play behind him.”

Last season, the Titans had five pitchers throw at least 21 innings. This season, Willits is expecting to use a pitching by committee approach.

“My biggest question is how can we replace pitching,” he said. “Last year we could focus on five main guys and I don’t think we can do that this year.”

He is hoping to get some innings from a batch of players including Nick VanWassenhove, Nolan Cone, Zac VanOpdorp, Joe Fisher, Nolan Hicks and Jake Schwerbrock.

A new addition ready to burst onto the varsity baseball scene is freshman Coltin Quagliano. Quagliano saw time as the A/W Titans varsity quarterback in the fall and was the varsity point guard for the Geese on the hardwood this past winter.

“I’m definitely expecting big things from him this spring. We’ve seen great performances from him in the fall and winter and this spring will be the most comfortable he’s felt at the varsity level,” Willits said of Quagliano, who will man shortstop and also see a lot of time on the mound. 

“His travel baseball has been a very high level. He’s got it as a baseball player. He’s got that ‘it’ factor. He’s really smooth pitching, fielding and in a batters box. We’re excited to see what he can do.”

The A/W coach plans on slotting the freshman into the lineup in front of their top two returning batters, Cheesman and Bryce Elias. Elias tore his ACL during football season and missed all of basketball season. He’s been doing cage work as part of his rehab process and is hoping to be cleared for action by next week.

“He set the goal in his head to make it back for baseball,” Willits said of Elias, who led the team with a .410 batting average as a junior and tied for the team lead with 25 runs batted in.

“He’s another kid that is a special baseball player when he’s healthy,” added Willits. “He put in a serious amount of hard work to get where he is. I’m happy for him to be able to compete more at the high school level.”

Along with Cheesman and Elias, VanWassenhove, Hicks and Isaac Frank all return after having solid seasons at the plate last year for a Titans squad that averaged 7.9 runs per game.

“I think our strength is going to be our offense. We’re returning so many guys with varsity experience in terms of quantity of at bats,” said Willits.

A/W earned a share of the Lincoln Trail Conference title last season with Mercer County. The Titans, who refer to themselves as ‘Road Warriors’, have 16 of their 27 total scheduled games on the road this season. Their home opener at Howes Park in Annawan is scheduled for March 31.

“We might not hit our stride until mid-April, but our end goal is to compete in the postseason,” Willits said. “My goal is to compete for the LTC championship along with playing our best baseball when regionals roll around.”

Here’s the full A/W Titans roster:

Seniors –– Brendon Shaw, Bryce Elias, Nolan Hicks, Dane Dearing, Blake Cheesman, Sal Ceja, Coleton Ince, Josh Koenigs, Joe Fisher, Nick VanWassenhove, Ben Buresh, Jake Schwerbrock and David Alepra.

Juniors –– Zac VanOpdorp, Nolan Cone, Isaac Frank, Tyler Nichols and Mason Roldan.

Sophomores –– Ryan Tudder, Austin Earley, Spencer Foes, Josh Sims, Drake VanHyfte and Ryan Goodman.

Freshmen –– Coltin Quagliano, Brady Kelley, Logan Troxell, Tuker Miller, Colton Stauffer, Eli Merrick, Zach Schmidt, Zach Harker, Braydin Conway and Waylon Bryant.

Varsity coaches –– Logan Willits (head coach) and Alex Coppejans (assistant coach).

Fresh/soph coaches –– Todd Hansen (head coach) and Cody Phillips (assistant coach).