2013 Varsity Baseball Preview
By Ryan Kaczmarski
For the WESTLAKE varsity baseball team, the 2012 season was one for the record books.
The Demons had an overall record of 24-7, shared the Southwestern Conference championship and made it all the way to the Division I state championship game in Columbus. It was the last year for long time head coach Jeff Short, and the roster included 14 seniors.
“Last year’s team was a special bunch, with several late-inning heroics and a trip to the state finals,” said first-year head coach Brendan Zepp, who was an assistant coach in 2012. “All 14 seniors will be hard to replace, especially our No.1 and No.2 pitchers (Ben Neumann and David Mauerer) and our four starters in the field.”
The Demons do have a solid core of returning lettermen who will be needed to take over the leadership roles in the clubhouse, including pitcher Danny Strodtbeck, who was the starter in last year’s state championship game. He had a record of 6-2 with a 4.79 ERA, and recorded 28 strikeouts in 45 innings of work as a pitcher last year. At the plate, he batted .348 with a .462 on base percentage.
Senior first baseman Jamie Lackner was the clean-up hitter last season, and is expected to give Westlake some punch in the middle of the lineup. Along with his .373 batting average, 3 home runs and 27 RBI, he has a solid glove in the field.
Shortstop Matt Leonard returns with his .261 batting average and .415 on-base percentage.
“He is excellent on defense up the middle, with a strong arm and above average range,” Zepp said. “He is a hard-throwing right-hander, who will be asked to pitch a lot this year.”
Junior Kent Axcell split time at catcher (with Kyle Latham) last year. He batted .368 with a .524 OBP in limited plate appearances, but he settled in the closer role on the mound, finishing the season with a 3-0 record, 2 saves and a 1.72 ERA in 16-plus innings.
“Seniors Strodtbeck, Lackner and Leonard bring last year’s invaluable tournament experiences back this year,” Zepp stated.
Zepp expects this year’s schedule to be difficult from start to finish.
“All SWC games are tough, especially Amherst, Brecksville, Avon Lake and North Olmsted over the past few years,” he said. “We also added St. Edward, St. Ignatius, Strongsville, Avon and Hudson to our nonconference schedule.”
The Demons strengths this year will be their experience up the middle and hitting, but there are many new faces around the order and an inexperienced pitching staff.
“Our goal each season is to be in contention for a SWC title and to be playing our best baseball when the tournament starts,” Zepp said. “I hope we can play hard and play smart. If we continue to work as hard as we have been in the offseason, good things will happen for us this year.”
NORTH OLMSTED is looking to bounce back from its 12-15 overall record last year, but the Eagles will have to do it without the 2012 No.1 starter Zach Smith and slugger Kevin Sawchic, who were both lost to graduation.
The key players on this year’s squad will be leadoff hitter Brad Novak (P, CF), No.2 pitcher Jacob Servidio, No.1 pitcher Jon Nola, who led the team with 22 RBI last year and sophomore Matt Starkovic, who led the 2012 squad in OBP as a freshman. A key newcomer is Joey Keleman, who transferred from St. Edward.
“This is a junior-laden team, that will need to step up in key areas (pitching and hitting with runners in scoring position),” head coach Tim Murphy said.
The Eagles’ strengths this year will be the team’s speed and their top half of the lineup will provide much of the offense. According to Murphy, they will need to improve on defense to compete in the SWC this season.
OLMSTED FALLS is also looking to climb the SWC ladder this season and improve from last year’s 4-10 conference record. The Bulldogs return seniors Kenny Hannah, Zach Yako and Richie Rader; and juniors Ryan Yako, Adam Asadorian and Jack Grimm (who all started as sophomores last season).
There is a long list of key newcomers for the Bulldogs this season, including seniors Nick Buchta and Travis Baldwin; juniors Mike Hansinger, Matt Albright, Thomas Cobb and Alex Thiedmann; and sophomores Anthony Savarino, Tim May, David Hennessey, Nick Storc and Niko VanBuren.
“We had a rough 2012 season, where we played seven sophomores on varsity throughout the year, and took our lumps,” head coach Daniel Largent said. “With only five seniors, we still are very young, but experienced. Losing two of our top players to grades will hurt for sure, both were pitchers who threw in the mid-80s and starters in the outfield, but we have a slew of sophomores from the 2012 SWC runner-up freshman team who figure to see a lot of action this year.”
ROCKY RIVER is looking to make a run at the West Shore Conference championship this season, while improving from its 13-13 overall record of 2012.
“We had a hot start and a cold finish (last year),” Pirates head coach Darryl Sanders said. “We made it to the district semis and lost a heartbreaker to Firelands in the bottom of the seventh inning.”
The key players on this year’s team are Jake Nicholson, Brendan Palker, Keelan Boettcher, Sam Sheehan, Kyle Kopechek and Matt Forlini.
“All key players are good defensively,” Sanders said. “They love the game and are solid hitters looking to improve on last year. Six of our nine seniors played varsity last year. Experience and leadership are what we are expecting from them.”
Sanders thinks the WSC will continue to be very competitive this year.
“Midview, Lakewood, Elyria Catholic and Avon are always good, while Bay, North Ridgeville, Vermilion along with us have also improved,” he said. “We have a very tough schedule, designed to prepare us for the conference and the tourney. We are hoping to peak at the right time and learn from established programs as to how to get things done the right way.”
Coming off a sectional finals loss to Padua last season, BAY is looking to go further into the postseason this time around. The Rockets lost three of their offensive leaders to graduation, but have several key returning letter winners, including seniors Craig Linder, Jake Peters, Chris Eaton, Max Lamb and Matt Toth; juniors Will Wilson and Marty Schuerger; and sophomore Griffin Watterson. The Pirates will also feature a freshman starter in right handed pitcher Jake Crossan, who also can play multiple infield positions.
“He has the tools to be a great baseball player,” Rockets head coach Joe Cheney said. “We’re hoping he can make the transition to varsity as seamless as possible. He’s going to be hard to take out of the lineup.”
LAKEWOOD looks to take over the WSC in its first season playing in the conference, and benefits from having 11 returning lettermen.
The key returning players are starting pitchers Marty Hartsel and Brian Hrdlicka; and position players Marquise Tyus, Eric Roder, Wayne Naida and Jameson Foran. Roder will also be the closer for the bullpen, with Tommy Fuller, Chase Oesterman and Max Lavisky bridging the gap from the starters.
Lakewood will be hosting Friday Night Under the Lights, with six installments for the 2013 season, which features a live performance of the national anthem, between-inning music and an ovation for Lakewood’s various travel baseball teams.
FAIRVIEW is coming off a 2012 season, considered a rebuilding year, in which the Warriors went 12-17.
“We were very young, and we took out our ups and downs with the younger players (in the lineup),” Warriors head coach John Carter said.
The Warriors have seven returning lettermen on this year’s squad.
“Infielder Matt Mears will be a big part of our up-the-middle defense,” Carter said. “Pitchers Dan Simko and Tyler Cain will have to lead us on the mound. Catcher Josh Szoradi and Zach Power will have to carry us offensively.
Simko, Connor Kerrigan, Matt St. John and Kyle Starks are the seniors on the team.
“Simko and Starks will be keys to our success,” Carter said. “I’m an old-school coach and don’t believe in (appointing) captains, but Mears, Starks and Simko are very vocal (in the clubhouse).”
LUTHERAN WEST took its lumps last year with a young team, going 6-16 overall, but the Longhorns have seven returning letter winners and are looking to make noise in the Patriot Athletic Conference.
The returning lettermen are C.J. Griffin, Eric Lewis, Aaron Geye, Derek Naim, Tyler Cerny Colin McCartney and Eric Szczepinski.
“C.J. Griffin holds down the infield at shortstop,” Longhorns head coach Trey Lamb said. “He hits in the three-hole and is a team leader.
“Eric Lewis plays every position on the field and hits cleanup. He’s a true utility player,” he added. “Aaron Geye is the ace of the pitching staff, and Derek Naim is a self-made catcher, who will do anything for the team.”
Other returning players are Kyle Dicapua, Andrew O’Hara and Gregg Kunze.
“We should be near the top of the conference and contend to make a run in the postseason,” Lamb said. “After two years of freshmen and sophomores littering the varsity roster, the team has finally matured. With four returning conference award winners, and eight total returning letter winners, the team has a chance to be extremely competitive at the varsity level.”