Written by J. Patrick Eaken
If opponents thought they were going to be able to roll over Clay’s baseball team this season based on the fact the Eagles lost 10 seniors off last year’s squad, they were sorely mistaken.
Coach Karl Knierim’s squad is a threat to defend its City League title and claim a third straight district championship.
Through Wednesday, the Eagles were 13-6 and 8-1 in CL. Their only league loss is a 9-3 setback to Start on April 23.
On Monday, Clay moved a step closer to qualifying for the league’s final four with a 3-1 victory over Central Catholic. It was the Eagles’ fifth straight CL win.
“I think we’re there (final four),” Knierim said. “It’s not official. We have one loss. St. Francis has two. Start and Central both have two. We have Woodward and St. Francis yet. We should be in good shape.”
The Eagles are in first place despite returning just three starters from a year ago. Knierim, however, said Clay isn’t taking anything for granted just yet.
“One day can change things a lot,” he said, “but I’m not surprised. With a lot of (CL) seniors leaving last year, we weren't real sure where the league was going to be.
“We’ve gone out and played hard and done good things when we needed to and put ourselves in good position. A lot of teams lost some good players.”
Mike Romano, Ross Knierim and Adam O’Shea are the Eagles’ returning starters and have played well this season along with a strong group of younger players who have proven their value at the varsity level.
“That's been a big, big plus,” coach Knierim said.
Romano, an outfielder/first baseman, is hitting .423 with 18 RBI from the clean-up spot. He was a second-team all-league outfielder last season.
“He’s had a lot of clutch hits for us this year,” Knierim said. “Mike’s very capable of doing that. He’s a three-year starter for us and has a great work ethic and a lot of experience.”
Ross Knierim, a pitcher and first-team All-CL shortstop a year ago, is hitting .333 with 15 walks and a team-high nine stolen bases.
“He got off to kind of a slow start, but I think he’s turning the corner,” coach Knierim said. “He’s our leadoff guy and we want him to get on base and make things happen. He’s done that.”
O'Shea is the No. 2 pitcher and utility player and is 3-2 on the mound, with a 2.43 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 31 2/3 innings.
“He’s a control pitcher,” Knierim said. “He keeps the ball down and keeps hitters off balance. He’s not a real hard thrower but he is effective.”
Junior pitcher/first baseman Andrew Kuns is batting .406 and leads the team in both hits (26) and RBI (26). He is also 4-1 with a 1.43 ERA and has earned wins over Central, St. John’s Jesuit and Whitmer this season.
“He’s playing very well, and that’s not unexpected,” Knierim said. “He’s our No. 1 guy on the mound. The biggest thing with Andrew is he’s throwing strikes and staying ahead of hitters. He had a good year on jayees last season. You put the time in and a lot of good things will happen.”
The Eagles are also getting good production from juniors Mike Toth, Mike Balogh and Paul Zalar.
Toth, a third baseman/pitcher, is hitting .408 while catcher/outfielder Balogh is batting .394. Zalar, a second baseman, is hitting .333 “and has been real steady for us,” according to Knierim.
Several other players have contributed to the Eagles’ success this season.
Junior center fielder Tyler TenEyck is batting .327, while senior outfielder Dru Kish is batting .308.
Senior Jack Seibert “has been instrumental in our success this year as a pitcher and utility guy,” Knierim said, adding that junior pitcher/outfielder Kyle Romstadt “is probably my No. 3 guy in the rotation.” Romstadt, who threw a five-inning no-hitter against Bowsher this season, is 3-0 with a 2.67 ERA.
“Offensively, he’s done some good things for us,” Knierim said. “Jonathon Labuhn, a junior catcher, is playing well defensively as well.”
The Eagles face Northview on Monday in the Division I sectional tournament at the Lucas County Rec Center.