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Oak Harbor, Lake seek to defend league crowns

Coach Ray Neill’s Perkins Pirates baseball team used to dominate the Sandusky Bay Conference, winning six straight championships. Along came Oak Harbor, which last year successfully ended the Pirate’s reign.

It was Oak Harbor’s first baseball title in 20 years. Oak Harbor would finish the season with 17-9 record and an 11-3 mark in the SBC.

Three other teams, Clay, Lake, and Gibsonburg, qualified for the regional tournament while Oak Harbor did the same two years ago.

Robson NickRussell3
Clay's Lucas Robson. (Press
file photo by Harold Hamilton
/HEHphotos.lifepics.com)
Northwood senior shortstop/pitcher
Nick Russell seeks to lead the
Rangers to a TAAC championship.
(Press photo by Don Thompson/
Facebook.com/DNRsport)

Lake also celebrated an outright Northern Buckeye Conference championship last year. Oak Harbor coach Rob Schimmoeller and Lake coach Greg Wilker, 2012 Alan Miller Jewelers Co-Coaches of the Year, seek to repeat league championships and get back to the regionals or even further.

However, Eastwood had five All-NBC first team choices to Lake's three last year, and four of the Eagle's selections were underclassmen, which may bode well for second-year coach Kevin Leady’s team.

Coach Leady, who starred at Eastwood and also played baseball at Bowling Green State University, said the Eagles’ main goal is to win the school’s first baseball crown since 1989.

“We have a saying that we love saying around the program that I have taken from my college coach, Danny Schmitz,” Leady said. “He used to always say, ‘Everyone wasn’t blessed with the same ability, but everyone was blessed with the ability to hustle.’ We need the seniors to set the tone for us and lead the younger players and show them the right way to do things. We have decent leadership at this current point in the season, but the seniors will need to step up and be major contributors if we are going to be successful.”

Lake does have experience returning. Last year’s squad finished 24-6 and won the NBC title with an 11-3 record. After winning sectional and district championships, Lake returns four starters from that team.

“We had an outstanding group of (eight) seniors last year that played at a high level all season,” Wilker said. “Even though we are going to be young this year, we feel we have some good ballplayers who are ready for the challenges they will face.”

Lake and Eastwood aren't the only teams with an eye on the NBC championship. Genoa and Woodmore both have varsity experience returning to the fold.

“Our lineup looks strong,” Woodmore coach Todd Bringman said. “We have a lot of experienced players returning and a lot of balance.”

For now, Genoa coach Ron Rightnowar is trying to take it slow while keeping some of the team's lofty goals in the picture.

“Our goals are simple and attainable,” Rightnowar said. “One, we want to continue to gain experience at the varsity level and improve our overall understanding of the game. Two, compete with the top teams in the league contend for a league title. Three, continue to make progress toward establishing Genoa baseball as a consistent winning program. Four, help our players develop and have opportunities to move on to college baseball if they have that ambition and skill level.”

There are other teams with championship aspirations this year, including Clay and Waite. Three Rivers Athletic Conference coaches picked Clay to win the league championship.

“I’d like to make the final four in the TRAC and win a district and get back to regionals,” Coach Garry Isbell said. “If we can do those two things, anything can happen.”

Isbell's ace, senior Jordan Grosjean, a first team all-district and All-Three Rivers Athletic Conference pitcher, last year demonstrated his ability in tossing a no-hitter in an 11-0 sectional semifinal win over Start, which had once been a perennial state power under former coach Rich Arbinger. Grosjean had nine strikeouts and one walk. He only threw 56 pitches in a five-inning mercy-ruled win.

“He had great command of all pitches and got ahead early in counts,” Isbell said.

Grosjean, who has verbally committed to play baseball at Central Michigan University, finished the season 5-3 with 58 strikeouts, 16 walks, a 1.53 ERA, and he allowed 43 hits in 55 innings.

There is championship caliber team at Waite, too, according to fourth-year coach Dave Quiroga.

Quiroga welcomes six returning starters from a team that lost to eventual City League champion Bowsher in the CL tournament semifinals. Quiroga, a former Waite catcher and the CL Co-Player of the Year as a senior in 2003, said the Indians’ main goal is to win the school’s first league title since Waite beat St. John’s Jesuit for the championship in 2002.

“I have yet to play in the City championship game as a coach,” Quiroga said. “As a player, I did. My goal is to get to the championship game. None of the seniors have experienced it; I want to win it, but we’ve never been there with this class of seniors. We’d like to win a sectional. We’ve never experienced a district game with this group of seniors.”

In the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, some coaches, but not all, expect Ottawa Hills to be the TAAC frontrunner this season, followed by Cardinal Stritch Catholic, Northwood, Gibsonburg and Toledo Christian.

Northwood coach Dave Russell agrees that Ottawa Hills is the team to beat in the TAAC, but he expects that to be followed by Northwood, Stritch, Gibsonburg, Danbury and Emmanuel Christian. Note the reversal of rivals Northwood and Stritch, but in both cases Gibsonburg will finish in the upper half of the standings.

“This is the best group of ‘team’ guys we have had here, and they work extremely hard and are competitive in everything they do,” Russell said. “They get along well and have come together nicely. Our non-league schedule will give us a good test and get us ready for the league and the tournament. The league will be extremely tough this year and we have our work cut out for us.”


Genoa
Coach: Ron Rightnowar, second season
Last Year: 12-13 (5-9 NBC)
Key Returnees: Alex Hayes, SS/P; Tyler Rozek, OF/P; Quentin Spiess, 1B/OF/P; Nick Wolfe, C/OF; Sam Rinehart, 3B/P; Casey Gose, 2B; Jake Wojciechowski, OF/P; Cody Pickard, INF/OF

Prevew: If there's one thing Genoa's got, it's experience. With 10 players who have had at least two years of experience at the varsity level, including only one senior, Sam Rinehart, the future looks bright for the program, though the Comets have high aspirations this year.

Leading the way will be junior second baseman Casey Gose, who earned first-team all-league honors last season. According Rightnowar, a former Major Leaguer who pitched with the Milwaukee Brewers in 1995, the lineup is susceptible to change, but Gose (leadoff), Alex Hayes (bats third ) and Nick Wolfe (clean-up) are most likely set in the order.

“The other spots will rotate until we settle on an everyday lineup,” Rightnowar said.

The rotation will feature the likes of Sam Rinehart, Hayes, Quentin Spiess and Luke Rightnower, a transfer from Toledo Christian. Jake Wojciechowski and Gose could see some time out of the bullpen as well.


Lake
Coach: Greg Wilker, 29th season
Last year: 24-6 (11-3 NBC)
Key returnees: Casey Blank, Sr., OF/P; Jayce Vancena, Jr., P/1B; Brad Ackerman, Jr., P/OF; Cody Witt, Jr., 2B; Connor Bowen, So., SS

Preview: Wilker has amassed an overall record of 473-297 as he gets close to finishing his third decade as coach. Lake’s four returning starters are Vancena, Blank, Ackerman and Witt. Vancena, who hit .351 a year ago and went 3-0 on the mound with 10 saves, has verbally committed to pitch at Michigan.

“Hopefully he will have an outstanding year,” Wilker said. “We had the luxury of using him out of the bullpen most of last year. He’ll be our No. 1 starter and he throws the ball really well. When he’s on the mound, we expect to be very competitive.”

Blank, one of the Flyers’ two seniors, is the team’s No. 2 pitcher and will start in either right field or center field.

“He’s a very good athlete,” Wilker said. “He runs well and we expect him to steal some bases for us. He will have a much larger role to play this year.”

Ackerman is a left-hander who will start in the outfield when he’s not pitching.

“He’s another good athlete,” Wilker said. “He’ll be our No. 3 pitcher this year.”

Witt is a very heady ballplayer, Wilker said, and possesses a great glove at second base.

“He does a tremendous job turning double plays for us,” the coach said. “He’s a smart kid out there, and he handles the bat very well. Right now he’s our No. 2 hitter in the lineup.”

Bowen, a first-team all-conference pick in basketball, will start at shortstop “and will make us strong up the middle,” according to Wilker, who said he expects junior catcher Nick Walsh and junior first baseman/DH Anthony Pratt to contribute this spring.

Lake opened this season with an 11-2 loss at Perrysburg.


Woodmore
Coach: Todd Bringman, fifth year
Last Year: 13-14 (6-8 NBC)
Key Returnees: Zach Brossia, 3B/P; Coleton Bihn, OF; Danny Munoz, 1B; Evan Ulinski, SS

Forecast: With an experienced group that features 11 juniors and seniors, Bringman is confident that his team can contend in the NBC.

A number of key players from last year's squad return, led by senior third baseman Zach Brossia, a second-team selection in the NBC. Brossia hit .333 and scored 22 times while first baseman and designated hitter Danny Munoz had 31 RBIs and Evan Ulinski and Coleton Bihn scored 30 and 16 runs, respectively. Ulinski will be faced with the task of replacing Jon Sandwisch at shortstop.

The pitching staff features the one-two punch of Ty Burner and Brossia with juniors Jake Matwiejczyk and Brad Bringman in the bullpen.

Catcher Erich Greulich and outfielder Tony Rozzi, two players who are expected to contribute, also earned varsity letters last season and Jason Brough and Jon Braun round out the roster.

The team does have to replace three starters from last season, among them Jon Sandwisch, Derek Benner and Kurt Baumgartner.

Todd Bringman is hoping that his squad can exercise its fundamentals this season by playing good defense and pitching well. Bihn, one of the team leaders, is optimistic that the lineup can help to provide some run support for the pitchers.


Eastwood
Coach: Kevin Leady, second year
Last year: 14-11(10-4 NBC)
Key returnees: Zach Coffield, Sr., C; Jordan Luther, Sr., 1B/P; Jordan Randall, Sr., 3B/P; Skyler Dierker, Sr., SS; Jake Schmeltz, Jr., 3B/OF/P; Ryan Mang, Jr., 2B; Matt Drown, Jr., OF/P; Grant Peters, Jr., P

Preview: Leady and the Eagles return six starters from last year’s conference runner-up squad, including first-team All-Northern Buckeye Conference selections Coffield, who batted .325 as a junior, Schmeltz (.345 in conference play) and Mang (.367, 33 walks).

“Zach is one of the hardest workers I've ever seen,” Leady said. “He is a tremendous leader on and off the field. Our staff wouldn't be the same without him on the field. He is a a brick wall behind the plate and allows our pitchers to throw the ball on the dirt.

“Jake will be used in a utility role this year. He will be a leader in many situations. He'll play outfield, third base and pitch. His stroke really picked up during league play, and he expects to build off of that. Ryan was the catalyst to our lineup. He walked 33 times and when he got on, we scored lots of runs. We are expecting a big season from Ryan.”

Luther, Dierker and Drown are all returning starters, while the senior Randall moves into the starting lineup this season at third and on the mound. Junior Grant Peters figures to get lots of work on the mound and in the field.

“We are looking for Grant to fill our 'ace' role on the mound,” Leady said. “He has had an outstanding offseason going to camps and being in the weight room. Grant will also be one of our top outfielders this spring.”


Oak Harbor
Coach: Rob Schimmoeller, ninth year
Last Year: 18-8 (12-2 SBC)
Key Returnees: Mark Konieczny, SS/P; A.J. Cecil, CF/P; Nate Segaard, 3B/P; Jourdan Maguire, OF/P

Preview: The last two years have been pretty special for Oak Harbor.

Last season, the Rockets won their first SBC title in 20 years and, the year before that, they went on an incredible run that saw win five tournament games to advance to the Division II regional final.

Most of the key players from last year's squad are gone, meaning Oak Harbor has lost the vast majority of its production. Having to replace the likes of Brian and Joey Mallernee, Phil Bryant, Cory Grotz and Payson Galway will be no easy task, but the Rockets don't have a choice. Add that senior Kaleb Maguire, who would've played a key role on this year's team, will miss the season because of a torn Achilles' tendon injury suffered during football season.

Fortunately, Oak Harbor has two of the SBC's top players, Mark Konieczny and A.J. Cecil, back for one final run.

Konieczny, who plays shortstop and pitches occasionally, hit .489 with a remarkable .718 on-base percentage while serving as the catalyst for the offense. Cecil, who plays center field when he's not pitching, hit .435 (.590 OBP) and went 6-3 on the mound with a 1.41 ERA. Senior Nate Segaard is expected to help as well, having hit .455 in the first four games to go with five stolen bases.

“Fortunately, A.J. and Mark are back to set the table,” Schimmoeller said, “so the middle of our lineup should have plenty of RBI opportunities. However, with only two returning starters, we may have to play small ball with the bottom part of our order.”


Clay
Coach: Gary Isbell
Last year: 15-16 (8-3 TRAC)
Key returnees: Jordan Grosjean, Sr., P/1B; Lucas Robson, Sr., P/OF; Ty McAtee, Sr., C; Bryce Castilleja, Jr., 3B/P; Matt York, Jr., Utility/P

Preview: The Eagles started this season 1-1, with a 2-0 win over Bedford and a 4-3 loss to Southview.

Clay senior ace Jordan Grosjean, a three-year varsity letterman, threw five innings against Bedford and gave up two hits and two walks, with eight strikeouts. Grosjean was the TRAC Pitcher of the Year in 2012.

“Jordan’s obviously going to be my No. 1 on the mound,” Isbell said. “He’ll pitch the big games. He just has to stay within himself and do what he does best. He’s a power pitcher and he needs to throw strikes. We’re going to be very good when he’s on the mound.”

Castilleja is the Eagles’ No. 2 pitcher despite seeing just a few innings as a sophomore.

“As long as he continues to throw strikes, teams are not going to hit him,” Isbell said. “He’s got good stuff. He’s an 83 to 85 (mph) guy with a real nice breaking ball.”

Grosjean, Castilleja, Robson, McAtee and York are the Eagles’ five returning starters from last year’s team, which took third in the TRAC and lost to Ashland in the regional semifinals.

“Lucas Robson is my best hitter coming back, and he (also) hit .400 as a sophomore,” Isbell said. “He’s been my best hitter this year so far. The five returning starters from last year are all in the mix of being our top five hitters. Put Ryan Fournier in there, and those are my top six guys.”

Fournier, a sophomore shortstop, “has good range and has a good arm,” Isbell said. “He covers a lot of ground and has good feet and hands and throws the ball well.”

Junior Kyle Row will be used as a utility player but will primarily play center field and in the middle infield.

“He’s our fastest guy in terms of foot speed,” Isbell said. “Hopefully we get him a lot of stolen bases this year.”

Isbell added that a couple things will have to happen if the Eagles want to contend for a conference title.

“Our down-the-line pitchers will have to win some games for us,” he said. “We can’t rely solely on Grosjean and Castelleja. We have to give run support and make defensive plays. We have better defensive versatility this year. We have a number of guys who can play anywhere, and they don’t skip a beat when they play different positions.”


Waite
Coach: David Quiroga, fourth year
Last year: 6-21 (6-4 TCAL)
Key returnees: Josh Murphy, Sr., P/1B; Jose Padilla, Sr., P/3B; Cyrron Barringer, Sr., CF; Jimmie Ridley, Sr., OF; Juan Roman, Jr., SS/2B; Tony Smith, Jr., C; Ryan Mathena, Jr., Utility.

Preview: The Indians return their top two starting pitchers from last season in Murphy and Padilla, and they’ve added a couple of juniors who pitched quite a bit at the jayvee level in 2012.

“Those juniors should get some pretty good innings this year,” Quiroga said. “They will play some important roles for us.”

As of April 2, Waite was 0-2 with losses to Cardinal Stritch (5-3) and Whitmer (10-3), but Quiroga was encouraged by the pitching of Murphy and Padilla. He has high hopes that the Indians’ defense will step up this spring after a rough season a year ago.

“We had a terrible team fielding percentage last year.,” Quiroga said. “We had quite a few errors. We’re hoping to cut down on our errors. We couldn’t get steady play on the defensive side of the ball.”

Waite only gave up one earned run to Stritch, and three earned runs to Whitmer.

“Jose gave up 10 runs (to Whitmer), but he looked strong,” the coach said. “He pitched really well. He was around the zone the whole day and was mixing his fastball and curveball, and he kept Whitmer off balance. If our defense would have stepped up and made all the routine plays, it would have been a different outcome.”

Murphy allowed just six hits in the loss to Stritch.

“He didn’t look like he had his best stuff, but to give up only six hits in five innings of work ...” Quiroga said. “He was a little erratic at times and he was working with a catcher he’s never worked with before in Tony Smith.”

Smith, a junior, played first base and catcher last year and stuggled at the plate. Quiroga said he is confident Smith will turn things around this season.

“He is swinging the bat well,” Quiroga said. “I think he’ll turn his stick around a little bit after a rough year last year.”


Cardinal Stritch Catholic
Coach: Craig Meinzer, second year
Last year: 10-12 (7-5 TAAC).
Key returnees: Ryan Ballesteros, Sr., C/1B; Conner Kelsey, Sr., SS; Robbie Bekier, Sr., P/1B; Cody Kuch, Sr., P/C; Eric Richardville, Sr., OF; Kyle Smrekar, Sr., 2B/C; Brooks Gasser, Jr., P/OF; Adam Buenrostro, Jr., 2B/SS.

Preview: Meinzer returns eight players from last year’s squad, including two pitchers, so the second-year coach is optimistic that the Cardinals will be able to compete for a TAAC championship in 2013.

“We have some good underclassmen and we should be able to compete at or above what we accomplished last year,” Meinzer said.

Ballesteros hit .371 last year, with 12 RBI and 10 runs, while Bekier also hit .371 with nine RBI and 17 runs. Gasser batted .340 and drove in eight runs.

“After our first year together, the players realize we can play with every team in the league if we cut down on physical errors,” Meinzer said. “Hitting may be an issue at times, but pitching will be our strongsuit this year. We lost some close games last year, but being together this second year, we hopefully get over the hump with those types of games. Our understanding of what we are trying to accomplish from day to day is much better this year.”


Northwood
Coach: Dave Russell
Last year: 19-7 (8-2 TAAC)
Key returnees: Nick Russell, Jr., SS/P; John Segura, Jr., 1B/P; Justin Rohrs, Jr., 3B/P; Evan Perkins, Jr., C; Brandon Mahoney, Jr., P/OF

Preview: Last year’s Northwood squad repeated as TAAC champions, but this year’s Rangers have a few holes to fill.

“We have to replace a great senior class that won back-to-back TAAC championships,” said Russell, in his fourth season (55-11). “We are replacing four starting positions with inexperienced underclassmen. How well they acclimate to varsity baseball will decide the success of our season.”

This year’s Northwood squad has no seniors but returns five starters, including first-team All-TAAC pick Nick Russell. The junior shortstop/pitcher had a .431 batting average a year ago.

“We lost a really good senior class, but we return a really good nucleus of starters,” Russell said. “These guys have played a tremendous amount of high-level baseball together for many years. They are a tight-knit group that gets along really well, and our team chemistry is off to a great start. They worked extremely hard in the weight room this winter, and we look for that to help us throughout the season.”

The Rangers’ other returning starters are juniors Segura, Rohrs, Perkins and Mahoney. Segura batted .478 last season and earned second-team All-TAAC honors, while Rohrs also earned second-team honors after hitting 373. Perkins batted .320, and Mahoney went 5-2 on the mound with a 2.92 ERA.


Gibsonburg
Coach: Kyle Rase, ninth season
Last Year: 21-8 (6-5 TAAC)
Key Returnees: Andrew Cantrell, 1B/OF; Gabe Hickman, INF/P; Sam Kohler, C

Forecast: Last season was one of the best in Gibsonburg history. Certainly not as good as the 2005 campaign that saw them win the Division IV state title, but impressive nonetheless. The Golden Bears finished with 21 victories, the most in school history, and upset top-ranked Hopewell-Loudon in the tournament to advance to the regional semifinals.

But a number of key players from that squad, among them Gage Beaber, Logan Jones, Leroy Neeb and Dylan Dorfmyer, have graduated, having taken with them 80 percent of the innings pitched and two-thirds of the offensive production.

This season, Rase will rely on three key players to help lead Gibsonburg in the TAAC, a league that features quality small-school baseball in Ottawa Hills, Stritch, and Northwood.

Juniors Andrew Cantrell, Gabe Hickman and Sam Kohler were all contributors to last year's team and will be expected to lead the way for the Bears . Cantrell, who plays first base, earned second-team TAAC honors by hitting .421 and driving in 24 runs while Kohler, the catcher, batted .352 with 24 RBIs.

But it might be Hickman who is expected to do the most of the three. Hickman, who plays infield when he's not pitching, is faced with the task of replacing pitcher Logan Jones, a first-team TAAC selection who went 8-3 with a 2.27 ERA in 2012. Hickman went 4-1 with a 3.11 ERA and 37 strikeouts.

The other pitchers include Bryce Ernsthausen, Andrew Dellinger and Brent Hayward with seniors Tristan Palmerton and Bill VanDerLaar being the other returning starting position players.


NORTHWOOD

Coach: Dave Russell.
Last year: 17-9 (6-6 TAAC).
Key returnees: Nick Russell, Sr., SS/P; John Segura, Sr., 1B/P; Justin Rohrs, Sr., 3B/P; Evan Perkins, Sr., OF; Brandon Mahoney, Sr., P/OF; Myles Habel, So., C; Jake Davenport, Jr., Utility.

Preview: Fifth-year coach Dave Russell isn’t even close to panicking just yet, despite the Rangers’ 0-3 start this season.

Northwood opened with a doubleheader loss to Eastwood and suffered another setback to Bowling Green on March 3.

“Those are two good teams,” Russell said. “I’m not pulling my hair out yet. We saw some good pitching. We threw them into the fire here early. Our first six games are pretty tough.”

The Rangers have plenty of veteran players to help jump-start things this spring. Northwood’s returning starters include seniors Nick Russell, Segura, Rohrs, Perkins and Mahoney.

Nick Russell, a first-team All-Toledo Area Athletic Conference pick last year, batted a team-high .509 and only struck out twice during his entire junior season.

“He’s the leader of our team,” coach Russell said. “We’re expecting him to anchor down our defense from the shortstop position. It’s between him and Mahoney as our No. 1 pitcher. They’re both pitching very well. We’re probably going to move Nick into the No. 3 spot from leadoff last year to drive in some runs.”

Mahoney, a left-hander, went 5-2 with a 2.22 ERA and 99 strikeouts last season.

“He’s going to be our workhorse on the mound,” coach Russell said. “He has to pitch a lot of quality innings, with a lot of starts. He’s been pitching for us for four years. This is the year.”

Segura hit .464 last season while earning first-team all-conference honors. A four-year starter, Segura is moving into the No. 4 spot in the batting order.

“We expect him to drive in some runs,” coach Russell said. “He will do some pitching this year to build some depth and chew up some innings. We expect him to be a jack-of-all trades.”

Rohrs, an honorable mention All-TAAC selection, looks to improve on last year’s .308 batting average.

“We need him to step up this year and drive in some more runs for us,” coach Russell said. “He’ll go back and forth between the three and four spot, and we’re expecting him to step up at third base this year.”

Perkins, a catcher last season, has moved to the outfield to make room for Habel, who lettered as a freshman a year ago.

“Perkins is looking real good,” coach Russell said. “He’s a senior and he’s been around a long time. He can play just about anywhere.”

Davenport will play shortstop when Nick Russell pitches and will also play in the outfield.

“He’s been a pleasant a surprise in the offseason, and he’s a great asset,” coach Russell said. “We’re looking to plug him in anywhere on the field.”

Russell added that the Rangers need their starting pitchers to throw strikes and the bottom part of the lineup to produce offensively if they hope to challenge Ottawa Hills for the TAAC title.

“If we do that,” he said, “we have a good chance to be in just about every game we’re in.”

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