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Perennial power Bryan and upstart Evergreen are expected to be the leading contenders for the Northwest Ohio Athletic League baseball championship this season.
The Golden Bears who have won or shared 22 NWOAL titles in the past 52 seasons, including three of the past five return seven starters from a 14-11, 4-4 team.
The greatest impact from a returnee is expected to be made by senior pitcher/shortstop Kolbrin Vitek. A Division III All-Ohio first-team selection at shortstop as a sophomore, Vitek missed most of his junior season because of an injury.
Also back are seniors John Bubba Opdycke (pitcher/shortstop), Zach Fruth (center field) and Adam Wheeler (right field), and juniors Andy Park (left field), Sam Ebersole (pitcher/first base) and Ben Elting (catcher).
The Bears hopes are pinned primarily to a solid four-man starting mound rotation that includes Vitek, Ebersole, Opdycke and No. 4 starter Chris Ross. This staff has already produced a stretch of 20 consecutive shutout innings during a 6-1 non-league start to the season.
We feel we ll have a strong team as long as we stay healthy, said Scott Huard, Bryan s sixth-year co-head coach along with Brian Arnold. Pitching and defense are our strongest areas.
Evergreen returns eight seniors from one of the best teams in school history.
The Vikings (20-5, 6-2) were runners-up to NWOAL champion Patrick Henry last year, and pinned the only NWOAL loss on the Patriots (28-3, 7-1).
Back for Evergreen is 6-foot-5 ace Andrew Pinkelman, who was 5-3 pitching and also batted .400 with five home runs and 42 RBIs in 2006.
He is joined by fourth-year veterans Jack Wade (catcher, .415) and Chris Pfund (center field). Other key returnees include seniors Zach Lashaway (third base/pitcher), Brandon Truckor (outfield/third base) and Clayton Salsbury (second base), who hit .383 a year ago.
We have as much pitching depth as we ve ever had at Evergreen, coach Brian Nagy said, and that s a nice luxury. We haven t been able to go three deep in the past, and now we re four deep easy.
The fact that we have so much experience returning is also a luxury. For us, the key is going to be getting that big hit with runners in scoring position.
Patrick Henry may have lost a lot of talent to graduation, but the cupboard is not bare.
Veteran coach Greg Inselmann who began the season 153-40 through seven seasons at PH after a 303-85 mark over 18 years at Defiance is gunning for a sixth straight 20-win season with the Patriots.
PH lost the heart and soul of its 28-3 squad, most notably pitcher/catcher Marc Krauss (.546 average, eight home runs, 44 RBIs, 57 runs, 7-1 pitching record). But there are four returning starters.
Back are senior Kyle Schwab (shortstop), junior Kyle Reese (third base) and sophomores Cody Meyer (second base) and Mitch Leonard (center field). Reese batted .396 last season, Leonard .324. The key pitchers back are senior Nate Wilhelm (8-1, 1.82 ERA) and junior Zach Botjer.
We re kind of a work in progress, Inselmann said, mainly because we ve got some young kids sprinkled in with some returning players who weren t necessarily our impact last year. Now they have to be. We don t have the same physical presence. We re smaller, but we re quicker as a team.
Archbold lost even more to graduation than PH. In all, 12 Blue Streak players with a combined 25 varsity letters are gone.
Kevin Scoop Miller, who coached the Streaks to a Division III state championship in 2005, returns just one starting position player in senior shortstop Josh Wyse (.353), and one regular starting pitcher in senior Derric Martinez (5-0, 2.38 ERA).
Three other returning letter winners hope to help the transition seniors Kraig Bostelman (catcher) and Tyson Fruth (right field), and sophomore Jacob Storrer (third base/catcher).
I don t know that anyone s pointing at us, but I really like our guys, said Miller, whose team opened at 3-2 in non-league games. They ve been tremendous for me. They do all the little things, and they don t cut corners. They understand the importance of playing as a team.
Another team on the brink of contention for an NWOAL title could be the Delta Panthers of 16th-year coach Jay Lefevre.
Delta (13-13, 5-3) returns six starters, including one of the league s top pitchers in junior Eric Vaughan (7-4, 1.11 ERA).
Also back are seniors Alan Kovar (catcher), Justin Murray (pitcher/third base) and Mike Dickerson (pitcher/left field), and juniors Logan Schlosser (pitcher/center field) and Derek Lambert (right field).
Hitting is definitely something we re working on, LeFevre said, and we re also working hard on our defense. The capability is solid, but the effort isn t always there. We should be in the running, but we ve got to get good pitching from our No. 2 through No. 4 starters.
Liberty Center (11-11, 3-5) has improved and is viewed as having an outside shot at contending. Montpelier (16-6, 5-3) must rebuild from heavy graduation losses, and Wauseon (3-19, 1-7) and Swanton (2-22, 1-7) are also in rebuilding modes.
Contact Steve Junga at:email@example.com 419-724-6461.