Northwood, from left, John Segura, Nick Russell, Brandon Mahoney, Evan Perkins, and Justin Rohrs. The Rangers have won the TAAC the last two seasons, but they expect to be tested by Ottawa Hills
As the two-time defending champions of the Toledo Area Athletic Conference, Northwood is bestowed the respect of being the team to beat but the Rangers will be tested.
Toledo Christian tied Northwood for the TAAC title last season but it is perennial powerhouse Ottawa Hills that could prevent a three-peat for the Rangers.
Northwood won the school's first league title since 1989 two seasons ago and repeated last season, tying TC with an 8-2 record. The Rangers have five starters back and a deep junior class.
"We return a really good nucleus of starters," Northwood coach Dave Russell said. "The league will be extremely tough this year and we have our work cut out for us."
Ottawa Hills finished third (7-3), then reached the Division IV regional finals last year.
"You have to give the nod to the defending champs," longtime Ottawa Hills coach Chris Hardman. "But I think we'll have a pretty good team."
Northwood (19-7, 8-2 TAAC) lost a good senior class but has five starters back.
"These guys have played a tremendous amount of high-level baseball together for many years," Russell said. "They worked extremely hard in the weight room this winter."
Junior Nick Russell (SS/P) finished with a .431 average with 18 runs batted in to earn All-TAAC first team honors.
Junior John Segura (1B/P) batted .478 and junior Justin Rohrs (3B/P) hit .373. Junior Evan Perkins (C ) finished with a .320 average, while junior Brandon Mahoney (P/OF) went 5-2 with a 2.92 earned run average. Russell must replace four starters with inexperienced underclassmen.
"How well they acclimate to varsity baseball will decide the success of our season," Russell said.
The coach said it is the best group of "team guys" he has ever had in his four years.
"They work extremely hard and are competitive in everything they do," he said.
Ottawa Hills (16-15, 7-3) lost all of its pitching to graduation. Hardman, who enters his 32nd season, believes the Green Bears should be sound defensively and quick on the base paths.
He has six seniors and six starters back led by senior Adam Moreau (SS/P), an All-TAAC first teamer. Moreau batted .398 with 20 RBI.
Junior Scott Tucker (IF/P) had a 2-2 record with a 3.89 ERA.
The other returning starters are: senior Nick Fischer (OF/C), senior Jack Saddemi (OF), junior Will Longthorne (C/OF), and junior Joe Mackey (IF/P).
"The biggest question mark will be where the pitching will come from," Hardman said. "The kids have worked hard to be good. We are always the favorite. But we haven't won the league in three years."
Cardinal Stritch (11-13, 4-5) has six seniors and seven returning starters for coach Craig Meinzer, a former Bowsher coach.
Junior Kyle Smrekar (2B/SS) and senior Mike Blazevich (P/OF) are the top hitters. Smrekar batted .431, while Blazevich had a .423 average and drove in 11 runs.
Also returning for the Cardinals are junior Robbie Bekier (P/1B), senior Derek Scott (P/3B), junior Ryan Ballesteros (C/1B), junior Cody Kuch (C/P), and sophomore Brooks Gasser (P/OF).
Meinzer said he has a lot of juniors that played varsity last year. He also has his top four pitchers back and the team has a desire to work hard.
Possible trouble areas could include hitting, base running, and scoring runs.
"We need to manufacture runs any way we can. Competing for the top spot in the league will always be our goal," Meinzer said.
Gibsonburg (12-12, 2-10 Suburban Lakes League) moves in to the TAAC after winning a sectional title last season under Kyle Rase, who is in his eighth season.
Ten returning lettermen are back led by seniors Gage Beaber (SS) and Logan Jones (P/1B). Beaber batted .315 with 17 RBI, while Jones had a .270 average. Sophomore Andrew Cantrell (OF/1B) batted .321 and drove in 14 runs.
The Golden Bears' pitching staff includes senior Dylan Dorfmeyer (3B, 3.84 ERA), Jones (3.77 ERA), and senior Dan Mendoza (3B).
"We have an experienced group returning and our success this season will be determined by how many extra outs and free runners that we give opposing teams," Rase said.
Toledo Christian (14-6, 8-2) is young with only two seniors but the Eagles should score plenty of runs under first-year coach Daniel Pierce.
"These guys hit the ball well and don't give up at the plate," Pierce said.
Senior Nate Lyell, a big left-handed pitcher, anchors the staff. He had a 1.21 ERA and 31 strikeouts in 32 innings. Sophomore Cody Brown (P/IF/OF) also is left-handed, and senior Corey Miller (1B/P) is back. Juniors Brian Freeman (C) and Jacob Eversole (2B) will be counted on to provide offense. Three freshmen and two sophomores will start.
"We may struggle defensively. But the pitchers will do a terrific job," Pierce said. "We are still young and growing."
Danbury (10-15, 2-7) won a sectional title last year, and has five seniors and all nine starters back.
Senior Branden Burke (P/CF) holds three of the school's single-season records in hits (38), runs (30), and triples (6). Senior Lucas Kennedy (C/P/OF) led the team in batting average (.412), runs (21), hits (28), and stolen bases (15).
Seniors Cory Schenk (P/SS), Dalton Chapman (P/U), and John Bunce (1B/DH) earned All-TAAC honors.
Lakers coach Adam Steinbrick said his squad is experienced and battle tested.
"The strengths include work ethic, coachability, and team camaraderie," Steinbrick said.
Emmanuel Christian (7-15, 1-9) is young and inexperienced after losing seven to graduation, including the top two pitchers.
Coach Ken Kahsen, who is in his fifth season, has only 12 on the varsity and one senior.
Six starters return: senior Luke McKinney (C), and juniors Jason Regnier (All-TAAC first team at SS), Brad Kisseberth (1B/P), Greg Scheiderer (P/CF), Leeland Snyder (CF/IF/P), and Cody Daniels (IF/P).