The Anthony Wayne Generals have forged a good baseball bond, a combination of camaraderie and chemistry that may push an already talented group to the top.
The team's veteran roster is loaded with 13 seniors that have been nearly flawless this spring (19-1 record). The Generals are in first place in the Northern Lakes League with a 10-0 mark.
"Every one of them is valuable," said AW coach Mark Nell, who has never had more than nine seniors on one team in his 12 seasons. "It's been a special group. They really enjoy being around each other. They kind of thrive on each other. They enjoy their time together."
Aside from experience, the group also features a deep pitching staff, fundamentally sound defense, and a batting order with no easy outs.
Anthony Wayne has moved up to No. 4 in the latest Ohio High School Baseball Coaches Association Division I poll.
Senior shortstop Deion Tansel, who has signed to play at the University of Toledo, said his fellow classmates know this is their last shot.
"I've been playing with these guys my whole life," Tansel said. "We have a great bond. If someone is struggling there is always someone there to pick them up. It helps a ton. This season basically means everything to me. We want to go out with a bang and go as far as we can."
Tansel leads the NLL in stolen bases (28) and is one of six Generals whose batting average is higher than .345. Tansel is batting .403 and has scored 22 runs.
Senior pitcher Jake Chipka has been productive at the plate (.310 average and 10 runs scored) and on the mound. Chipka has emerged as the No. 1 starter and has a 7-0 record with a 0.42 ERA.
"We've been a tight knit group all the way back to junior high," Chipka said. "We've always had real good team chemistry. We've had the goal to win the NLL since we were freshmen. This is our last time to do it, so it's real important."
The last time AW won the NLL was in 2007, when the Generals won the second of back-to-back titles.
Senior outfielder Reed Allen, who was the NLL batting champion last year, leads the team with 20 RBIs. Allen is hitting .345 with 15 runs scored.
A three-sport standout, Allen will earn three varsity letters in baseball, football, and basketball.
"It's been a fun year so far," Allen said. "We have something special and we want to keep it going. Our goal is to win the state championship. We have the pitching and we've been swinging the bats well. We're jelling as a team."
While Nell expected most of his senior batters to perform well, he said senior Josh Meyers has been a surprise.
Meyers played on the junior varsity last year. But the second baseman leads the NLL with a .480 batting average.
"No one was expecting that," Nell said. "But he is coachable and he's a hard worker. He made some adjustments"
Nell said he has an athletic group.
"Our defense is our strong point," Nell said. "If you are a pitcher on this team, you're able to focus on being able to throw the ball over the plate."
Senior pitcher Matt Olsavsky (2-0, 2.19 ERA) said confidence in his defense helped him throw a no-hitter April 20 in a 5-0 victory over Southview. Olsavsky struck out 12 for the first no-hitter thrown by an AW pitcher since 1998.
"Pitching is a confidence thing and you have to be confident in your defense," Olsavsky said. "It means a whole lot. You can focus and know the defense will get it done. It's not always the big amazing plays but basic routine plays. That takes pressure off."
Olsavsky is second on the team with a .429 average.
Nell said his program has always taken a lot of pride in defensive fundamentals.
"I firmly believe that pitching and defense wins you championships. So we spend a lot of time on team defense," he said.
Senior pitcher Nick Reiter (5-1, 2.10 ERA) also has been strong as has Brett Kuharchek (24 strikeouts in 14 innings with three saves). Senior Mike Valentine has been the team's main relief pitcher and has not given up an earned run in 12 innings.
"We think we have some depth pitching-wise," Nell said. "We don't have a guy who is a dominant guy. But we have guys that are steady and throw strikes. We're comfortable going five or six deep, who are consistent and throw the ball over the plate."
Nell said Olsavsky is not overpowering but works ahead of the hitters. Nell said a key to the success has been the ability to count on Valentine.
Senior catcher Jordan Nell, the coach's son, has made only two errors, which allows his pitchers to have confidence to throw every pitch.
"We trust each other," Jordan Nell said. "I call the pitches and they listen to me. It's really nice. Every one of them goes out and gives it 100 percent. They may not be having the greatest day but we all have each others' back. Our defense makes the routine plays and pitchers throw strikes. We trust everyone around us. It helps in the long run."
With just three home runs, the Generals aren't winning with power.
"We put the ball in play and move runners around and make the most of our opponents' mistakes," Nell said. "Our offense is pretty steady one through nine. It's not just one guy. It's kind of like our pitching. Everyone can do something. They can all drive the ball and move runners. We're very capable of getting two-out hits."
He said in practice he focuses on situational hitting and putting pressure on the defense.
"If you hit a ground ball they have to field it, throw it, and catch it," Nell said. "We try to hit the ball on the ground somewhere. We focus on that. We buy into that."
Senior Josh Lindke has a .364 average and has 16 RBIs. Nell said he knew Lindke, a four-year starter, would step up as a senior.
"He's a weapon," Nell said. "He has no fear."
Hunter Lonseth, a designated hitter with a .309 average, has hit two home runs and has driven in 14 runs.
Reiter is third on the team with a .406 average.
The deepest the Generals have gone in the postseason under Nell was to the regional final in 2006 and in 2009.
"We want to go out with a bang knowing we gave it our all as a group," Olsavsky said. "We've been together so long, it all comes natural. Everyone has stuck together. No one has strayed. We have a good bond."
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.