With the final Suburban Lakes League baseball title securely under their belt, the Lake Flyers have set their aim on capturing the first ever Northern Buckeye Conference championship.
Under the guidance of veteran coach Greg Wilker, Lake claimed its first league title since 2003 by going undefeated in the now disbanded SLL with an 11-0 record.
The Flyers have almost their entire lineup back and are considered the favorite to take the first NBC crown. Lake has a deep and potent pitching staff in a league that should also be rich in talent on the mound.
Lake senior hurlers Nathan Scanlan and Josh Tantari finished the season ranked first and third, respectively, in the SLL in ERA.
"We have a number of pitchers that are capable of winning games," said Wilker, who is in his 28th season. "We hope to compete for the league title again this year. The NBC will be very competitive because of numerous outstanding pitchers in the league."
Elmwood captured four of the last eight SLL titles. Royals coach Kyle Reiser, who has a record of 478-179 in 24 seasons, has an experienced team with five returning starters. Eastwood made a run to the Division II regional semifinals last season
Lake (23-4 overall, 11-0 SLL) reached the Division III district semifinals last season under Wilker, who has a 449-291 career record.
Wilker has eight seniors led by two players that earned All-SLL first team, Ryan Kohlhofer and Tantari.
Kohlhofer (SS) finished with a .349 batting average and 27 runs batted in. Tantari (P/OF) went 6-1 with a 1.64 ERA and racked up 41 strikeouts in 42⅔ innings.
Scanlan (P/1B) led the league in ERA (1.34) and had a 5-0 record with 44 strikeouts in 41⅔ innings.
Other Flyer seniors expected to make an impact are Corey Hotmer (OF), Jake Bandeen (C), Casey Conine (2B), Jake Materni (P/3B), and Thomas Nichols (P, OF). Sophomore Jayce Vancena (P/1B) also is a top returning player.
"We should be solid defensively and we have outstanding team speed," Wilker said.
Elmwood (18-7, 9-3 SLL) will make a charge behind the strength of six seniors.
Joe Bockbrader (3B) earned All-SLL first team honors after batting .302 with 16 RBIs. Fellow senior Jeff Vanscoder (CF) was All-SLL second team after hitting .313 with 17 RBIs.
Senior Conlan Varty (P/OF) also took All-SLL second team honors after posting a 2.64 ERA, while senior catcher Trey Marsh earned honorable mention.
Junior Zach Foster (SS) was second team all-league.
"We are fairly experienced with 11 juniors and seniors," Reiser said.
In the SLL's last 21 seasons, Elmwood won 15 titles.
Eastwood (8-18, 3-8) has its entire infield back under coach Kevin Leady, who played at Bowling Green State University.
Sophomore Nick Vespi (P/1B) had a terrific year as a freshman. Vespi had a 2.80 ERA with 76 strikeouts in 55 innings.Senior Nathan Decker (P) went 2-1 with a 2.83 ERA.
Other top returnees include senior Kris Hayward (OF), sophomore Ryan Mang (2B), junior Skyler Dierker (SS), junior Zach Coeffield (C), and sophomore Jake Schmeltz (3B).
"Our strength should be our defense," Leady said. "We have many returning starters on the infield. We have kids who understand the game and take pride in playing defense."
But lack of pitching depth could be a concern.
Otsego (15-12, 4-5) also hopes to make some noise with eight returning starters.
Coach Aaron Myers, who is in his third season, has a trio of seniors: Dustin Pepper (2B/SS), Nate Downs (1B/DH), and Kevin Vollmar (OF/P).
Junior Drake Johnson (C/OF) batted .355 and drove in 20 runs last season. Junior Ryan Smoyer (3B/P) had a 4.37 earned run average.
Fellow juniors Hunter Donald (1B/P) and Nathan Hackworth (SS/P) also should contribute on the mound and at the plate.
"We have a very tough schedule and we look to compete and have a chance in every contest," Myers said. "The league will be up for grabs and we hope to compete for the title. "
Genoa (13-10, 8-3) has a new coach as former major league pitcher Ron Rightnowar takes over.
Rightnowar spent the last six seasons at Toledo Christian where he posted a 131-68 record. He said he is focused on skill development and learning the game.
Senior Jarrod Adkins (3B/RHP) earned All-SLL honorable mention. He batted .379 with 14 runs batted in.
The other top returning seniors are Ricky Bierbaum (3B/OF/C), Trevor McLear (RHP), and Chris Chapinski (2B/OF/RHP), while junior Sam Reinhart (C/RHP) also is back.
But the team graduated its top three hitters from last season, who also were among the top five in the SL. Six sophomores will contribute this season.
"We are inexperienced," Rightnowar said. "We are very young but also fairly talented so it is a matter of putting in the work and getting up to speed quickly."
Rightnowar said the players take instruction well.
"We have awesome community support and a long tradition of success at Genoa and I am optimistic about the growth that the players have shown"
Woodmore (8-15, 2-12) should be sound defensively, especially in the infield, under fourth-year coach Todd Bringman.
Seven starters return, including the entire infield, from a team that set a school record for fielding percentage. The Wildcats also have good team speed, a great attitude, Bringman said. Among 14 varsity players are three seniors.
Senior Jon Sandwisch (SS/P) earned All-SLL second team honors last year. Fellow seniors Derrek Benner (P/C) and Kurt Baumgartner (1B) should also provide leadership.
Top returning underclassmen are junior Zach Brossia (3B/P), junior Coleton Bihn (OF), junior Danny Munoz, (DH), and sophomore Evan Ulinski (2B).
Woodmore has plenty of pitchers; however, some are young.
"We expect to be competitive every day," Bringman said. "We will get better along the way as younger kids gain experience and confidence. This year's team has, without a doubt, the best work ethic and team chemistry that we have had here in some time. They expect to win."
Fostoria (12-14) moves over from the Northern Ohio League where the Redmen went 7-7 last season.
Coach Brooks Lance, who is in his 11th season, has a career record of 161-117. Brooks has four seniors and five starters back this season.
Senior Zak Keels (3B/C), the team's No. 2 pitcher, was All-NOL second team last year. Keels, who will play at Owens Community College, also swings a good bat.
Junior Casey Kitchen (LP/1B)also is a standout player, according to Lance. Kitchen, who earned All-NOL first team honors last year, has already hit three home runs.
Senior Tyler Layton (CF) and junior Anthony Dean (P/C) are among the four players that have multiple years of varsity experience. Dean, an All-NOL second-team player last year, is the team's ace.
Lance also expects big things out of sophomore Elijah Hampton (SS/P) and freshman Kaleb Bemis (2B/P). The Redmen, who suffered their first losing season in eight years last season, dropped down to Division III.
Lance said the team's deep pitching staff should keep Fostoria in every game.
"They have the ability to throw strikes and stay ahead of hitters," he said.
Rossford (6-21) moves from the Northern Lakes League where they finished 1-13 last season.
First-year coach Alan Barnum moves up from the junior varsity. Of the 13 players, seven are seniors and five are returning starters.
Senior Nick Vidra (2B) earned a spot on the all-district first team after batting .378 and stealing 15 bases. The other seniors are Austin Reed (3B), Matt Sutter (1B), Devon Fryman (RF), Michael Jarosz (CF), and Justin Robinson (1B/P).
Sophomore Noah Asmus is team's No. 1 pitcher and also plays shortstop. Sophomore Ryan Reed, a catcher, earned all-district honorable mention.
Junior Tyler Cristen (OF) also will be in the rotation.
"We are very solid defensively and we have a lot of team speed," Barnum said. "We have a shot to win quite a few ball games," Barnum said. "We can compete in this new league we are in. We hope to contend."