This is the Ledger-Enquirer All-Bi-City baseball team for schools in Class 5A-7A.
Central junior Tanner Belcher was the new guy on a team that was trying to make the playoffs for the first time in four years.
Columbus senior pitcher Cason Greathouse was the workhorse of a pitching staff that had a handful of question marks entering the season.
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Northside coach Dee Miller had big plans of helping his team earn its first region championship in school history.
All three were successful in their respective roles this season. For their efforts, they are the 2016 Ledger-Enquirer Baseball Player, Pitcher and Coach of the year, respectively.
Belcher was, to utilize an overused sports description, the missing piece when it came to players on the field for Central. Close the past two years, the Red Devils had fallen just shy of the playoffs. Not so this year.
While a portion of that credit can go to coach Bobby Howard and his talented coaching staff, ignoring the job that Belcher did down the stretch for the team would be a mistake.
Belcher hit .379 with five doubles, four home runs and 34 RBIs. On the mound, he was 8-1 with a 2.49 ERA and 62 strikeouts. Great numbers, but when coupled with what he did as his team made a run to the state quarterfinals, it sets him apart from the rest.
In the postseason, Belcher hit .533 with 16 RBIs and went 3-0 with two complete games on the mound. After suffering an injury early in the season, the junior felt like that was the time he needed to step up big for his team.
“I felt like I had to lead a little bit,” he said. “I got hot at the right time. I was hurt early in the year, and I just had to come back and get back into the groove.”
Another player whose team relied on him in a big way was Greathouse. Entering the season, Columbus knew of a couple players it would try out on the mound, but the only starting pitcher it was 100 percent sure of was Greathouse, the reigning All-Bi-City pitcher of the year.
His follow-up campaign to a sterling 2015 season was not a disappointment. He went 10-2 with a 2.08 ERA and 96 strikeouts in over 87 innings pitched. Those numbers don’t entirely do Greathouse justice as his ERA suffered a bit down the stretch as his innings stacked up. In a tight region race and then a run to the state quarterfinals, the Blue Devils needed to squeeze every bit of success they could out of their ace.
“I knew I had to work a little harder because we were trying to find some guys early on who would be behind me,” Greathouse said.
He credited his ability to mix up his pitches, the ability to get ahead and the pitch calling from his brother, pitching coach Cam Greathouse.
“His pitch calling was tremendous,” he said. “It helped a lot as a pitcher just to have him help me get better every day. … Getting ahead was the key. It kept me from having to come from behind and allowed me to conserve pitches.”
Northside went 22-9 and earned its first ever region championship, satisfying the call to action Miller gave his team at the beginning of the year: Be the first.
Despite a second-round exit in the postseason, winning a region title in a league that includes Columbus, Harris County, Hardaway and LaGrange was no small feat.
“I’m no less proud of them today than I was that night,” Miller said of his team. “The way our kids bought in, came together as a unit, the work they put in, the trust they had in each other, and the amount of time our coaches invested in it. It was all instrumental.
“I think we were a little better in all areas. Mostly in our kids’ belief that we were good enough to go out and win. And not just believing it, but coming out and practicing that way every day.”