ARGENTA — Argenta-Oreana baseball coach Eric Gebben has some large spikes to fill.
The 35-year-old first-year head coach is replacing long-time coach Tom Saunches, who retired following last season. Saunches coached the Bombers for 34 seasons — nearly as long as Gebben has been alive — and won 15 regional titles and sent four teams to the state tournament along the way.
But you don’t have to tell Gebben that — he was there right along with Saunches.
Gebben served as Saunches' assistant, first on the Bombers' football team, then for 10 seasons on the baseball team. It's evident that he wants to continue Saunches’ level of achievement in his team’s mantra — new era, same expectations.
“Tom showed me the ropes and I’ve had a full decade of experience under Tom here. He showed me that if you want to master something, you can never stop being a student of it, and I hope to carry that on here,” Gebben said.
While they may have a similar coaching philosophy, Gebben and Saunches couldn’t be more different in their backgrounds. Saunches was a minor league catching prospect for the Pittsburgh Pirates in his youth, while Gebben is brutally honest about his lack of baseball talent.
“I’m a person of no athletic ability. I’m a baseball fan, but in baseball I had too high of a fear of failure and baseball is a sport of failure,” Gebben said. “When I was a kid that wasn’t something I could comprehend very well, and when I first got here as an assistant under Tom that was something he stressed with his players. You can’t play baseball with a fear of failure because the odds are not in your favor.”
Gebben inherits a Bombers team that reached the regional finals last season and is an experienced team, which is ideal for a coach in his first season.
“It’s a veteran ball club, there is no doubt about it. We have eight seniors. It’s a blessing to have a group of seniors that have their heads on straight and are mature for their age,” Gebben said. “They make my job a lot easier than it has to be.”
The pitching staff is led by a dynamic duo of multi-sport athletes — Kyle Rigsby and Skyler Peterson.
“Kyle and Skyler are best buddies and it is like Batman and Robin and they lead in different ways. Kyle has the ability to be a vocal leader and Skyler is quieter but you can never doubt his work ethic. He’s going to come out and do everything you ask and is very talented in leading by example," Gebben said.
It's hard for opposing teams to antagonize Rigsby when he's on the mound.
"Kyle is a kid that can control his emotions and with his experience it makes him a tough kid to rattle regardless of the opponent or the game situation," Gebben said.
Rigsby's confidence springs from knowing his own strengths and weaknesses.
"I think I’ve improved in knowing what I want to do to get guys out — knowing how to attack to be successful as a pitcher," he said. "No moment is ever too big as you take it when you remember it’s a game and you have to put your best foot forward."
Rigsby prides himself on his fastball while Peterson depends on his hook.
"My curve ball is looking pretty good this season. It is what I’ve been working on," Peterson said. "Kyle is a great leader and he brings a lot of energy to every practice and every game."
Rigsby said the transition from Saunches to Gebben has been seamless.
"(Coach Saunches) was very knowledgeable of the game and he knew everything. We had a common respect — he knew what he could expect of us and what we could expect from him," Rigsby said. "(Coach Gebben) is a really upbeat guy and pretty charismatic and he brings a lot of energy to each game."
With the new era in place, now it is time to reach those expectations that Argenta baseball has placed on itself.
"We are shooting to win the (Little Okaw Valley) and regionals," Rigsby said. "It’s going to be surreal that my senior year is starting and baseball is probably my favorite sport to play in. I'm really excited for the season and I’m ready to get going."