The 2014 baseball season is already here no matter how cold it is outside. Once again, Chester County and the Ches-Mont League looks like one of the best areas and leagues in the entire state with defending District 1 champion Coatesville leading the way. Conestoga, West Chester Henderson and Malvern Prep also are strong programs.
In the Ches-Mont National Division, the Red Raiders have North Carolina State-bound pitcher Brian Brown, one of the best arms in the state. Downingtown East, which has a new coach in Pete Susi, should once again be major players in the Ches-Mont race. Downingtown West has pitching in abundance with Sean Eshe leading the way. The Whippets went to the second round of the district playoffs last year and once again should be in the playoff mix.
West Chester East has a new leader in Scott Kelley, who takes over for Dean Owens. The Vikings will rely on junior pitcher Culver Hughes. Avon Grove also boasts a stopper on the mound in Eric Ligda and a new coach in Dave Whitcraft. West Chester Henderson, the defending Ches-Mont National champs have a lot of seniors and with Luke McNichol leading the Warriors, expect another great season from the Warriors.
Bishop Shanahan took major strides last year under first-year coach Brian Boyko last season. The Eagles have talent and Brendan March and Alex Savini should put them in the mix of the National race.
The American Division will be led by Unionville with Virginia Commonwealth-bound Alex Ward and Drew Jarmuz. The Indians will try defend their American Division crown and will look to avoid being ousted in the first round of districts again.
The main contender to Unionville looks to be West Chester Rustin. Junior shortstop Jimmy Brennan is one of the best players in the area and will key a potent offense. New coach Andy Fowkes should give new life to Kennett and Oxford's new head man, Andy Wendle, will attempt to revive the program behind Kyle Price.
Great Valley lost six players to graduation and will be very young. But with coach Matt Schultz in charge, do not discount the Patriots, who always seem to be in the thick of the American race. At Octorara, coach George Hadfield has stabilized the program and won't be an easy game for anybody.
Outside the league, Malvern Prep has a lot of Division 1 talent that will play arguably the toughest schedule around. Pitcher Gardner Nutter is very solid at the No. 1 spot.
At Church Farm, Greg Thompson's squad lost a lot of pitching, but should be a player in the Bicentennial League race.
Devon Prep has pitcher Zach Schellenger, who is headed to Seton Hall, but will likely be drafted very high in the June Major League Baseball Amateur Draft. The Tide are the favorites to win the Bicentennial and could end up at Penn State for the Class A finals.
Conestoga has Penn State-bound shortstop Tom Richter and the Born twins -- Andrew and Stephen -- and that should be enough to win the Central League and go a long way in the district playoffs.
So, even with the many coaching changes in the Ches-Mont League and the loss of talent to graduation, once again the area is on top as far as quality and quantity of baseball talent. It would be no surprise to see one, if not two or three teams, at Penn state in June for the PIAA finals.
To area fans, it means that it is time to get out and enjoy the boys of spring and know that you are watching the best of the best in high school baseball.