The Star Beacon; Ashtabula, Ohio

Sports

March 27, 2014

HIGH SCHOOL BASEBALL 2014 — Great expectations

Jefferson, Edgewood headliners this spring

(Continued)

Geneva

Having one of the top players in the area return in the form of senior pitcher-infielder Connor Digiacomo will certainly help first-year coach Jared Sziber.

The Eagles will have a strong senior class for Sziber to work with as joining Digiacomo is Brandon Kovach (CF-P), infielder Ryan Nappi, utility man Steve Robertson and outfielders Steve Jewell, Chad Weisbarth and Kyle Burkhammer.

The other returning letterman for Geneva is junior Josh Sanchez (INF-P).

Sziber likes the mix of veterans and underclassmen his team has.

“We have a good mix of veteran and young talent,” he said. “In order for us to reach our full potential the young talent needs to grow up fast.”

Sziber expects the Premier Athletic Conference to continue to be competitive with North and South near the top of the pack.

While difficult, he expects his team to contend.

“North and South will be the favorites and rightly so,” he said. “I fully expect us to be competitive and right there in the mix toward the top of the conference.”

Grand River Academy

In his first year at GRA, Brian Ballentine has four returning lettermen to work with.

Back are seniors Billy Fanning (2B) and Leo Goldman (C) and juniors Scott Sender (1B) and pitcher Gary Leslie.

“Defense and starting pitching (are key),” Ballentine said. “We lost a lot of talent from last year’s LEC championship team.

“We hope that the new student-athletes will step in and fill the void.”

After winning the LEC the past two seasons, Ballentine is expecting another title.

“We have set our goals high,” he said. “We are hoping for a third straight LEC title.”

Grand Valley

For the second straight year, Mustangs coach Russ Bell is looking at replacing a lot of talent.

GV was hit hard by graduation last year after qualifying for state in 2012, but it responded with a 17-7 record and a tie for first in the Northeastern Athletic Conference.

Bell returns two seniors who lettered last season --— Chandler Verhas (1B-P) and Jack Scott (OF). Mustang sophomore Matt Larned (SS-P) also returns as lettermen from 2013.

“The biggest key to the season will be how well our very young team gains confidence, matures and adapts to the competiveness and speed of the game at the varsity level,” Bell said. “We only have two returning starters from last year’s team — Chandler Verhas and Matt Larned. I know Chandler will be a great leader for this team and he will be key to helping us maintain a team-first positive attitude. I look forward to him having another good year for us at first base and at the plate. He will also have to step up into a new role as a pitcher for us, as well.”

As he does prior to every season, Bell stressed the importance of pitching.

With only one pitcher returning who letter last year, Bell is counting on 12 potential pitchers from the sophomore and freshman class to step up and perform at a varsity level.

“Another key (like every season) will be pitching,” he said. We only have one pitcher returning from last year (Larned) who is also our shortstop. I expect him to not only have a good year at short and at the plate, but to step in to the lead role on the pitching staff. We have a number of young arms that show promise, but only time will tell.”

While GV might be young, Bell said that will not be excuse for his team

“We will not let our youth be an excuse,” he said. “We will keep working hard every day to improve, play the game with enthusiasm and stay positive when the inevitable bumps in the road come our way. It should be fun to watch such a young group grow both as baseball players and young men as the season progresses.”

After splitting for a conference title last year, Bell thinks the NAC is wide open this season.

“I feel the conference is up for grabs,” he said. “The conference is so well balanced and will only be tougher with the addition of Windham. The difference this year will be that the conference is going back to divisions. As defending co-champs, PV will be tough to beat again this year. Maplewood and Mathews will be tough as always.

“I know with our recent run of success, everyone will be gunning for us. Teams are not going to care about our youth and inexperience, nor should they. I just want our kids to compete hard, have fun and play the game with fundamentals and enthusiasm. We will see where that takes us.”

In his 12th season in charge of the Mustangs, Bell wanted to wish success to the rest of the area’s teams.

“I want to wish all of the area coaches and players a fun, successful and safe season,” he said. “Good luck and let’s hope we all have a great spring.”

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