A district championship and 23-9 record in 2016 for the Amherst Steele Comets didn’t take the sting out of a 4-2 Sweet 16 sectional playoff loss to Anthony Wayne High School.
Midview took home last year’s Southwestern Conference title , but Steele managed to oust the Middies in the district semifinal.
As coach Matt Rositano heads into his fifth year leading the Comets on the diamond, he welcomes back a trio of dominant pitchers in Xavier Moore, Evan Shawver, and Brian D’Andrea — but hopes to see more timely hitting in close games.
“If we get the run support we need this year, we’ll be very, very dangerous,” he said. “This year, even if we have to play more small-ball and try to manufacture more runs, we can find that offense we need.”
Steele posted a 1.95 team earned run average in 2016, but struggled to win pitcher’s duels — going 1-6 when scoring three runs or less.
Moore has committed to play baseball at Ohio State, D’Andrea at Lake Erie College, and Shawver has drawn attention from the University of Nebraska.
All three posted earned run averages small enough to require reading glasses in 2016 — 1.93 from Moore, 2.02 for Shawver, and D’Andrea’s 2.03.
Losing the likes of Casey McConihe, Hunter Kuzak, Nick DeJesus, and Michael Burgess to graduation leaves some holes to fill on the roster, though.
“Kuzak is a big loss because he was our bulldog out of the bullpen,” said the coach. “What we’ll look for this year is depth. We have talented arms behind out big three but they’re unproven. They don’t have a lot of varsity experience. The key will be to see who steps into those fourth and fifth pitcher’s spots and who steps up out of the bullpen.”
Mark Harris’ .422 batting average led the team as a junior in 2016 with Shawver also contributing a healthy .330 clip. They’ll be joined by the likes of Ryan Glowacki and Hunter Cassidy in trying to improve Steele’s offensive output.
“Traditionally, the SWC is always a great baseball conference,” said Rositano. “You can go back to when Brecksville and Fairview were in it. There’s always going to be surprises. Midview kind of came out of nowhere last year to win it. They’re very talented and had a great season. Avon is always tough just like Avon Lake. There’s no reason to sleep on anyone. SWC baseball season is a grind. Every game is tough.”
Rositano said a few small breaks could have spelled a much different end to last year.
“We outhit Anthony Wayne 8-2 in that Sweet 16 loss,” he said. “A fortuitous bounce here, a ground ball stopped there, and it could’ve been another story. That’s how baseball works. We didn’t get the breaks we needed that game. We’re hoping to get back to that position this year and make things go our way this time.”
The team will kickoff the season March 25 in a doubleheader on the road against Big Walnut High School, a team rumored to open 2017 ranked number one in the state.
“Big Walnut also lost in the Sweet 16 last year,” said Rositano. “I’m really hoping this snow melts and we get to go down there because I want to see where we are right off the bat. Those are the games I like to coach in.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.