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Otsego ran away from the field in the Northern Buckeye Conference last season, but no team is expected to post an undefeated year like the Knights did in 2013.
Lake (15-10, 9-4) has eight starters back from a team that finished tied for second. The Flyers are led by senior pitcher Jayce Vancena, who will play at the University of Michigan. For those reasons Lake, which won the previous two league titles, is the preseason favorite to win the NBC with five first-place votes.
“I'd rather be picked first than last,” Lake coach Greg Wilker said. “It’s a tribute to the kids we have coming back, but they realize you don’t win a championship on paper. There are a lot of quality teams in the league again this year.”
Vancena had a 1.06 earned run average and struck out 75 batters in 52 innings. Senior Brad Ackerman (OF) had a .386 average. Both earned All-NBC first team honors.
“Whenever you have a pitcher like Jayce, you can build around that,” Wilker said. “We have some very good arms.”
Senior Cody Witt (2B/P) batted .286. Junior Connor Bowen (SS/P) had a .355 average. Senior Joel Densic (3B) hit .297, and senior Nick Walsh (C) batted .316.
“We expect to be very competitive again,” he said.
Genoa (20-10, 9-5) reached the regional final last season, and the Comets are picked to finish second with three first-place votes.
“Last season gave our kids the confidence we needed,” Genoa coach Ron Rightnowar said. “That experience is invaluable. We have kids who understand that hard work is the path to success. We have veterans that will lead well and some talented young guys who will follow.”
Genoa tied for third and all nine starters are back for Rightnowar, who enters his third season (32-23).
Six seniors are back, led Alex Hayes (SS/ RHP), who hit .484 and drove in 40 runs. The other seniors are Casey Gose (2B/CF), Logan Scott (1B/OF/ RHP), Grant Adams (1B/DH), Tyler Rozek (OF/DH), and Quentin Spiess (OF/1B/LHP).
“I am optimistic about the growth that the players have shown,” Rightnowar said. “We have awesome community support and a long tradition of success.”
Eastwood (17-8, 9-4) tied for second last year, and coach Kevin Leady said the Eagles always aspire to make a deep run in the tournament. Eastwood has five letter winners back and is picked to finish third.
“Our team goal is to compete for an NBC title,” Leady said. “The season will be determined on how the seniors lead the underclassman.”
Senior pitcher Grant Peters was 4-2 last season with a school-record ERA of 1.24. He was the team’s workhorse.
The Eagles’ top hitter is senior infielder Ryan Mang, who hit .400. The other letter winners are seniors Jake Schmeltz (P/IF/OF) and senior Mat Drown (P/IF/OF) along with junior David Krukemyer (1B/C).
“To be a successful program we have to develop depth on the mound,” Leady said. “We have a few younger guys that are showing great things.”
Otsego (17-7, 14-0) has five starters back, and the Knights’ pitching and defense should be strong.
Coach Chase Welker won the NBC in his first year at the helm, and he has nine seniors back. “We will be competitive in every game and we look forward to defending our league title,” Welker said.
The returning starters are all seniors: Deven Vollmar (P/1B), Max Miller (SS/P), Zac Gregory (OF/1B), C.J. Selders (INF/P) and Austin Cox (C ). Senior Jon Thomas (1B/P) also returns.
Elmwood (15-10, 9-5) has three starters back for longtime coach Kyle Reiser, who is 505-203 in 27 seasons.
Senior Jacob Wise (CF) earned All-NBC second team honors. Sophomores Dylan Hall (SS) and Phillip Buckingham (3B) return.
“We are a very young team with three freshman and six sophomores and three returning starters in the field and two pitchers who threw only 50 innings total last season,” Reiser said. “We will have to see how they progress.”
Woodmore (12-14, 4-10) has a new coach as Jake Huss takes over program that won a sectional title. Seven letter winners are back, led by senior Evan Ulinski (SS/2B/P), who hit .427 with 16 RBIs. He had a 3.95 ERA and 25 strikeouts.
Senior Brad Bringman (3B/DH) batted .361. Junior Josh Cowell (2B/SS/) had a 5.79 ERA. Senior Erich Gruelich (C/1B) had a 3-0 record and 2.47 ERA. Senior Jake Matwiejczyk (OF) batted .352 with 16 RBIs.
“The leadership we get from our five seniors will be important as we will play a lot like we did last year, putting the ball in play and use our above average team speed (stole 84 bases last season),” Huss said. “Pitching will be by committee.”
Fostoria (2-26, 1-13) has six starters back for Dustin Smith’s second season.
Senior Hunter Abell (1B/P) earned All-NBC second team honors. Senior Alex Jackson (3rd/DH), senior Alex Souders (C ), junior Kaleb Bemis (IF/P), junior Chris Hampton (IF/P), junior Robby Crotty (OF/P), and sophomore Lance Smith (OF/P) also are back.
“The upcoming season looks very bright,” Smith said. “If we can make the other team earn their runs and not give them runs we can have a very good year. We have had very good leadership.”
Rossford (6-21, 3-11) has seven returning players and will be experienced. “We return our entire pitching staff from last year, as well,” coach Alan Barnum said.
Senior Ryan Reed (C) led the league with a .529 batting average and had nine doubles and 25 RBIs. Senior Noah Asmus (3B, P) also earned All-NBC first team honors. Junior Ryan Niese (SS/P), junior Marty Linthicum (P/U), sophomore Erik Davis (OF), sophomore Ben Sauter (OF/P), and Trey Demko (1B) also are back.
“We have some team speed, so it will be important for us to be aggressive on the base paths,” Barnum said.