It seemed like just about every baseball season recently local fans were able to witness a deep pitching staff carry Austintown Fitch into the district tournament.
This season, however, things are about to change for the Falcons’ pitchers. Unfortunately for Fitch, that metamorphosis on the mound may not be a pleasant one. Gone from last season’s team are incredible arms such as Chris Miller, Josh Foster and Ty Hartman meaning that Fitch head coach Wally Ford may have to scramble this spring to find substantial starters.
“Pitching will be a big question for us,” said Ford from his school office. “This is the fewest number of guys coming back we have had in a while. We always had an ace or two, but we lost our top guys from last year. We don’t have much with varsity experience so we will have to find out who are number one pitcher is.”
Ford may actually never find that true ace this season, but he does have a few kids who can do reasonably well in the arms race. Junior Anthony Paris probably has the most experience of any of the other returning starting pitchers. He earned a letter as a sophomore at both pitcher and outfielder. Logan Kane is another junior letter winner who pitched during his sophomore season and will also see time this year at first base. Seniors Sean Mancino and John Michael Valentine did not get much pitching practice as varsity players a year ago, but they will be needed to step in and help this season.
“We on counting on (Mancino and Valentine),” said Ford. “They pitched a lot of JV for us.”
There will be three other Falcons returning in 2011 who did get plenty of varsity action over the past couple seasons and will be needed to anchor the Falcons offensively. Seniors Dan Spiker, Jake Eynon and Ron DeAmicis all earned letters in 2010 and should lead Fitch from catcher, middle infield and second base respectively all year. With that trio coming together in Ford’s lineup along with Paris and Kane, scoring runs should not stop Fitch from winning games.
“Offensively we will be alright,” said the coach confidently.
Another reason for optimism for Ford is that he has a very nice core of underclassmen coming up the ranks. Youth may definitely be served on the Fitch baseball team more than ever before.
“We have a really good sophomore and freshmen class,” stated Ford enthusiastically. “We will have to look to them more than usual. They will be pushing some of the older guys. The ability of the younger guys has me excited.”
Headlining that list of ultimate underclassmen are four super sophomores. Joey Beals is a starting shortstop prospect, Darek Bell is a potential big help at catcher and first base and outfielder Kevin Sierra moved to Austintown from Puerto Rico where baseball talent grows almost as beautifully as the palm trees. The last part of that fantastic four is pitching prospect Austin Cooper who has opened up eyes so far in camp.
“(Cooper) is looking good on the mound,” Ford said.
Thanks to the expected contributions of these greener Falcons, Ford is able to count his overall roster as a strength this season.
“Depth might be alright if the younger guys perform the way we hope,” he said. “I like the work ethic of this team too.”
Fitch will have to do a lot of work if it is to finish at the top of the Federal League in its final season in that conference. Massillon Jackson, Canton GlenOak, Uniontown Lake, North Canton Hoover and Boardman all will be thought of as conference contenders in 2011, but as witnessed over the last few years, the Federal top to bottom is brutal.
“The Federal League is always tough and unpredictable,” Ford insisted. “In ’05 we weren’t supposed to be good, but we ended up winning the Federal. You never know with high school baseball.”
Ford does know that his team will get tested early by a league opponent as it plays Jackson in the first week of action. The Falcons start the season March 30 at colossal Cardinal Mooney then have to challenge Canfield, Hubbard and Niles in the next four days. With the Falcons as inexperienced as they are, they may have to experience some growing pains early before becoming the team Ford wants.
“It may take a couple weeks into the seaon before we get there,” said Ford honestly.