Start was runner-up last year in the City League playoffs and returns, from left, Austin Suiter, Austin Baker, and Marty Ramirez. The Spartans are the preseason pick to win the CL title.
The City League baseball championship is up for grabs more than it has ever been in recent years.
With just six teams left in the league after others left for the new Three Rivers Athletic Conference, a number of teams hope to step to the top.
Start, of course, is one of those teams, having built a reputation as one of Ohio's best programs.
"We're always looking to hang a banner on our wall," Start coach Jason Biniker said. "That's our goal every year."
That doesn't mean the others don't have their own plans to grab the title.
Rogers coach Harold Howell said the league's decision to only allow the top four teams in the standings to play in the CL playoffs adds to the intrigue of this season.
"We all have something to play for during the regular season," Howell said. "The competition is going to be really good."
Start, which returns six starters from a team that finished 15-12 overall and 7-3 in the CL last season, is considered the favorite to find its way to the top of the CL standings.
The Spartans represent the only team to finish among the top four teams a year ago. St. John's, Whitmer, and Clay -- all now in the TRAC -- were the others.
Start, which fell to Whitmer in the CL final, has plenty of experience back.
Marty Ramirez and Austin Baker were All-CL performers, both ranking among the top 20 hitters in the league. Ramirez batted .361 and Baker hit .358.
Ramirez had two home runs, 15 RBIs, 10 stolen bases and scored 26 runs. Baker hit three homers and had 17 RBIs.
"We expect to contend for the league and district championships," said Biniker, who is in his third season as coach.
Bowsher, which returns six players who saw time in the starting lineup last spring, figures to be the most serious threat to contend with Start for the championship.
"We should be pretty good if we pitch well and play good defense," Bowsher coach Lew Ackerman said. "We should be in the mix for the City League.
"It should be fun and it should be exciting playing against just the TPS schools."
Bowsher's Jake Almanza, a senior pitcher and outfielder, and Reggie Pendleton, a senior utility player, lead one of the most experienced lineups in the CL. Almanza batted .353 with 16 RBIs last season, while Pendleton averaged .351 at the plate with 18 RBIs and scored 26 runs.
Seniors Rickey Cousino (pitcher/outfielder), Reid Puliganbla (catcher), Kyle Gable (pitcher), and Joel McGorty (pitcher-first baseman) are also returning letter winners.
Yet the Rebels recognize the road to the top will require plenty of consistent effort.
"I think it would be hard to not put Start on top [as the favorite] since they were one of the final teams in the league last season," Ackerman said.
Waite coach David Quiroga is working with a group led by five returning starters, including senior catcher Dylan Clifton-Lorton. Lorton, an All-CL performer last season, is the top returning hitter after batting .423 for a team that finished 5-21, 3-7.
"It should make for an interesting year with a lot of teams gone," Quiroga said. "Start and Bowsher should be right up there."
Waite senior pitcher Ernest Sanders, juniors Joshua Murphy (pitcher-first baseman) and Cyrron Barringer (outfielder), and sophomore utility player Tony Smith also will be counted on for early season leadership.
Rogers graduated 12 players who saw significant playing time last year.
Only senior shortstop Andrew Nasta, junior outfielder-catcher Nate Rey, and sophomore pitcher-outfielder Ryan Szajka saw steady playing time when the Rams finished 7-19, 2-8.
Howell expects seniors pitcher-outfielder Kenyon Riley, infielder Raymond Cluckey, and outfielder Ray Burton to step up and contribute.
"The experience is low but they're learning really quick," Howell said. "They're fundamentally sound. As long as we don't beat ourselves we'll be in every game."
Scott opened the season under first-year coach Ralph Green, who has a roster that includes only three returning starters.
Senior outfielder Chris Pickney and his brother, junior catcher Brian Pickney, and junior first baseman Rashard Lane saw regular playing time last year when the Bulldogs finished 0-13, 0-10.
Green is optimistic for better results this spring.
"We hope to get better everyday," Green said. "I'm not [thinking] totals on wins and losses. We're working hard and I like their attitudes."
Jaivin Finn, a senior who transferred from Rogers, and senior Marvell Mitchell head Scott's inexperienced pitching staff.
"We're going to throw strikes," Green said. "We have to make plays behind the guys."
Woodward coach Dave Hurley returns with little experience from last season when the Polar Bears finished 2-1 overall and 1-8 in the CL.
Seniors first baseman Jeremy Pietorek, outfielder Javon Harris, utility players Sydney King and Jaymar Allen head Woodward's list of experienced returners.
Juniors Terrell Robinson (pitcher) and Keon Johnson (shortstop) are also being counted on to help.
"We should compete more this year than the last year," Hurley said.
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