The Press Newspaper
Two new coaches step up to plate in City League
In the past decade, Clay and Waite baseball have never been shy about trying to compete for a Toledo City League championship.
Under former coaches Danny Clayton (Waite) and Karl Knierim (Clay), one always believed that a title was possible. But now there are new coaches at both CL schools, and one of them, Garry Isbell, has to defend a championship at Clay in his first season.
At Waite now is one of Clayton’s prodigies. Clayton once called new coach David Quiroga one of the best high school catchers in Northwest Ohio. After a stellar career at Ashland University, Quiroga returned to his alma mater as an assistant, and became head coach this season.
Quiroga was a first-team all-league and all-district performer as a senior, when he was named the CL Co-Player of the Year.
Quiroga helped Waite win the CL title his junior year, in 2002, and take second place to St. Francis de Sales in 2003.
Quiroga was hired in mid-December. Clayton, who returned from an earlier stint to guide Waite the past two years, resigned. Quiroga said the reasons for wanting to become the Indians’ next coach were simple.
“I’ve been an east-sider my whole life,” he said. “I always took a lot of pride in Waite High School. I tried to make it out to as many Waite sporting events as I could when I was in school, and I still do now. I’ve always been a sports guy.
“With the baseball job opening up, it was a perfect fit for me. I can walk to Waite. To go back and coach the school I played at and won championships and competed with, to get them to play at the level I played at is exciting. It’s a program that needs a little help in rebuilding and it’s something I want to help rebuild with guys who want to work hard.”
While Waite High is approaching its 100th birthday (2014), Isbell is just the fourth baseball coach Clay has known in 82 years. Whether he can meet the standards set by predecessors Harold Potter, Dick Kandik, and Knierim has yet to be determined, but Knierim stayed on board to serve as Isbell’s assistant and wants to see a smooth transition.
Meanwhile, it’s status quo at two local Toledo Area Athletic Conference schools — as far as coaches are concerned. Greg Christian is in his second decade at Stritch and Dave Russell is in his third season at Northwood.
In the Suburban Lakes League, Genoa hopes to repeat a championship behind Coach Dan Thompson and its pitching staff. Greg Wilker, who got his 400th win last year, returns for his 25th year at Lake, while at Eastwood, there is new blood at the helm. David Barkholz, a former assistant at Bowling Green, replaces longtime Pemberville Legion coach Don “Chopper” Schmeltz, who had doubled as Eastwood’s varsity coach.
Forecast: Isbell said the Eagles have enough talent to repeat as CL champions.
“The main ingredient for a successful team is your pitching staff,” Isbell said. “We have some pitchers who can step up this year and throw the ball fairly well. Pitching is always ahead of hitting early in the season.
“We have a lot of returning players who did well at the plate. I’m very optimistic about that, and the kids work hard. The ingredients for a successful program are to hit the ball and pitch. I think we have the pitching and the hitting, so it’s just a matter of having everything click.”
The Eagles’ top two pitchers are junior right-hander Jesse Castilleja and senior righty Austin Petroff. Castilleja broke his right arm and did not play at all last season.
“He’s got great command of his pitches,” Isbell said. “He’s around the plate and has great off-speed stuff, and he’s a bulldog on the mound. He knows how to pitch. Petroff is a kid who has some giddy-up on his fastball, and he’s got a great breaking ball. And, he’s a smart pitcher who pitched for us last year.”
Clay’s offense will be led by junior Austin Achter, who will play left field, first base and catcher. Achter earned second-team all-league and all-district honors last season.
“Obviously he’s our top returning hitter,” Isbell said. “He led us in RBIs, triples, doubles and home runs. He’s getting recruited pretty heavily by some Division I schools right now. His brother (A.J.) is pitching at Michigan State, and they like Austin, too.”
Isbell also looks for production from senior center fielder Greg Shanks (.375), a second-team all-district performer, senior first baseman/outfielder Jordan Wamer and junior shortstop Nick Sheehan.
“Nick is a solid player,” Isbell said. “He’s definitely one of our leaders this year.”
The first-year head coach added that the Eagles’ goals this season are to reach the CL final four and the district finals.
“The final four is always a goal of ours,” Isbell said. “Once you get there, it’s anybody’s championship. Year in and year out, we expect to get to the City League final four and the district final. Once we put ourselves in that situation, anything can happen.”
Forecast: Quiroga knows what it takes to make the Indians a City League contender, having led Waite to a CL title his junior year as a player. He has set several goals for his first Waite squad.
“I’ve had some goals set, but they keep changing on a day-to-day basis,” said Quiroga, who served as a volunteer assistant last season. “I want a group this year where we compete every day. Being a first-year coach and with players who are new to this system, if we get kids who play hard and compete, the wins and losses will be in the right column.”
The Indians’ first two games of 2010 consisted of a 16-2 rout of Libbey and an 11-11 tie against Toledo Christian (darkness).
Two of Waite’s top position players are Hatch, an all-league performer last season as a middle infielder, and Clifton-Lorton behind the plate.
“Hatch does everything well,” Quiroga said. “He’s got really good baseball sense. He’s aware of situations before they happen. He’s ready to make the play that’s supposed to happen and there is a cool calmness about him. He knows the game and you won’t be scared to put him in any spot on the field.”
Quiroga said Clifton-Lorton has proven he can handle the Indians’ pitching staff.
“He’s great with the pitchers,” the coach said. “He handles them all very well. Defensively, I think he’ll be one of the top catchers in the City League. He also has the great baseball instincts. He does it all well behind the plate.”
As for the pitching staff, Quiroga said you can “flip a coin” to decide the team’s top two or three pitchers. The rotation includes left-handers Padilla and Rios and right-handers Garcia, Wagner and Hernandez.
“I wish I could say I have a true number-one, a true dominator,” Quiroga said. “They all just throw strikes and get outs. They won’t overpower a team. We’ll be a committee pitching staff all year long. I have confidence that any one of those guys can throw strikes and get us outs.”
At the plate, Waite won’t dazzle anyone with its home run power, so it will have to manufacture runs by any means necessary.
“We are definitely going to play some small ball this year,” Quiroga said. “We don’t have great power, but we have line drive gap hitters. We’re going to have to bunt and steal and cause some chaos to make something happen. We do have pretty good speed throughout the lineup. One through nine, we’re not going to have a real drop off anywhere.”
Forecast: Through their first four games, the Rangers used three freshmen – shortstop Nick Russell, right fielder John Segura and first baseman/third baseman Justin Rohrs – in the starting lineup.
“Nick is batting .500 for us, so he’s doing real well,” said Russell, whose team opened with a win over Otsego followed by a loss to St. John’s Jesuit and two losses to Lake.
“Right now I like the team chemistry,” the coach said. “We’re all juniors and freshmen, with a couple seniors, but we’re playing together as a team. We need to cut out the walks a little bit, but we’re happy overall with them. We have bad errors at bad times right now but we’re not striking out very much, which is good.
“We put them in the fire real early with our non-league schedule, and we still have some tough non-league games coming up to get us ready for the league.”
Northwood has to replace the graduated Tyler Seibert, a first baseman and first-team All-TAAC pitcher. Seibert is now pitching at Oakton Junior College near Chicago.
The Rangers’ top pitcher is 6-foot-2 junior left-hander Cameron Juhasz, who is getting looks from several colleges.
He’s doing real well,” Russell said.
Juhasz (1-1) gave up five hits in a loss to St.John’s, but he helped the Rangers beat Otsego 4-2 by going the distance and allowing two hits with 10 strikeouts.
Junior Jake Pressley is the team’s No. 2 pitcher, while junior Marc Canaday and Nick Russell are also in the mix.
“We have a lot of pitchers,” coach Russell said. “This is a very hard-working staff. They were in the gym every Sunday, all winter long, throwing off the mound, and they worked really hard in the weight room. We have some real good young kids we’re putting on jayvee who are going to be good.
“We could probably throw seven guys if we wanted to. Our top four are pretty solid at throwing strikes. We’re happy with their progress.”
Northwood’s top returning hitter is junior catcher Ben Wilson, who hit over .400 last season to earn second-team All-TAAC honors.
“We are looking for him to be a leader,” coach Russell said. “He did a pretty good job last year. We’re hoping he steps up and takes the place of our lone senior we lost from last year, Offensively, we’re looking for him to continue like last year. He’s started slow this year but he’ll be fine. He played a little bit at catcher last year and will be splitting time with Andy Bloomfield.”
Russell said the Rangers, who look for contributions from senior designated hitter Dylan Romstadt, have a goal of staying with Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian in the conference race and performing well in the postseason.
“We want to get a little farther in the tournament than we did last year,” Russell said. “We were sectional champs two years ago and we lost in the sectional final to Ottawa Hills last year. We’d like to get a higher seed in the sectional and have a winning record. We need to throw strikes, cut down on our errors and put the ball in play. We’re putting it in play this year, but they’re not dropping yet.”
Forecast: There will be a very fine line between winning and losing this season for the Cardinals.
According to Coach Greg Christian, Stritch doesn’t have an overpowering pitching staff, and it won’t often have the luxury of scoring three or four runs with one swing of the bat.
“Anytime we get somebody on, we’re going to have to move him up,” Christian said. “When we get ‘em on, we have to get ‘em over and get ‘em in. We’ve been working hard on that. No matter where you are in the lineup, you have to be able to advance some runners. We’re not blessed with a whole lot of power.”
The Cardinals opened the season with a doubleheader sweep at the hands of Springfield, followed by a 6-5 non-conference win over Gibsonburg last Saturday.
“We definitely need to improve on our defense,” Christian said. “We had 12 errors in our doubleheader - some throwing errors and some ground balls where we were out of position. And, we walked a few too many hitters. I don’t think we’re going to score a whole lot of runs, so we’re going to have to keep the base on balls down. We’re going to have to win a lot of 6-5 and 5-4 games.”
Joe Esposito, the Cardinals’ top returning hitter (.313), was a second-team All-TAAC designated hitter last season. Gabe Pinciotti (.303) was an honorable mention all-conference outfielder.
The Cardinals will also look for sophomore pitcher/shortstop Mike Blazevich and freshman outfielder/pitcher Kody Kuch to have solid seasons.
“Kody is our leading hitter right now (after three games),” Christian said. “He’s going to be a good one.”
Stritch’s key losses from last season are catcher Austin Raabe, a second-team All-TAAC pick, and first-team all-conference center fielder Andrew Pinciotti.
The Cardinals’ top two pitchers are Blazevich and Ryan Adams, who batted .300 as a junior.
“After that, it’s up in the air,” Christian said of his staff. “Maybe Zach Rodriguez would go third. We have all our pitchers back from last year, so we have a lot of depth on the mound. We don’t have an overpowering pitcher, a strikeout pitcher. We have to make teams put the ball in play. Every pitcher has to pitch to contact. They have to hit the bats, instead of walking them.”
Christian added that every team in the TAAC will probably be chasing Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian for the right to host the team championship at the end of the season.
“I would think if we pitch well, we could be right up there,” the coach said. “We’re going to have to upset those two teams, but baseball is a funny game. If we happen to hit well and pitch well, you never know.”
Forecast: The Comets return four first-team All-SLL players from last year in Wendt, Bassitt, Hillabrand, and Dufendock.
They are led by Thompson, a third-year head coach, and are coming off an SLL championship.
Hillabrand hit .494 and had 43 RBI’s last year. The average tied a school record and the RBI’s broke a school record.
Thompson has three pitchers that combined to go 18-1 last season. Wendt is No. 1 in the rotation, followed by Bassitt and Sutter. Wendt was the Co-Player of the Year in the SLL last year while also hitting .400.
The other two pitchers that will see time on the mound are Adkins and Seth McWatters, a junior lefty.
Three of the top four hitters return from last year, as well. However, the Comets lost six players who hit at least .300 last season.
Aside from hitting and pitching, Thompson pointed out that Kyle Diebert could potentially help shore up the middle infield for the Comets.
The team is 3-2 so far this year, and Thompson said the big question mark for the team will be whether the new players can step in, accept their roles and be consistent.
“We have the talent,” he said. “We’re just hoping to have the mental discipline to do the little things right, which will pay dividends in big games.”
Thompson said those little things cost the team a sectional championship last year, and he looks to avoid that this year.
“Those crucial errors last year extended innings and gave teams four and five outs and extended pitch counts,” he said. “We want to keep our pitchers in longer this year, especially Connor.”
Forecast: Barkholz enters his first year at Eastwood with a senior-laden team as 12 of 15 players will graduate after this season.
After being an assistant coach at Bowling Green last year and spending two years at Central Michigan University before that as an assistant, Barkholz will field seniors at seven of nine starting positions.
“This year’s the year to win, I suppose,” he said.
The leader of the group is Clay Rolf. So far this season, Rolf has four home runs, three triples, 19 RBI’s, and he’s hitting over .800. Although it’s only four games, he’s only gotten out twice.
“He’s a man amongst boys,” Barkholz said. “He’s our big hitter.”
The player at the top of the lineup that gets things going, though, is Teall. He is hitting .400 through the first four games. Behind Rolf in the lineup is Rouch, who has hit well according to Barkholz.
“He’s hit real well and he’s getting on base, which is kind of nice,” the first-year head coach said.
Besides Rolf and Rouch, the pitching staff consists of seniors Troy Jones and Austin LaVoy and junior Jon Zellers.
Besides Jones, Barkholz said the two other underclassmen that will contribute this year are freshmen catcher Zach Coffield and junior utility man Justin Faykosh.
Overall, Barkholz points to the offense and base running as strengths to the team, while throwing strikes and playing defense are weaknesses.
He said that the April 17 doubleheader against Bryan and Anthony Wayne will be a good test for the team.
“They are both well known programs,” he said. “We’re looking forward to those.”
Forecast: Rase arrived at Gibsonburg having once led Convoy Crestview to the Division IV state tournament as a player. In his first season coaching at Gibsonburg, his team won a state championship, becoming the first team ever in Ohio to do so with a losing record.
He learned right there how good the Suburban Lakes League is in baseball, and how it can help a team when it comes tournament time. However, this is the next to last season for Gibsonburg competing in the SLL, as in two years the school moves to the Toledo Area Athletic Conference.
Still, his team had a winning record overall last year, but a losing record in the SLL. Rase believes limiting mistakes can help the Golden Bears compete in the league.
“The key to our season is to limit the ‘free runners’ we give opposing teams through errors and walks,” Rase said. “If we can keep this to a low number, we can be successful. Our goal is to be competitive in every game.”
Returning batting leaders are Molina (53 at bats, .377 avg., 20 hits, 24 runs, seven RBI, two stolen bases) and Brett Diekman (.467, 90 AB, 42 hits, 22 runs, two home runs, 29 RBI, and three stolen bases).
Returning on the mound are Molina (1.87 ERA, 1-1, 15 IP, 18 hits, 14 runs, four earned runs, 18 strikeouts, Jones (3.00 ERA, 2-1, 18.2 IP, 10 hits, 12 runs, eight earned runs, 29 K), and Diekman (3.13 ERA, 3-1, 22.1 IP, 27 hits, 14 runs, 10 earned runs, 12 K).
Other top players are senior Aaron Lind (OF), juniors Nick Delventhal (P/OF), Vincent Kirsch (utility), and Nick Sneider (P/1B), and sophomores Dylan Dorfmyer (P/3B) and Jordan Eddings (OF).
That may sound like a lot of quality numbers returning, but plenty was lost to graduation. Gone are hitters Pat Cantrell (.403 avg., 72 AB, 29 hits, 13 runs, two RBI, two stolen bases) and Lucas Damschroder (.325, 77 AB, 25 hits, 24 runs, one home run, 19 RBI, two stolen bases).
Not returning on the mound are James Cantrell (4.35 ERA, 3-6, 46.2 IP, 62 hits, 44 runs, 29 earned runs, 49 K) and Ricky Billow (4.11 ERA, 2-2, 32.1 IP, 42 hits, 37 runs, 19 earned runs, 23 K).
Forecast: Coming off a tough season by recent program standards, Woodmore’s ball club may continue to scratch and claw just to break even as the Wildcats continue reloading under second-year coach Todd Bringman.
Among the six returning letter winners only one collected SLL accolades last season in then-sophomore honorable mention second baseman Jake Zollinger. As a junior Zollinger returns a .326 batting average and takes over the starting catcher slot left behind by four-year star Michael Fahle, now playing NCAA Division I baseball at Bowling Green.
“Zollinger is probably our biggest returning bat,” said Bringman.
Seniors Andy Flick (3.54 ERA) and Seth Ottney (2.26 ERA) give the Wildcats a solid, experienced one-two punch on the mound and Bringman clarified that both are considered the staff “aces”.
“They’ll both take our tougher games,” said Bringman.
Zollinger and fellow returning letter winning junior David Jacobs join sophomore returning letterman Jon Sandwisch in shoring up the pitching ranks.
Senior Billy Coleman returns to man the hot corner, Sandwisch, senior Ryan Beam and freshman Zack Brossia are vying for second base starts, Flick also holds down the shortstop position when he’s not dealing and freshman Cameron Schirer is challenging Sandwisch for first base duties.
Beam and Schirer will also add depth to the pitching staff.
Jacobs anchors the outfield set in center, but the corners are in a current platoon mode until things shake down for Bringman.
Ottney and fellow senior Adam Trolio and freshmen Colton Bihn and Donny Bowen are top candidates to round out the grassy portions of the Woodmore defensive makeup.
“Taking into consideration our overall youth and experience, we have to refocus,” said Bringman. “We’re young with a lot of inexperience so our level of success depends on hard the players work.”
Oak Harbor Rockets
Forecast: The Oak Harbor baseball team got off to a 2-2 start this season, with a doubleheader sweep of Fremont Ross (4-2 and 6-4) last Saturday and losses to Fremont St. Joe (21-11) and Genoa (12-1).
“I like the way we swing the bats,” Coach Rob Schimmoeller said. “We put the bat on the ball well. We’re playing real good defense, and we’re quick. We’ll be running a lot and trying to take the extra base. Our pitching is young. They’re throwing strikes, but they have to hit their spots.”
The staff is led by Dillon Stiger, a second-team All-SBC performer last season.
“He threw the ball real well last year and we expect the same this year, being a senior leader on the mound,” Schimmoeller said. “He’s our No. 1. Right now our No. 2 is Brian Mallernee, with Damion McAtee No. 3 and Josh Warnke is our closer. Mallernee is a strikeout pitcher, Stiger pitches more to contact and McAtee throws more off-speed stuff. He’s a submarine knuckleballer.”
McAtee, an honorable mention all-conference pick a year ago, is hitting .556 (5-for-9) with two walks and four runs scored through four games.
Freshman utility player Mark Konieczny has been a pleasant surprise. He is hitting .333 and went 3-for-4 with a double, two runs scored and three RBI in the loss to St. Joe. Third baseman Phil Bryant and second baseman Alex Pavlica are both hitting .333.
Warnke, a second-team All-SBC shortstop last year, enters his third season as a starter. The Rockets’ top returning hitter, Warnke missed the Rockets’ first four games during spring break.
“He has good leadership and he fields the ball real well,” Schimmoeller said.
Schimmoeller added that pitching and defense will have to carry the Rockets this season.
“Our pitchers will have to get ahead in the count early so they can throw their off-speed pitches,” he said. “We struggled a bit offensively last year. Our defense will definitely keep us in games. We hope to be in the top half of the SBC.”
(Previews compiled by Press sports editor J. Patrick Eaken and contributing writers Mark Griffin, Scott Calhoun, and Nick Huenefeld.)