The Press Newspaper
Genoa and Eastwood weren't going to sneak up on anyone in the Suburban Lakes League baseball race this season.
The Comets certainly didn't.
Coach Dan Thompson's squad went 22-5 and rolled to a 14-0 league finish to win the school's third SLL title in four years. Genoa and Eastwood were picked to tie for the championship in 2009, but the Eagles ended up 15-8 and 10-4 in the SLL.
"We set a team record this year for runs scored and we hit the ball very well," Thompson said. "We felt we had a lineup, one through nine, where we could score runs. If anyone was in a slump, there was somebody who was coming out of a slump. We were a very balanced team this year."
The Comets also won the league title with a 14-0 mark two years ago, and Elmwood claimed the title with the same mark last season.
Genoa's postseason hopes ended when it lost a 6-4 decision to Liberty-Benton in the Division III sectional tournament. The Comets were the No. 1 seed.
"We gave up three runs in the top of the seventh - all unearned," Thompson said. "I haven't slept in two weeks."
Junior pitcher/shortstop Connor Wendt was named the SLL Co-Player of the Year along with Elmwood's Reid Rothenbuhler. Wendt was 6-1 with a 3.02 ERA and struck out 51 batters in 51 innings. Opponents hit just .199 against him.
"He had a great season on the mound. Very solid," Thompson said. "You could almost always depend on him giving you a good six or seven innings every time he took the mound."
Wendt and fellow junior Matt Bassitt were a devastating one-two punch for the Comets. Bassitt was 6-0 with two saves and a 1.83 ERA, and he struck out 41 in 42 innings. Opponents hit .207 against him.
"Last year at the end of the season he started to come on as a pitcher," Thompson said. "He progressed quickly in the summer. This year he definitely stepped up on the mound. With him and Connor, I figured I had two aces.
"Sophomore Luke Sutter was 6-0 (3.04 ERA), and we knew he'd be decent. But pitching in his first year on the varsity, we didn't know where he'd be. That third starter solidified our rotation. We had a lot of depth in our pitching staff."
Nine Genoa starters hit over .300 this season, led by junior Greg Hillabrand's .493 average. He also drove in a school-record 41 runs. Senior Zack Apel hit .469 and scored 42 runs, while Wendt hit .420 and scored 41 runs.
Seth Dufendock, a sophomore outfielder, batted .419 and had a .592 on-base percentage.
"We lived up to our hitting (potential) and maybe exceeded it a little bit," Thompson said. "If we didn't live up to something, it was our defense. We had more errors than I expected. Last year we were a very good defensive team, but we were a light-hitting team. With a lot of guys returning this year, I expected us to be better defensively."
Many expected Eastwood to have a potential record-setting season, but it never materialized.
Despite averaging 7.8 runs per game this season and hitting .346 as a team, the Eagles, who returned their entire pitching staff and seven players who batted over .300 last season, could never get over the hump.
Eastwood lost twice to Genoa, by scores of 12-9 and 15-0, and had a team ERA of 4.61. The Eagles lost to Bellevue 6-5 in the Division II sectional.
"We didn't jell together as good as we should," coach Don “Chopper” Schmeltz said. "We didn't play together that good as a unit. We didn't have the killer instinct. We let too many people in games too long. We had some sore arms. We had good pitching by Josh Zellers and Clay Rolf, but Luke Eschenbrenner and Clayton Ruch had sore arms."
Eschenbrenner finished 3-1 with a 5.19 ERA, and Ruch was 3-3 with a 6.00 ERA.
"We beat people because we scored a lot of runs, but we left a lot of people on base," Schmeltz said.
We were in every game except the 15-0 Genoa game. We played well enough, but we didn't get the big hits when we needed them."
Junior second baseman Justin Bockbrader, a junior varsity player last year, batted .500 with 15 RBI and 13 runs from the No. 9 spot in the lineup.
"He had a good year," Schmeltz said. "He was the most improved player on the team by far. He had three errors all year."
Shortstop Josh Zellers hit .459 with seven doubles, 22 RBI and a .471 on-base percentage. He had a 3-1 mark as a pitcher, with three saves.
Rolf, who pitched, played outfield, caught and played first base, batted .418 with 11 doubles, two triples and four home runs. He drove in 26 runs, walked 22 times and scored a team-high 28 runs
Rolf was 2-1 on the mound with a 1.73 ERA while striking out 34 in 24 innings.
Brett Teall, a junior third baseman/shortstop, hit .351 and scored 20 runs with 14 RBI. Eschenbrenner batted .348 with 15 runs and 20 RBI. Ruch hit .343 with four home runs, 19 RBI and 22 runs, and Nick Schmeltz scored 27 runs along with 26 walks and 19 steals.
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