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Toledo, Ohio & Lake Erie

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CLAY

Coach: Jim Phillips
Last year: 16-14 (7-2 TRAC).
Key returnees: Josh Pennington, Sr., 1B/P; Matt York, Sr., INF/OF/P; Jay Smith, Sr., C/OF; Kyle Row, Sr., INF/OF; Bryce Castilleja, Sr., P/3B; Ryan Fournier, Jr., SS/P; Austyn Gwin, Jr., OF/P.

Preview: You could say Jim Phillips is back home again.

Phillips, a Clay grad, was a varsity assistant at St. John’s Jesuit last season but coached at Clay the previous two seasons. He replaces Garry Isbell as the Eagles’ head coach. Phillips was an all-state player at Clay his senior year, in 2001, and was named Clay’s James F. O’Brien Award winner that same year.

Phillips, who was elected to Clay’s Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011 and played baseball at Youngstown State University, takes over a team that finished second in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference and won a Division I district title a year ago.

Clay returns several all-conference athletes, led by second-team All-TRAC and second-team all-district performer Ryan Fournier, who has verbally committed to play at Xavier University.

“Ryan is a guy we need to have a big year on the mound and at the plate,” Phillips said. “He has all the tools and is a tireless worker. We need him to take another step forward this year in all facets of his game.”

Bryce Castilleja earned second-team All-TRAC honors, while Kyle Row and Josh Pennington were named honorable mention all-conference.

“Bryce really needs to step up for us on the mound and at the plate,” Phillips said. “He will be one of the guys hitting towards the top of the order and he needs to get on base and drive in runs for us to be successful. He’s going to be our No. 1 on the mound, and he has the ability to shut teams down.”

Pennington will also see plenty of action on the mound and “also needs to be an RBI producer in the middle of our order,” Phillips said. “Matt York has thrown the ball well so far in the preseason and needs to carry that over into game situations. He will also get opportunities at second base or at one of the corner outfield spots.”

Row, a three-sport athlete who will play football at Miami of Ohio, is one of Clay’s middle infielders and will also see time in the outfield. Jay Smith will be looked upon to provide leadership and play well behind the plate and in the outfield.

Other contributors this season are expected to be junior Austyn Gwin and seniors Aaron Lee (1B/OF), Troy Graham (1B/DH), Dylan Berg (P/OF) and Anthony Ramirez (OF).

“This is a veteran group with a lot of depth, athleticism and big-game experience,” Phillips said. “Pitching, defense and team speed will be our strengths, even with the loss of two of our top pitchers. We have a lot of experience on the mound coming back. We have a chance to do some great things this year, but it will depend on production at the plate. We only had two guys hit over .300 last season.”


WAITE

Coach: David Quiroga (fifth year).
Last year: 6-18 (6-4 CL).
Key returnees: Ryan Mathena, Sr., Utility; Josh Smenner, Sr., 2B/P; Joe Fix Jr., Sr., 1B/P; Tony Smith, Sr., C/Utility; Gary Matney, Sr., INF/P; Brandon Wagner, So., OF/P.

Preview: The Indians graduated three of their top four hitters, average-wise, off last year’s squad, and most of the juniors on the 2013 team were first-year varsity players.

“We are relying on them at the plate this year with that extra year of experience,” Quiroga said.

Senior catcher Tony Smith has the most experience of this year’s senior group, having played on the varsity on and off since his freshman year and starting full-time as a sophomore.

Quiroga said Waite should get a boost in experience after several players played summer ball and in fall leagues.

“Hopefully this will bring some higher numbers at the plate,” the coach said. “We are working on shortening the swings and getting the ball in play. We had too many strikeouts last year.”

The Indians graduated their top two pitchers in first-team All-City League and all-district performer Josh Murphy and first-team all-league and second-team all-district performer Jose Padilla. Murphy is now pitching at Baldwin-Wallace.

To make up for their loss, Quiroga said the Indians will use a pitcher-by-committee approach with Joe Fix Jr., Josh Smenner, Smith, Brandon Wagner, Gary Matney and Ryan Mathena.

“We have a lot of seniors who have been working hard at pitching all preseason, and we believe they should do really well for us,” Quiroga said. “We need the defense to step up this year and be solid. We have to cut down on errors and be very stingy on defense.”

Quiroga said defending CL champion Start and runner-up Bowsher are the teams to beat in the league this season.


EASTWOOD

Coach: Kevin Leady.
Last year: 17-8 (9-4 NBC).
Key returnees: Grant Peters, Sr., P/OF; Ryan Mang, Sr., INF; Jake Schmeltz, Sr., P/IF/OF; Mat Drown, Sr., P/IF/OF; David Krukemyer, Sr., 1B/C.

Preview: The Eagles return just five lettermen from last year’s team, which tied Lake for second place in the Northern Buckeye Conference behind champion Otsego.

Grant Peters returns after going 4-2 on the mound last season with a school-record 1.24 ERA.

Ryan Mang returns to hit leadoff after batting .400 last season. Mang has 72 walks in three years.

“Ryan is the catalyst of our team,” Leady said. “Grant was our workhorse off the mound and our top guy. He works ahead of hitters and is always attacking with all of his pitches.”

Leady added that Eastwood’s goals are two-fold this season: compete for the NBC championship and make a deep run into the postseason tournament.

“The season will be determined on how the seniors lead the underclassmen,” Leady said. “Our seniors and upperclassmen work really well at trying to prepare the younger players for the season. Leadership will be a deciding factor on the success of the season.”

Another key for the Eagles will be developing depth on the mound.

“We have a few younger guys that are showing great things early on,” Leady said, “and we are very excited to see what they can accomplish throughout the season. The program works very hard in bullpen sessions to get our athletes ready for the grind of the season.”


LAKE

Coach: Greg Wilker
Last year: 15-10 (9-4 NBC).
Key returnees: Brad Ackerman, Sr., OF/P; Joel Densic, Sr., 3B; Anthony Pratt, Sr., 1B/C; Jayce Vancena, Sr., P/1B; Nick Walsh, Sr., C; Cody Witt, Sr., 2B/P; Connor Bowen, SS/P; Todd Walters, Jr., 1B/P; Adam Duncan, So., OF/P.

Preview: The Flyers, who tied with Eastwood for second place in the Northern Buckeye Conference last year behind Otsego, return a core group of six seniors in 2014.

Coach Greg Wilker also said Lake has a deep group of pitchers.

“We have eight players who could see time on the mound this year,” Wilker said.

Jayce Vancena, who struck out 75 batters in 52 innings last year as a junior, takes the mound as the Flyers’ No. 1 hurler. Vancena was 3-4 with a 1.06 ERA last season while earning first-team All-NBC honors.

“Jayce will be the leader of this group because he’s a true power pitcher,” Wilker said. “Brad Ackerman is a left-handed senior who is capable of throwing some outstanding games this year. We have good depth on the mound with Todd Walters, a junior right-hander who is throwing very well early on.”

Ackerman batted .386 with 20 RBI last year, while Connor Bowen hit .355 and Nick Walsh hit .316. Joel Densic (.297) and Cody Witt (.286) also had solid seasons. Ackerman was a first-team all-conference pick, and Witt, Bowen and Walsh were honorable mention selections.

“We should be solid on defense because we are very strong up the middle with Cody Witt at second base, Connor Bowen at shortstop and Nick Walsh behind the plate,” Wilker said. “We are also good at the corners with Joel Densic at third and Anthony Pratt at first. We have a lot of experience and speed returning. If we can be tougher outs at the plate, we can be very successful this year.”


Wildcats hope to build on postseason success

Head Coach: Jake Huss, first year
Last Year: 12-14 (4-10 NBC)
Key Returnees: Brad Bringman, 3B/DH; Josh Cowell, INF/P; Erich Gruelich, C/1B; Jake Matwiejczyk, OF; Tristan Roth, INF/P, Tony Rozzi, OF; Evan Ulinski, INF/P

Forecast: After struggling for much of the season last year, the Woodmore Wildcats hit their stride late before upsetting league champion Otsego and winning the Division III Sectional Title.

Woodmore lost four key players from last year, but it does return a number of contributors.

The senior trio of INF/OF Evan Ulinski, 3B/DH Brad Bringman and OF Jake Matwiejczyk are the Wildcats’ top three returning hitters. Ulinski hit .427 with 23 runs and stole 14 bases, Bringman had a .361 average and scored 17 runs and Matwiejczyk finished with a .352 average and 16 RBIs.

On the mound, it will pitching by committee. Ulinski, Bringman, Matweijczyk join Josh Cowell, Erich Gruelich and Tristan Roth as the six pitchers who bring with them experience from last season.

Ulinski pitched 33.2 innings last year and finished with an ERA of 3.95 and Gruelich was 3-0 with a 2.47 ERA in 17 innings of work.

Newcomers Logan Fonseca, Matt Depner, Connor Bringman and Ross Wolford will also be expected to contribute this season.

For first-year head coach Jake Huss, it’s the opportunity to lead the varsity after eight years running JV squads and working as a varsity assitant at both Woodmore and Lakota.

“The guys are working hard,” Huss said, “and I’m happy with that. They want to get better, they want to learn. One of my big things is getting the little things right, and that’s probably one of the things we need to care of and fix.”


Comets look to build on last year’s success

Head Coach: Ron Rightnowar, third year
Last Year: 20-10 (9-5 NBC)
Key Returnees: Jake Wojciechowski, RF/P; Casey Gose, CF; Alex Hayes, P/SS; Nick Wolfe, C; Logan Scott, 1B/P; Cody Pickard, 2B; Luke Rightnowar, P/SS/3B; Tyler Rozek, OF; Quentin Spiess, OF

Forecast: Genoa is in an ideal position.

AlexHayes1
Returning Genoa pitcher Alex Hayes was first team
All-Northern Buckeye Conference last year. (Press
photo by Harold Hamilton/HEHphotos.smugmug.com)

They’re coming off a magical season that saw them advance to the Division III Regional Finals in dramatic fashion as they won three one-run games behind a talented group of players that did nearly everything right when it counted most.

And all of those players have returned for another run.

Luke Rightnowar, who was 9-0 last season, is the team’s ace, and Alex Hayes, who earned first-team league honors last year, is back, too. And Kyle Edwards, sitting out last year after undergoing Tommy John surgery, is back, giving the Comets a formidable rotation. The other pitchers include Quentin Spiess, Logan Scott, Gabe Yanez and Matt Aumiller.

Last season, Cody Pickard, Casey Gose and Hayes led the team in RBIs, and Nick Wolfe supplied power in the middle of the order.

But head coach Ron Rightnowar knows that last year’s success doesn’t give the Comets any advantages heading into this season.

“There's no reason for us to be complacent,” Rightnowar said. “(Last year’s run) gave us a lot of confidence. A bunch of guys played during the summer and played at a high level. They continued to push themselves. They know they have to prove themselves.

“I'm really happy with their maturity — the guys are playing with more maturity, they’re doing the little things (with respect to) the game and being smart. That's what I'm really pleased with. They always work hard. You've got to work hard and play smart.”


Northwood must replace a fine senior class

Head Coach: John Segura, first year
Last Year: 18-11 (9-3 TAAC)
Key Returnees: Jake Devenport, P/C/SS; Miles Habel, C; Stephen Sutton, INF/OF/C; Jack Romstadt, SS/P

Forecast: After having a senior-laden squad that led Northwood to one of its best seasons in program history, the Rangers have many holes to fill.

Northwood, which lost in the Div. IV Regional Finals to Defiance Tinora, 13-5, graduated seven seniors and has just three returning starters.

Jake Davenport, who has been instrumental in the team’s success in the past few years, returns to hit leadoff and be the team’s ace.

He’s followed in the lineup by Jack Romstadt, Stephen Sutton and Miles Habel, who hit .380 and was a second-team TAAC selection last year. The rest of the batting order will include the likes of Steve Gutekunst, Jacob Zierhoff, Chandlor Hayes, Marco Ortiz, Lukas Deselmes and Colin Gutekunst.

On the mound, Steve Gutekunst will serve as the No. 2 pitcher behind Davenport and Sutton will be the third starter.

“With it being a rebuilding year, we'll be moving guys up and down all year till we get a comfortable fit,” said head coach John Segura, whose son, Johnny, is playing baseball at OSU-Lima. “We'll do that till we find something that works.”

Segura expects steady leadership from Davenport and Habel, both of whom were a part of the Rangers’ successful run in the tournament last season.

“Our future is extremely bright. Our sophomore and freshman classes are great. The coaching staff is excited about us growing into a good team and what the prospects are.”


Cardinals look to repeat as TAAC champs

Head Coach: Craig Meinzer, third year
Last Year: 20-10 (10-2 TAAC)
Key Returnees: Robert Johnson, OF; Jake Empie, 3B/P; Brooks Gasser, P/OF; Ricky Pratt, 1B; Adam Ballesteros, SS

Forecast: In two years as head coach of the Cardinal Stritch Cardinals, Craig Meinzer has helped to change the culture within the program.

Just last year, Stritch accomplished an impressive feat and won the Toledo Area Athletic Conference title, sharing the honor with Ottawa Hills.

Though they’re expected by many in the area to compete for a TAAC title this season, Stritch does have six players to replace from last year’s squad.

Outfielder Robert Johnson, who was a pleasant surprise for the team last year, will hit leadoff. He hit .316 and scored 19 runs last season for the Cardinals. Jake Empie, who plays third and pitches, hit. 462 and drove in 11 runs, will hit third behind OF Grant Curavo, a left-handed hitter who provides the team with some speed in the two-hole. And catcher Jude Neary will hit cleanup.

Empie is the team’s No. 1 starter. He pitched 29.1 innings last year and had an ERA of 3.78. Brooks Gasser, who went 3-4 in 31.2 innings of work, will back him up, and Sean Killian, Grant Kuravo and Chase Dehring round out the rotation.

“If we can pitch and do a lot of the little things, I think we're ahead of the game from where we were two years ago,” Meinzer said. “And if we can field the ball and throw it like we're capable of, that will be the tell tale sign of how good we can be. We will hit a little, we can play the small ball game too, the players better understand what to do now.


Golden Bears return most of their marquee players

Head Coach: Kyle Rase, 10th season
Last Year: 18-9 (5-7 TAAC)
Key Returnees: Brent Hayward, P/OF; Andrew Cantrell, 1B; Sam Kohler, C; Gabe Hickman, 3B/P; Matt Lutzman, P/OF; Andrew Dellinger, P; Jacob Auld, OF; Derek Angelone, C/OF; Bryce Ernsthausen, P/3B; Cyrus Foos, 2B; Jordan Kreglow, SS

Forecast: Gibsonburg has good reason to be excited about the upcoming season.

After winning a sectional title last year, the Golden Bears return the majority of both their pitching and hitting production and have an experienced squad that includes six seniors.

First baseman Andrew Cantrell, who has earned three letters, hit third in the lineup and finished with a .354 average last year. Sam Kohler, the catcher, also a three-year letter winner, hit .338. Both earned first-team Toledo Area Athletic Conference honors. But it wasn’t just those two who consistently provided production at the plate. Third baseman Gabe Hickman had a .427 average, outfielder Brent Hayward hit .353 and fellow outfielder Jacob Auld contributed with a .328 average.

They’ll be expected to lead the way for a team that must replace the production from Gage Collins, Trstain Palmerton, Dennis Shammo, Bill VanDerLaar and Tyler Witte, all of whom graduated.

On the mound, Hayward led the team, going 4-1 with a 2.89 ERA, and Hickman contributed 35 strikeouts in 40 innings. Matt Lutzman went 4-2 with a 3.27 ERA and Andrew Dellinger provided relief out of the bullpen.

Should they pitch well, the Golden Bears will have a chance to compete with the likes of Ottawa Hills and Cardinal Stritch for the TAAC title.

“We have several returning starters back from last year’s 18-9 team and 85% of our the innings pitched from the pitching staff,” said head coach Kyle Rase, who led the Golden Bears to the Division IV State Championship in 2005. “And we’ll count on that experience as a strength.”


OAK HARBOR

Coach: Rob Schimmoeller.
Last year: 15-10 (6-8 SBC).
Key returnees: Andy Rathbun, Sr., SS; Logan Winke, Sr., OF/P; Ben Genzman, Sr., P/DH; Jourdan Maguire, Jr., OF/P; Garrett Harvey, Jr., 1B/P; Dillon Pollard, Jr., IF/P; Mike Osbourne, Jr., C.

Preview: The Rockets graduated two all-district performers in A.J. Cecil (first team) and Mark Konieczny (second team) but return honorable mention all-district performer Andy Rathbun. Honorable mention All-Sandusky Bay Conference picks Nate Seagaard and Justin Warnke also graduated, but honorable mention all-conference performer Logan Winke returns.

The top newcomers are expected to be senior infielder David Birchall, junior infielder Ryan Pavlica and sophomores Caleb Turco (outfield), Kyle Pape (catcher), Kyle Uher (pitcher) and David Tooman (infielder).

“Most of our pitching innings have graduated, so throwing strikes will be the key to our success,” said Schimmoeller, in his 10th year at Oak Harbor. “The rotation will likely include Logan Winke, Garrett Harvey, Jourdan Maguire and Kyle Uher, with relief provided by Dillon Pollard, Ryan Pavlica and Ben Genzman.”

Rathbun hit .341 last season with 25 runs and 20 RBI, and he was second on the team with 17 steals. Winke batted .287 with a team-high eight doubles, 16 runs and 24 RBI.

“We have several quality hitters who gained a bit of varsity experience last season, led by Logan Winke and Andy Rathbun,” Schimmoeller said. “As a group, we are inexperienced but we do possess very good speed this season. Defensively we should be improved from 2013 based on what I have seen thus far in practice, with outfield play being a strength.”

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