By VINCE PELUSO
Jefferson baseball coach Scott Barber and Edgewood baseball coach Bill Lipps have plenty of similarities.
Both are tireless workers, both love the game of baseball and both hate to lose — which is probably why they don’t do much of the latter.
In fact, Barber even has Lipps’ son, Andy, on his coaching staff.
Barber has established the a powerhouse program in Ashtabula County, amassing a 220-110 record in 13 seasons with the Falcons, while Lipps has the Warriors on a path of consistent winning as they have gone 31-15 over his first two seasons at Edgewood.
So, it should come as no surprise that they both have can share another similarity — 2013 Star Beacon Ashtabula County Co-Coach of the Year.
As one who knows both would expect, both deferred credit to the people around them.
“I think from a personal standpoint, I’m really happy,” Lipps said of the honor. “But I really think anytime you win an award from a coaching standpoint, it recognizes the people around you. I have good people around me and when you have good people around you, you can do things.
“(Assistant coaches) Lou Wisnyai, Ray Webker, Dave McCoy, all good people who work their tails off. I don’t care if you’re coaching water polo, baseball, football, whatever, assistants do a heck of a lot. They’re as much a part of this as anything.”
“Assistant coaches are very important,” Barber said. “When you have an Andy Lipps, a John Frangowlakis, a Benji Jarnbeck, who went to Riverside and played at Notre Dame College, come and find your program and want to be a part of it, it brings quality to the program.
“Then we have Pat Aracro and Dik Pavolino, who’s been coaching for 30 years before coming to Jefferson. It brings experience there and it rubs off on the kids.”
For Lipps, Barber has established a program that everyone else in the area looks to replicate.
“I’ve known Scott a long time, I think that all other coaches judge their program against what Scott does in Jefferson, probably the premier program in Ashtabula County,” he said. “It’s a hard-working group of assistants, the facility is great, the kids and the community take pride in it. Scott does a super job over there, you can tell he takes attention to detail. He was a great hitter when he played and you don’t make mistakes to Jefferson hitters because they’re going to bury you.”
Both spoke to the dynamic of the Edgewood-Jefferson rivalry and how familiar they are with one another.
“Bill’s around our program,” Barber said. “He comes and watches our program. Part of that is to scout and part of that is to watch Andy. But it’s same with me watching Edgewood. I’ve worked with many of those kids. I’ve had the Tony Magda’s, the Connor McLaughlin’s, they grew up with (my son) Matt. I enjoy working with them as much as anyone and I want to see them be successful.
“I was hoping we could’ve played them in the district final. It would’ve been the highlight of my career to play in that game.”
Jefferson’s season ended in a Division II district semifinal against Chagrin Falls while Edgewood’s came to a close in the same round against Notre Dame-Cathedral Latin.
“With my son is over there coaching, I hope they do well, except when they play Edgewood, I still want bragging rights within the family,” Lipps said. “I think it’s a lot like a Michigan-OSU thing. You know they’re working hard over there, I know Scott and his staff are working their rear ends off so I better make sure I am, too. It’s kind of like I have 100 percent respect for them and I 100 percent want to beat them. I hope it’s the same way for him. I think they’re the measuring stick in the county and everyone would probably agree.”
Both coaches were hammered by graduation this season as Lipps lost seven of his nine regular starters from 2012 while Barber also lost seven lettermen, but both men were able to fill the gaps.
Lipps led the Warriors to 15-8 record, following up their 16-7 campaign in his first season, while leading them to their first sectional championship since 2008.
Barber’s Falcons repeated as All-American Conference champions, they’ve won the league in both seasons they’ve been in it, while also winning a sectional championship.
“I said all along, I thought this year would depend on how quick people within the lineup became varsity players,” Lipps said. “Look at a Connor McLaughlin, a Matt DiDonato as a freshman, how quickly guys like that become varsity players. I think as we progressed through the season expectations got higher. In mid-March, we really had no clue. We only brought back Andrew Graeb and Louie Wisnyai, those guys hit seven and eight last year, this year they hit one and three. They both adjusted.
“In any team sport, you have to have role players, guys like Devon Mauer, Nick Johnson, Joey Zapittelli, the way those role players developed were important. I try to tell those guys, I don’t care if you start or not, as long as you’ve got tomahawks on your hat, we expect you to perform as soon as you’re called upon.”
Not unlike Edgewood, Jefferson won behind the strength of its pitching.
Barber admits his team didn’t score runs the way he would’ve hoped, but it was offset by an impressive starting rotation with pitchers like Cole Erdel, Troy Bloom, Ryan Zindash and Colten Wilbur, among others.
“Our pitching was definitely our strength,” he said. “Hitting, we didn’t get where we needed to be but we also faced everyone’s best pitching all year long. I think that prepared us for the tournament even though we didn’t hit as well, we weren’t out of any game, you could see that all year.
“Some of that is part of having a good program. It’s a big accomplishment for some to beat Jefferson and I think that’s a tribute to all the guys in the past. They set the tone of what’s needed to be a part of our program and what’s expected.”
While past players set the standard at Jefferson, Lipps believed his team benefited from having strong seasons coming into the baseball season.
The Warriors made the playoffs for the first time in school history in football and also won 15 games in basketball.
“I think some of the guys have the confidence from other sports,” he said. “Like a Connor McLaughlin, he became a leader on the basketball floor, Louie did that in football and basketball, Tony Magda was a leader, Alex Vencill was an all-county golfer. You see (Vencill) on the mound in the one on one setting, him and the hitter, it’s kind of the same concept in golf. You see how they evolved in the fall and the winter, that you knew you had a competitive team.
“I didn’t know if the competitiveness create wins, I think that probably played in what they did prior to baseball. A lot of it had to do with how they performed, their confidence level; it’s me, a ball and competition. All that kind of played out in this group and we were able to reap rewards of it.”
For Barber, this marks this fifth time he’s won the award.
Ever the humble coach, the winner of 220 games said that only told him one thing — that he’s been coaching for awhile
“It just means I’ve been around for awhile,” he said with a laugh. “No, I think it mean it’s just a lot of hard work from a good staff that you have, a good Little League system that works these kids throughout the year, good facilities and good support from your community. And obviously, good kids.
“It means a lot to get recognized, though. It’s really taking a lot more meaning the last few, being in a league from down south in Youngstown area, we’re getting noticed more. (Junior shortstop) Joey Piscsalko was named the player of year in that league, so we’re starting to get the recognition, people are noticing us outside the county, too. That’s a tribute to all the things I mentioned earlier.”
For Lipps, his first coach of the year award puts him on a list of several other coaches with which he has a connection.
“I look at that list and I thought it was kind of cool,” he said. “Back in the late ’80s I worked with Danny Craft, he’s a former coach of the year. Tony Nappi and I put together a summer program back in the ’90s, I worked with him and he’s a former coach of the year. When you work with Danny, you learn a lot about the creativity of working in the gym. Working with Tony, I learned a lot about the offense of the game.
“Joel Taylor at Conneaut was able to win that award, I learned a lot about being a leader from him and how to be a great role model. Those three guys were really influences on me, I still have influences from them in things we do in our program today.
“We run the same bunt defense that Danny ran. Everyone of them had an influence on how I coach from a standpoint of being a leader or the strategy of the game so I think it’s a great honor to be on that list with them.”
With the both coaches returning the majority of their lineups for 2014, and the potential that Edgewood will be joining Jefferson in the AAC, there’s no reason to think that these two won’t have their teams back in the same or better position again next spring.
And, perhaps, Barber will get his dream matchup of squaring off with the Warriors for the right to go to the regional tournament.
Peluso is a writer for the Star Beacon. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.