Demons eye return to top of SWC
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Westlake High School varsity baseball team is now two years removed from it appearance in the OHSAA Division I state championship game. There is almost a completely different roster from that magical team of 2011, but second-year head coach Brendan Zepp thinks this year’s squad will be able to rebound from last season’s disappointing record of 11-15 (5-9 in the Southwestern Conference).
“We lost many important seniors from last year’s team, who went on to play in college, that will be difficult to replace in Danny Strodtbeck, Jaime Lackner and Andrew Kettel,” Zepp said. “We are going to be a young and hungry bunch this season.”
The Demons have seven returning letter winners from last year, including starting pitchers Dylan Crocker, Kal Patterson and Andris Balodis.
“Those three should solidify our starting rotation,” Zepp stated. “Our starting second baseman, Justin Runevich, led the team last season with three home runs and 15 RBI’s. Kent Axcell, plagued by injury last year, brings a weapon behind the plate and from the left side of the batter’s box.
“J.P. Parfejweic was a leader in offseason conditioning and will bring some punch to the lineup.”
Key newcomers to varsity are juniors Scott Leonard and Ryan Nebraska; and sophomores Logan Fisher and Nick Moracz.
Zepp is looking for tough battles against conference rivals Amherst, Brecksville-Broadview Heights, and Avon Lake, along with nonconference games against high caliber teams like Avon, Mentor and Sandusky Perkins.
“Our team strengths will be pitching and team speed,” Zepp explained. “We lack varsity experience this season and will need to find offense in some of the new guys.
“We want to be very competitive in every Southwestern Conference game – one of the deepest and strongest conferences in Northeastern Ohio,” Zepp said. “We’d like to finish above .500 and go to districts this year.”
Returning lettermen a boost for Bulldogs
By Ryan Kaczmarski
The Olmsted Falls varsity baseball team is going to rely heavily on its large group of returning players to make a run for the Southwestern Conference championship.
The Bulldogs are coming off an outing in which they went 7-20 overall, and 3-11 in the SWC. The 2014 campaign will be fought without some of last year’s team leaders.
“We lost our top position player from 2013, Kenny Hanna – who is currently playing at John Carroll University – to graduation. He was first team All-SWC,” Olmsted Falls head coach Daniel Largent said. “We also lost our No. 1 pitcher from last season, Zach Yako.
“Besides that, we only had five total seniors on last year’s squad, and we bring a wealth of experience back in 2014.”
There are 13 total returners for the Bulldogs this season, including seniors Mike Hansinger, Ryan Yako, Jack Grimm, Evan Burnell, Thomas Cobb, Adam Asadorian and Matt Albright; and juniors Anthony Saravino, Ryan Hanna, David Hennessey, Tim May, Niko Van Buren and Nick Storc.
Five of the seniors are three-year varsity players, in Asadorian in the outfield, Yako splitting time between third base and the pitcher’s mound, Grim at first base, Albright in the outfield and pitching and Hansinger in the outfield.
Asadorian – All-SWC honorable mention last year – is one of the best pure athletes I have ever coached,” Largent said. “He was also a standout basketball player this year – a selfless leader and two-time captain – and will man center field for us in 2014.
Six of the juniors lettered as sophomores last year, with Saravino at short stop, Hanna at second base, May at DH, and Hennessey, Van Buren and Storc on the pitchers’ mound.
“May is only a junior, but still a captain, injured his knee during the football season, but he will hopefully be able to play designated hitter for us as the year progresses. He was a very good catcher for us as a sophomore, and he will be missed behind the plate, but he has shown great leadership and his recovery is ahead of schedule.”
Hennessey will be the Bulldogs No.1 pitcher heading into this season. He was 3-3 with a 4.20 ERA as a sophomore.
“He really has improved his overall game,” Largent stated. “He has lost weight, gotten quicker and stronger, and has very good control over multiple pitches.
“We also have a very large class of 18 sophomores, many of which could be on varsity this year,” he added. “That will be determined as the season progresses.”
On paper, Olmsted Falls looks to be an immediate contender in the conference race, but coming off that 7-20 season, the Bulldogs will treat every game as a big game.
“We have a lot of experience returning, but they just need to learn how to win,” Largent explained. “Many of the juniors and seniors have been varsity starters since they were sophomores, even though they may not have been ready.
“They have taken their lumps over the past two seasons, but are ready to turn the corner. I am very happy where our program is heading this season.”
According to Largent, there are just a couple things that can turn it around for the Bulldogs this season.
“We need to finish games,” he said. “We play a very tough schedule year in and year out, and we had a lot of teams beat for five or six innings. We need to learn how to finish those games.
“We also need to improve our overall team offensive numbers.”
Avon Lake looks to build off regional qualifying season
By Joe Ostrica
The Avon Lake baseball team is back after a terrific 2013 season, qualifying for the regionals for the first time since 2005. The Shoremen went 17-10 overall and 7-7 in the Southwestern Conference.
The Shoremen have eight returning letter winners, including All-SWC and All-Lorain County first-team selection Brad Hamilton. The senior catcher was also an All-Ohio honorable mention pick.
“We are led by our senior catcher Brad Hamilton,” Avon Lake head coach Kevin Marlow said. “He sets the tone in practice that it is time to go to work and get better.”
Senior David Winkel was an All-Lorain County first team and All-SWC second team outfielder last year. Junior Jeramiah Campo was an All-SWC honorable mention outfielder, too.
Seniors Kyle Kuhar (first base, .356 batting average), shortstop Matt Gottshall, Logan Montague (pitcher, 4-0, 1.19 ERA), Logan DeLong (pitcher, 2-1, 3.71 ERA) and outfielder Jace Russell round out the key returning Shoremen.
“This is a senior-dominated team that got a taste of success in the tournament, qualifying for last year’s regionals,” Marlow said. “The sheer fact that we are returning so many starters – seven – from last year makes us optimistic about our chances this season. We expect to be competitive in an always-tough Southwestern Conference.”
“Even though we are returning seven starters we still have vacancies at both second and third base. We are excited about the talented options we have to fill these vacancies.”
Marlow said Brecksville-Broadview Heights is the team to beat in the SWC once again.
“Simply because they are great year-in, year-out,” he said. “Amherst is another team we look forward to playing. They are our main rival.
“The team’s goal this year is to win the SWC and improve on the regional berth they earned last year in the tournament.
Marlow said key games will be April 11 against St. Ignatius at Progressive Field, which is a rematch of last year’s regional semi-final; an April 1 game against Brecksville and an April 10 game at Amherst.
North Olmsted High School did not reply for this story.