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Spring brings green team to diamond

March 24, 2011
By Nik Zirounis
Spring is always a time for change, but the change that is about to happen to the Canfield baseball team may not be as pleasant as the one that happens around here each March.

For the first time in recent memory the Redbirds will be taking the field with a very green lineup. Twelve players graduated off last year’s team that won a conference crown and reached the district championship leaving head coach Matt Koenig with a bunch of decisions to make when Canfield meets Hubbard on March 29.

“We’ll have a whole new team,” said Koenig chuckling recently. “We are only returning two starters and a couple part-time starters. We are pretty inexperienced.”

Inexperience doesn’t always mean terrible things are going to happen however. In fact, Koenig is looking at this season with a very refreshing attitude.

“This will be an exciting year because we get to teach more,” Koenig said. “It’s a different challenge. It will be fun.”

What will really make the season fun for Koenig is if he can find a reliable group of arms to headline his pitching staff. The rotation is one part of this Canfield club that does have some veterans. Seniors Brad Smith, Jared Bettura and Josh Midgley should help Koenig cope with the loss of some very good pitchers from the past year. All three saw some time on the mound in 2010, although most of Smith’s season was spent in a closers role. He will help make up the starting staff this season.

“It’s a good thing these guys have experience,” Koenig said. “They will be one, two, three in some order. They are capable of getting some good innings.”

While those three seniors will be eating up innings on the hill a pair of returnees will be sucking up balls on defense. Outfielder Ben Angelo and middle infielder Brock McGivern are both big-time players with gloves on their hands and they can also rake with their bats too. McGivern is a three-time letter winner so he carries the most experience on the Cardinals. Junior Anthony Ross also played a part-time role during his sophomore season and will be counted on heavily in the lineup at catcher. Another pair of players who should step up in their senior seasons is outfielders Mike Werner and Tim Cheslik. All of Canfield’s 12th-graders will play an important role in how quickly the team develops.

“The seniors will have to be leaders, but also bring along the younger guys as well,” Koenig insisted.

The younger guys Koenig is referring to is a group of seven that all have the ability to pitch, but will probably make their marks at other positions. Those super seven are Michael Ross, Joe Tuchek, Michael Wittman, Tony Mehle, Tyler Rhoads, Ryan O’Hara and Justin Summer.

“We have some good athletes coming up from JV,” Koenig said enthusiastically.

All of those younger Cardinals got a chance to prove themselves in an important scrimmage played March 19 at Canton Central Catholic. During that nine-inning exhibition, coach Koenig captured an image of just how his kids would react on the field.

“You never really know where you’re at until you play in a game against real competition,” said the coach after that Saturday scrimmage. “The kids got to go against varsity pitching at varsity speed. We got to see what we were struggling with.”

Right now the biggest struggle facing the Cardinals is becoming an experienced, cohesive unit. With early season games against tough opponents like Hubbard, Boardman, Struthers, Fitch and Lakeview it may take a little longer than Koenig may like to get his team firing on all cylinders. The coach hopes to have a better feel for his team by the time they play archrival Poland on April 8.

“We have a nice schedule in front of us,” said Koenig. “Hopefully those games against a Division I schedule prepare us enough to get to the top of the (All American Red Tier) conference. We are the defending league champs, but it will be a fight (to repeat). Howland returns great pitching. Poland is always solid and Niles is feisty.”

This Canfield clan may prove to be a feisty bunch as well before the season comes to a close. Coach Koenig will not use his team’s youthfulness as an excuse for not winning. Canfield has a proud baseball tradition and if everyone keeps learning on the job then it may not be unrealistic to think that the Cards can climb to normal heights in the playoffs.

“We hope to gain experience along the way to have a big May,” Koenig said confidently.



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