After two seasons playing Division I, the Canfield baseball team is returning to the more comfortable surroundings of Division II for the 2010 season.
Coming back to a district that the Cardinals are used to makes Canfield head coach Matt Koenig quite happy.
“We were 0-2 in the Division I tournament,” said Koenig chuckling, “but we feel a sense of familiarity in Division II. We are back in Division II due to a reconfiguration of the divisions. We missed being a Division I school by one student, but that is OK because we will be the largest Division II school.”
Just because Canfield is the biggest school does not mean it will be the best in the new division.
“You have Mooney, Poland, Hubbard, Niles just to name a few in our district so whoever comes out of the Struthers district has a good shot (of winning the tournament).”
Before Koenig’s kids can look ahead to the state playoffs, they must prepare for a challenging regular season schedule that starts on March 30 versus aforementioned Hubbard. The All American Conference Red Tier will be tough to navigate as well with Howland, Niles, a scrappy Beaver Local team and archrival Poland. Still, Koenig believes his team has been through enough diamond wars to prevail.
“Poland is always a battle,” said Koenig. “We can be competitive at any level so we will be disappointed if we didn’t come out on top.”
Coach Koenig is confident in his club because it has as many as 21 quality players who can contribute at the varsity level. There are 12 seniors and just as many letter winners returning in 2010. With so much talent, Koenig is using a small schedule of scrimmages to sort things out.
“I am hoping for guys to separate themselves (during those scrimmages),” said Koenig.
A couple of days before Canfield’s first preseason tilt, Koenig was still unsure of a starting lineup. The coach did announce that senior Brett Cooper will open the year at shortstop and most likely bat third in the lineup.
“Brett is a three-year letter winner and our most consistent hitter,” said Koenig.
Kyle Vaclav is another senior who has lettered three years in a row and will get another letter in 2010 as the starting centerfielder. Look for Vaclav to bat near the top of the order. Senior outfielder Joe Hoelzel, senior first basemen Nick Reinthaler and senior infielder Justen Vrabel will all fill the middle of the order due to their big bat potential. Junior letter winner Brock McGivern will be counted on to get on base and score some runs in front of those big boppers. Senior Tim Calhoun will be called upon to handle the catching duties. Calhoun will sporadically give up some starting time behind the dish to sophomore Anthony Ross. Another tenth-grader, Ben Angelo, will hopefully supply the same amount of quickness on the basepaths that he showed on the football field this past fall.
“Ben brings speed which not many others on our team have,” Koenig explained. “We need him to run like he did as a wide receiver in football. It will be a plus if he can become our leadoff hitter, but we won’t push him early.”
The only concern Koenig has with this potential scoreboard lighting lineup is the number of at bats everyone gets.
“We need to get them enough innings to make everyone happy,” he said.
Eating up innings should not be a problem for the Canfield pitching staff. Hoelzel will be counted on to be the number one starter and take the ball as many innings as are allowed per week. Seniors Kyle Kessner, Dan Calai and lefty Ron Sullivan will fill out Canfield’s rotation. Senior Matt Harmon will come out of the outfield to lend relief support. That is a group of hurlers that has Koenig clapping.
“We have a good starting nucleus,” Koenig announced. “Those guys have come a long way. If you add Harmon in relief we have some solid pitching.”
The one area on the team heading into the scrimmages that concerns Koenig is his team defense. It was that aspect of the game that foiled the Cardinals’ chances in the playoffs a year ago and with more contact inducing pitchers than strikeout kings, Koenig will need his defense to pick up the ball.
“We need to become a lot steadier defensively,” said the coach. “Our defense let us down in the tournament. We want our pitchers to throw strikes so they must get the confidence that the defense will make the plays behind them.”
If the Cardinals are able to make those plays in the field, then they should be able to make a play for another long trip through the Division II tournament.