Over half of the baseball teams in the City League have a legitimate shot at winning the league crown this season, according to the 10 coaches.
St. John's Jesuit coach Ed Mouch said six teams in the league could beat anyone on any given day. He said his Titans, which have won two straight titles, are focused on surviving the regular season and not on securing a three-peat.
“We're not even looking at that right now,” Mouch said. “We're looking to play good ball at the end of April and in May. We talked a little bit about it. But with as good as the league is, we just want to get to the final four and take our chances from there.”
St. John's, St. Francis de Sales, Waite, and Central Catholic reached the City League playoffs last season. The Titans edged the regular season champion Knights in the championship game.
All four again are expected to be contenders along with perennial power Start and a Bowsher team that has the best pitching staff in the league.
“It's an incredibly tough league. It's as competitive as I've ever seen it,” said St. Francis coach Don Kober, who is in his 29th season at the helm of the Knight program.
Here's a look at the details of all 10 City League baseball teams, presented in alphabetical order:
Coach: Jayce Ganchou, first year
2001 regular season league record: 5-4
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Jeff Hartwig, 3B/SS/P; Jeremy Gleason, SS/P; Ben Beaubaine, 1B; Kevin Dankert, P; Rob Reagan, C.
Outlook: Although he is a rookie head coach, Ganchou has spent 11 years with the Rebel program as an assistant. His team also is experienced with seven seniors and seven juniors returning.
Bowsher lost six games in the City League by one run last year and missed the four-team playoff by one game. Ganchou believes his team is among the top three this season.
Ganchou said he has a deep pitching staff with nine total hurlers and three (Hartwig, Gleason, and Dankert) that he says are as good as any in the City. All three have pitched complete games while keeping the pitch count around 70 early in the season.
“They keep the pitch count down and they're doing really well,” he said. “I'll put my three pitchers out there with anyone in the league.”
Ganchou said his team is also defensively sound and has a strong junior class. But he is concerned with the team's speed and offense. He said Hartwig, Reagan, and Beaubaine should lead the Rebels at the plate.
“Our hitting needs to pick up,” he said. “But all of our leadership is starting to pull through.”
Coach: Jeff Mielcarek, 16th season
2001 regular season league record: 6-3
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Jason Bennett, SS/P; Josh Michalak, 2B; Bob Malaczewski, LF; Greg Bine, P/1B; Jake Shesky, P/OF.
Outlook: Two of Mielcarek's biggest concerns are the team's inexperience and its offensive production.
“We can't afford to make any mistakes,” he said. “We have to do the little things right.”
The Irish have fielded well so far and the pitching has been “good enough to win games,” Mielcarek said.
Only three starters return, but Mielcarek said his team should have enough talent to compete for the title.
“I'd like to believe that by the time we get in the heart of the City, we'll be able to compete for a final four spot,” he said. “But we have our work cut out for us because it is very competitive this year.”
Coach: Terry Jackson, first
2001 regular season record: 1-8
Top returning players (year, position): Senior Francis Wilson, P/RF; Junior Jacoba Clark, SS/P; Kyle Williams, 1B; Sophomore Josh Valentine, C.
Outlook: Jackson, who coaches the Cowboy football team, inherits a very young team with one senior, three juniors, and 17 underclassmen.
“What we're finding [out] is that our varsity kids are really more like JV kids because they're so young. They're playing above their heads,” Jackson said. “But I think we'll be a much improved team from last year. This isn't a bad baseball team.”
Jackson said is he pleased with the team's work ethic and dedication.
Wilson is the team's No. 1 pitcher and Clark is second in the rotation. Jackson called Wilson, Clark, and Williams the heart of the program.
Jackson said his biggest goal is to teach the kids to be aggressive.
“We'd like to go .500 but we're more focused on learning how to work hard,” he said. “We're up and coming. We just want them to stick with it.”
Coach: Allen Davis, second season
2001 regular season record: 2-7
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Pete Rejent, P/OF; Brad Carpenter, P/OF/1B; Jason Michael, P/OF; Roberto Cordero, C; Ryan Kraft, 3B/P. Junior Michael Ziehr, SS.
Outlook: Davis said his program is in the midst of a re-building phase.
“We're pretty much getting the program on its feet,” he said. “We want the kids to show up everyday and compete.”
The core of the team has a positive attitude and the defense has been sound, according to Davis. Five starters return led by Ziehr, who was named to the All-City League second team after hitting .518 in the league.
“We have a lack of experience playing in the big games and I'm concerned about our pitching,” he said. “But there's always a wild shot [to reach the final four]. That would be a great thing for our program if we could sneak in.”
Coach: Brian Wagner, first season
2001 regular season league record: 0-9
Top returning players (year, position): Senior Keith Jennings, OF; Juniors Leonard Thornton, SS; James LaBiche, P; Sophomore Keith Pope, P/C.
Outlook: Wagner is trying to build a baseball program from the ground up. He has formed the first junior varsity team at Scott in more than a decade.
Wagner served as an assistant at Scott last year and was an assistant under Rich Arbinger when Start won a state championship.
His varsity squad consists mostly of juniors and sophomores. His clean up hitter transferred to a Detroit high school and his centerfielder is focusing on football.
But Wagner said the team does have all of its pitchers back and should have a strong defense in the infield.
Coach Rich Arbinger, 27th season
2001 regular season league record: 6-3
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Justin Laraway, P/1B; Nate Hall, SS; Joe Callejas, OF Roc Roytek, P/OF; Junior Josh Moulton, CF.
Outlook: Expectations are always high for Arbinger and his Spartans, who won state championships in 1994 and 2000. Under Arbinger, the team also won a national championship (1994) and was state runner-up in 1997 and 1987. Start won six straight district championships in the 1990s.
This season Arbinger has five returning letterwinners led by Laraway, who has signed to play next season at Kent State University.
Arbinger said he has been pleased with his pitching staff, which consists of four solid arms. Arbinger said he is a firm believer that a team's success rest on the quality of its pitching and defense.
“Some days we've pitched good and other days we've hit well and other days we've fielded well,” Arbinger said. “We're just hoping to put it all together.”
Although two players have already gone down with injuries, 14 players are fighting it out for playing time.
“The City League will be very tough,” he said. “I just hope to contend for the title like any other coach.”
St. Francis de Sales
Coach: Don Kober, 29th season
2001 regular season league record: 9-0
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Nick Caputo, P; Jim Thomas, 1B; Jeremy Hartle, P/OF; Ryan Lazdtte, 2B; Junior John Lonchyna, C; Jordan Lonchyna, 3B; Scott Gunn, CF/P.
Outlook: The Knights certainly are familiar with championship games. The school's junior varsity team won the last two City League titles and the varsity team reached the finals in each of the last two seasons. Many of the team members also were part of the school's state football championship last fall.
“They are quality kids and intelligent kids,” Kober said. “Many of them are three-sport athletes. They work hard and are a pleasure to be around.”
Offense should be the team's strong point and the Knights have good team speed. However, Kober said he is concerned with his pitching and defense.
“Pitching and defense will win close games for you,” he said. “It's the key to anybody's season.”
The Lonchyna brothers return as starters along with Gunn.
“I'd like to think were in the pack,” Kober said. “We have some very competitive student athletes.”
St. John's Jesuit
Coach: Ed Mouch, fourth season
2001 regular season league record: 7-2
Top returning players (year, position): Senior Chase Welker, SS; Travis Pilewski, P/1B; Zac Pettee, C; Matt Keglewitsch, OF/P; Justin Berry, OF/C; Mike Kunzer, P/OF; Arin MacQueen, P.
Outlook: The Titans have the experience (seven letterwinners and 12 seniors) and the offensive ability to win their third straight title. But Mouch said he is concerned with his pitching staff.
“I like the way we swing the bat and our defense is above average,” he said. “Our question mark is on the mound right now. We're struggling to find people who can get people out. You can score all you want, but if you can't get the other team out it doesn't matter.”
Pilewski, who will play for the University of Toledo next season, is the most capable of being the No. 1 starter. “Travis has struggled a little bit so far,” Mouch said. “We have six or seven arms we can throw out there. We just need two guys to establish themselves as the go-to guys.”
Offensively, Welker, Pilewski and Pettee all swing the bat well, Mouch said. Welker made the all-district first team last year and will play baseball at Central Michigan University. “Chase is one of the best shortstops in this area,” Mouch said.
“We'll be pretty good,” he said. “We have a lot of experience, but right now we're just trying to find ourselves.”
Coach: Dan Clayton, sixth season
2001 regular season league record: 6-3
Top returning players (year, position): Seniors Matt Yenrick, 1B/P; Andy Taylor, 2B; Justin Sibbersen, P/1B/OF, Todd Gage, P; Juniors David Quiroga, C; Sean Scharer, CF.
Outlook: Pitching and defense should be the Indians' strength as Sibbersen returns with first team all-league honors.
Yenrick and Gage round out a strong rotation. Through seven games, the staff had given up no more than three runs per game.
Coach: Gary Mayesky, 11th season
2001 regular season league record: 3-6
Top returning players (year, position): Senior Alex Ramos, IF/P; Luke Jackson, CF/P; Dajuan Battle, 1B/P; Loren Young, OF.
Outlook: The Polar Bears have just four players returning and have six starters who are in their first year on the varsity.
Yet Mayesky said he is pleased with the team's defense, which, he said, is fundamentally sound.
“We're beginning to hit the ball well and when it comes down to it, offense will be one of our brighter sides this season,” he said.
Mayesky said he is very concerned about the team's pitching, which includes only three players with experience.
“We're inexperienced, but we're getting better every game,” he said. “Our pitching has to come through. I'm surrounded by a great bunch of kids right now. If we catch a break ... we might surprise one [of the top teams].”