Supposing the 2014 baseball season ever actually gets going, two squads out of Crawford County — Conneaut and Meadville — will be looking to climb the ladder in District 10’s Class AAA Region 6. Conneaut won three of eight games in the region last year, tying Oil City for third place. Meadville won just two, finishing fifth in the league.
However, this season graduation was a little kinder on the Bulldogs, plus head coach Bruce Stewart has a full year under his belt. And for Conneaut, the second-year program has likely gotten somewhat used to not only playing against Triple-A competition, but playing with each other as well.
So, the pieces should be in place for a competitive season for both teams. Now, if only the weather would cooperate.
Graduation took a sledgehammer to the Meadville baseball program a couple years ago. And that loss of talent showed in the Bulldogs’ 4-12 record and 2-6 mark in Region 6.
After last year, however, the ’Dogs didn’t do so bad. Gone is center fielder Corey Stainbrook, catcher Duncan Brode and first baseman Kyle Lynch. Plus, outfielder Kye Hopkins — who hit .341 as a freshman last year — transferred to Cathedral Prep.
Yet, there is still some horses in the stable, including the bulk of the team’s pitching staff. That includes senior and second team all-region pick Thomas McCloskey, who was 3-4 with a 2.98 ERA last season; and sophomores Trevor Smith and Dominic Pruskowski, the latter of which already has a win under his belt, pitching five scoreless innings during the ’Dogs’ 4-3 victory over Kennedy Catholic on Wednesday.
Junior Dane Stokes; sophomores Trevor Miller and Zach Darling; and freshmen Matt Burchard, Kirk Mumau and Antonio Ferraro could also get some work on the mound.
“The freshman class coming in is another really good class like we had last year,” said Stewart. “Out of that group, most of them pitch. Some of them will get some innings.”
Meadville has a few upperclassmen to look out for as well. Leading that list is senior shortstop Teddy Williams. The Millersville University recruit and second-team all-star batted .500 last season and is one of the most solid fielders in District 10. With junior Brock Biggs returning to second, the ’Dogs should be tough up the middle.
The infield will be filled out with junior Dane Stokes at first and second-team all-region pick Smith at third.
Senior Zach Grill moves from outfield to behind the plate this season. He was one of the team’s top bats a year ago, hitting .306.
The only question mark for Meadville is in the outfield.
“The outfield will be completely new,” said Stewart. “It will be interesting to see how it shakes out. But we’ve got some pretty good athletes to put out there.”
Although Conneaut only has one game under its belt, it’s not too early to say that the Eagles are off to a strong start. On Wednesday they took down reigning Region 6 champion Grove City and it’s ace Matt Gordon 4-3.
Despite graduating eight seniors last year — including all-region outfielder Brandon Sherman and all-region DH Jake Andrew — the Eagles still have some strong players back.
The pitching staff took a decent hit with the loss of Sherman. But senior Cole Baker returns after going 4-3 with a team-low 4.09 ERA last season, for which he was named a second-team All-Region 6 pitcher and first-team utility player.
Senior Jordan King was 1-2 on the mound when he wasn’t earning a second-team all-region spot at first base. And senior lefty Chris McCann, who missed last season with a knee injury, is back on the squad and is already fitting in nicely, firing a two-hitter with nine strikeouts in the win over Grove City.
Baker is also the team’s top returning hitter, averaging .389 last year with eight doubles, two triples, two homers and 18 RBIs. Other top hitters include King, who batted .286; senior Jeremy Santarelli, who hit .280; and senior Chase Gallo, who batted .263.
Taylor Williams, a sophomore, could provide some offense as well. He was 2-for-4 with a double in the Grove City game. Gallo and Santarelli have also logged doubles this early in the season.
Santarelli will also provide a steady hand on defense, where he returns to backstop after picking up second-team all-region status last year. Seniors Gallo, Luke Graham and Damien Granda are all experienced gloves in the infield. And senior Jon Onderko gives the Eagles some solid fielding in the outfield after being named second-team a year ago.