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As he enters his 19th season as head baseball coach at Central Catholic, Jeff Mielcarek has no reservations about the strength of his senior-dominated pitching staff.
Plain and simple, he says it is the most talented group of hurlers he s ever had.
With a trio of Division I college prospects, one of whom has already signed, the Irish look to be a prime challenger for a City League playoff title and a strong state tournament run. The Ohio high school baseball season opens on Monday.
Central (15-12 last year, 10-1 in the CL) is expected to battle Start, defending champion St. John s Jesuit, and Whitmer for the title with St. Francis de Sales and Clay among contenders.
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The talented threesome is made up of left-handers Brad Hays and Nick Whitaker, and righty Matt Tober. Each ranks near the top of the senior class academically, smarts that keep Mielcarek and the Irish coaching staff on their toes when it comes to game strategy.
Yes, the intelligence does come into play, Mielcarek said. They ask a lot of questions. They re very challenging, but it s in a positive way. When they re on the field, they re always thinking. These guys will call their own pitches at least 90 percent of the time.
When asked to name a No. 1 starter, Mielcarek said he considers each of the three capable of becoming the ace by season s end.
We re lucky to have all three of them, Mielcarek said. There s no pecking order right now. One good thing is that they really support each other, and the other players. They don t get down if they re not getting the ball in a big game.
The pitchers seem to share an all-for-one, one-for-all approach.
We each know that we re good, and we wait for our opportunities, said Whitaker, who carries a 3.8 grade-point average, has had his fastball clocked at 85 mph, and was 3-1 with a 3.09 ERA and 41 strikeouts in 34 innings last year. We play a lot of games, so it s easy to spread em out between each other.
Whitaker signed a letter of intent last month to play at Belmont University, a D-I program in Nashville.
Staying active on the bench can help pass the time.
You ve just got to be ready, and you always want to be into the game, said Tober, who ranks 10th in his class with a 4.6 GPA, has been clocked at 88 mph, and was 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA and struck out 23 batters in 24 innings his junior season.
I usually like to do a pitch count or a pitch chart for the other guys when they re pitching, so they know what the batters hit, and know their strengths and weaknesses. You try to help them out any way you can. We ve all been friends since freshman year. I always want them to do their best.
Hays emerged as the top pitcher last season, but is just as confident in the team s chances with Whitaker or Tober on the hill.
Basically, you ve got to have faith in the other guys, said Hays, who ranks 13th in his class with a 4.2 GPA, has been clocked at 89 mph, and was 5-3 with a 1.82 ERA and 99 strikeouts in 50 innings last season.
Hays has received scholarship offers from several D-I schools, including Purdue, Central Michigan, West Virginia and Virginia. He will make his second visit to Ohio State on April 16, and says he is leaning toward signing with the Buckeyes.
We ve never had three pitchers on the same team of the same caliber as these guys, but they still have to prove themselves this year, Mielcarek said. Last year was last year. Talk to me at the end of the season. We ll see what happens.
Mielcarek, whose Central teams have never won a City League title during his tenure, have lost in the championship game four times (1993, 95, 96 and 97). Last year the Irish placed first in league play, but lost to St. John s in the CL playoff semifinals.
The strongest previous Central pitching staff during Mielcarek s career was headed by the 1-2 punch of Joe Przeniczny and Matt Carpenter, who pitched the Irish to back-to-back Division Iregional tournament final in 1989 and 1990.
Central also has the mound services of a fourth talented senior pitcher right-hander Brandon Michalak who Mielcarek says is capable of quality innings.
On a lot of other teams, Brandon could make a very adequate No. 1 pitcher, Mielcarek said. Unfortunately for him, he s kind of been in the shadow of the other three guys. He will definitely see some time pitching for us.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461.