Genoa returns from a second place finish in the Suburban Lakes League as projected co-champions with Eastwood.
Genoa coach Dan Thompson is expecting his team to follow through. Thompson is being assisted by Scott Lau, Tim Spiess, and Eric Wolfe.
Last year, the Comets were 16-12 overall and 11-3 in the SLL, but also won a sectional championship only to lose to district champion Fairview 5-4 in the district semis.
The Eagles also have seven players returning who batted over .300. That pretty much tells the story itself that Coach Don
“Chopper” Schmeltz expects a successful season.
“We need to get help from some juniors,” Schmeltz warned. “If we don’t have any injuries we should be very competitive.”
Schmeltz is picking Eastwood to win the Suburban Lakes League, followed by Genoa, Elmwood, Lake, Woodmore, Gibsonburg, Lakota, and Otsego.
The Genoa Comets return most of their pitching staff and seven out of nine starters. You can add into three new transfers.
“With three move-ins, starting positions have been highly competitive,” Coach Dan Thompson said. “We have a lot of flexibility in the infield as we have six all-league selections to choose from.”
Returning are seniors Callan Bialorucki (OF), Troy Espinosa (RHP/OF), Zack Apel (SS/2B), and Beau Lamb (C/1B/RHP). Apel and Lamb were both honorable mention SLL selections last year.
Juniors returning include Matt Bassitt (RHP/3B) and Connor Wendt (RHP/SS), both second team selections. Sophomores are Seth Dufendock (OF/SLL) and Matt Murphy (OF). Dufendock was honorable mention in 2008.
Newcomers are senior Josh Palmer (RHP/IF), a former First Team All-TAAC selection who transferred back from Cardinal Stritch; Lake junior transfer Greg Hillabrand (2B), a First Team SLL selection; and another transfer from Lake, senior Josh Hillabrand (LHP/OF).
Coming to the varsity from the junior varsity are junior Alex Eckel, who Thompson says will battle Lamb for starting catcher. Also moving up are juniors J.J. Adkins (3B/RHP), Joe Karikas (IF/RHP), and Dustin TenEyck (OF) — all back-ups, for now, Thompson said.
Sophomore right-hander Luke Sutter (P/1B), who will battling for a spot in Genoa’s pitching rotation. Sophomore Garrett Scott will do likewise in the Comet outfield. Senior outfielder Mark Newland is playing his first season of high school baseball.
“With outfielders, we have depth at all positions, but there are times when I have to bring one our all-league infielders out depending on who is pitching,” Thompson said.
“Pitching depth is good on paper with Connor (Wendt) and Matt (Bassitt) looking strong early,” the coach continues. “Josh Palmer was the No. 1 pitcher at Cardinal Stritch. Troy Espinosa pitched and has thrown well in early scrimmages. We open with five games in five days so all will get innings early.”
Thompson adds, “Hitting seems to be stronger this year as many have one more year experience and are much stronger due to off-season commitments to weight training.
“We have decent speed throughout the lineup and some of the younger players are swinging good bats looking for at bats if some of the returning starters don’t get the job done early.”
In nine years coaching at Eastwood, Coach Don “Chopper” Schmeltz’ teams have gone 153-63. Last year’s team went 20-6 overall, 10-4 in the SLL.
Eastwood baseball has all it’s pitching back from last season, including junior Clayton Ruch (5-0 W-L/1.51/38 SO/six saves), senior Luke Eschenbrenner (4-3/3.06/54 SO), 6-foot-6 junior Clay Rolf (5-0/3.85//46 SO), and senior Josh Zellers (2-2/3.56/14 SO).
In the field, Rolf will catch and play first base when not pitching, Eschenbrenner will catch, Ruch will play third base, and Zellers will play shortstop. Rolf was a First Team All-SLL and Second Team All-District choice last year. Eschbrenner, Ruch, and Zellers were honorable mention.
Add to the mix returning Second Team All-SLL second baseman Ashton Brown, and you’ve got a batting order that can be deadly to opposing pitchers.
Rolf leads the returning players after hitting .443 with eight home runs, 42 RBI, and six stolen bases, followed by Brown (.385/1 HR/23 RBI/6 SB), Brett Teall (.379/17 RBI), Zellers (.360/20 RBI), Scott Sexton (.355/24 RBI/6 SB), Eschenbrenner (.324/1 HR/20 RBI), and Ruch (.306/8 RBI).
Lake veteran baseball coach Greg Wilker knows his team will be young, but he doesn’t expect that to keep his team from doing well in the Suburban Lakes League.
“With only four returning lettermen this year, we will be fielding a very young team, however, we still expect to play competitive baseball,” Wilker said.
In 24 seasons as a head coach, all at Lake, Wilker’s (387-269) teams have won five league championships, including three in the SLL and two in the Northern Lakes League. Last year’s team was 15-12 overall, 6-8 in the SLL.
Lake has two aces returning to the mound — juniors Ryan Hotmer (3-2 W-L/1.63 ERA) and Brandon Maze (2-2/1.94). When not pitching, Hotmer will play first base and Maze will play shortstop.
At the plate, Hotmer batted .329 with 22 RBI and Maze batted .150. The other two key returnees are senior catcher Taylor Barteck (.296 BA) and senior outfielder Andrew Pennington (.164).
The Flyers proved how competitive they could be, nearly defeating a strong Perrysburg team. Coming up short, 3-2, Barteck was 2-for-3 with a home run and Terry Tomanski was 2-for-3 with a double and RBI.
Lake got its first win 5-0 win over North Baltimore as Paul Magee pitched a complete game 3-hit shutout. Leading hitters for the Flyers were Hotmer (3-for-4 with two RBI) and Maze (2-4/RBI)
First year baseball coach Todd Bringman may be new at the helm, but he’s not new to the Woodmore baseball program.
Bringman has been a varsity assistant coach at Woodmore the past two seasons, and before that was the junior varsity coach. Yet, he says there will be changes.
“They have had to adjust to a new system, philosophy and ideas,” Bringman said. “They have to fully embrace and support these new concepts. We have some new faces in the lineup and they need to step up both offensively and defensively.
“Our team consists of a bunch of hard working kids,” the coach continues. “They are doing everything the coaches are asking them to do.”
Bringman hopes to bring back seasons like Woodmore had in 2006 and 2008, when the Wildcats won district championships. His part the past three seasons has been as hitting instructor, including three trips to the district final and during Woodmore’s run to the regionals in ’08.
“It all depends on them (this year’s players),” Bringman said. “If they continue to work hard, improve, compete and believe in what we are doing they can achieve anything.”
Last season, the Wildcats were 15-13 overall, 4-10 in the Suburban Lakes League. Bringman has five returning lettermen to help his team improve on that mark — all seniors.
Michael Fahle returns as catcher and pitcher, Jack Rospert will be either on the mound or in the outfield, Cody Schnabel will be on the mound or at third base, and rounding out the senior contingent are shortstop Robert Schumacher and outfielder Brian Melnek. Fahle was a Second Team All-SLL choice last season.
“Fahle is being recruited by several universities,” Bringman said. “He’s a very good catcher and a solid bat.”
Bringman expects Fahle, Rospert, Schumacher, Melnek, and sophomore Jake Zollinger to be his top hitters. Zollinger is a “very versatile player with lots of speed,” Bringman said.
Rospert and Schnabel, because of their experience, will be the aces on the mound. Defensively, Bringman says “everyone is solid in the field.”
“We should be fundamentally sound defensively,” Bringman said. “Pitching should be sound. These returning lettermen have seen Woodmore go to the regionals twice in the past three years and the district finals all three years. They know what it takes to get there. Team unity is at a high level and will carry them wherever they want to go.”
Bringman says filling out the lineup is Billy Kuhlman, who has “become a very fundamentally sound infielder”; Seth Ottney “has found a role as a solid pitcher”; first baseman Joel Moenter has shown signs of improvement; Andy Flick is “versatile defensively and a solid starting pitcher”; and Cameron Shirer has developed into a starting pitcher role and will play first base, too, where he has shown signs of improvement. Zollinger, Flick, and Shirer all were junior varsity players last year.
“They all have the ability to be difference makers,” Coach Bringman said. “They are competitors.”
Besides returning to regionals, Bringman has set goals to finish high in the SLL.
“The SLL is always very strong and this year is no different,” Bringman said. “Eastwood returns almost their entire team from last year. At Elmwood, Coach (Kyle) Reiser always has his team ready to play at a high level. Lake is young, but Coach (Greg) Wilker has them competing and Genoa has a lot of returning players with varsity experience.
Gibsonburg baseball coach Kyle Rase will long be remembered as the coach who was the first in Ohio to lead a team with a losing record to a state championship.
Rase had been to the state final four before as a player with Convoy Crestview. But as a coach, he’s found out that there aren’t many baseball leagues stronger than the Suburban Lakes League.
“The SLL is a very tough baseball league,” Rase said. “I expect to be competitive night-in and night-out. Our competition in our league is very tough. At one point a couple years ago we have had four different schools make the state final four in a 10-year span.”
Gibsonburg won the Division IV state title in 2005. Last season’s Golden Bears actually fared better during the regular season than the ’05 team, finishing 16-10 overall and 7-7 in the SLL.
The Golden Bears return five lettermen, but only two starters — both seniors. Two seniors, the team’s ace veteran pitcher and first baseman James Cantrell and catcher Pat Cantrell, hope to lead the Bears to a strong finish again. Pat Cantrell (.375 BA) was an Honorable Mention All-SLL selection as a junior. On the mound, James was 4-3 with a 2.93 ERA.
Outside of the Cantrell’s, Rase says he has a versatile group.
“I expect to have a very solid group of hitters and on any given night for a player to have a big night,” Rase said. “I have several players that can play many positions which will be a strength of our team.”
Among them are Michael Molina, who returns after being injured during the 2008 season. Coming into the mix is Nick Baker, who transferred from Fremont St. Joseph, where Rase says he was “a very good player.”
“I think our team has great chemistry, attitudes, and senior leadership. I look forward to having a good year with a great group of guys,” Rase said.