Trent Szkutnik and his Bedford teammates make a pitch for greatness.
It's not pitching, hitting, or fielding that has Bedford baseball coach Craig Trychel most concerned this spring.
It's dealing with the "grind" of a long season and making sure his players are healthy and performing well for the end of it.
Trychel believes he has one of the strongest squads in his 15 years at the school, so it's just a matter of going out and proving it.
Seven players return from last year's team that went 33-5, and most were at least occasional starters. Three of them -- catcher/outfielder Jared Kujawa (Western Michigan), pitcher/shortstop Dan Przeniczny (Xavier), and outfielder/pitcher Trent Szkutnik (Michigan) -- have signed to play Division I baseball in college.
"It's comparable to one of the best teams we've had," Trychel said.
Kujawa hit .500 last season and led the Kicking Mules in several offensive categories, including home runs (13), doubles (11), triples (seven), stolen bases (25), and walks (27). Kujawa and Przeniczny played on the 2009 team that advanced to the state semifinals, while Szkutnik went back and forth between varsity and junior varsity that season.
Bedford should be plenty talented on the mound. Szkutnik, a left hander, was 11-2 and struck out 129 batters last season, and Przeniczny was 11-0 with a 1.85 ERA.
"They're very good," Trychel said. "They throw strikes and they're both smart. They know how to handle hitters. They know what their capabilities are."
At the plate, Szkutnik hit .364 with 11 doubles, and Przeniczny hit .359 with 25 RBI.
Center fielder/pitcher Jackson Lamb returns after batting .455 and driving in 34 runs, and Aaron Mills hit .387 and posted 11 doubles.
"Just staying healthy and peaking at the right time," Trychel said of his recipe for a special season. "We have a long season, a lot of games."
The Southeastern Conference, and specifically the Red division, is loaded. Two of its teams, Ann Arbor Pioneer and Saline met in the Division 1 state championship last spring, with Pioneer prevailing, 4-1. Pioneer returns all but one player.
Bedford's season ended at the district level.
At Blissfield, Larry Tuttle enters his 44th year as coach with a very inexperienced squad. Seven seniors graduated from last year's team that finished 36-7 and advanced to the regionals. Moreover, the junior varsity team was "very weak," winning only three games.
"We've got a lot of work to do," Tuttle said. "I told our ball club, everybody's going to want to schedule us this year, so we have to be prepared. We've got some possibilities. We're not going to wave the white flag. We feel we have kids who can step up and do the job."
Five letter winners are back, a group headlined by two-time all state selection Eric Schmidt. Schmidt, who will play at Adrian College but "could have gone higher," according to Tuttle, went 10-1 on the mound in 2010 and hit .415.
Also returning are juniors Josh Knorr, who was first team all state as a utility player; outfielder/pitcher Blake Haupricht; pitcher/first baseman Devin Moore; and shortstop James Trevino.
Knorr and Moore combined to go 9-2 in 2010.
Regarding Knorr, Tuttle said: "He's a very, very versatile player. Very hard-working young man. He's got a lot of skill, got a good upside to him."
Erie Mason won just six games in 2010 but had already won three as of last Thursday. Second-year coach Chad Baas says a group of five juniors went through growing pains last year as sophomores but are now better for it.
"I expect us to be much better this year," Baas said.
Baas brings back three seniors but only one of them, Andrew Huss (.291) played last spring. Huss, a catcher, "has shown a lot of improvement," Baas said.
Baas is also looking for production from juniors Dan Killion (.253) and Jake Hempel (.219).
Baas said he and his team are looking forward to April 30 when they will play Camden-Frontier at Fifth Third Field.
At Whiteford, Terry Pant takes over as head coach after serving as the school's pitching coach. Pant expects his team, which returns seven starters, to compete for a Tri-County Conference championship along with Summerfield and Sand Creek. Whiteford was 22-10 in 2010.
"I think we'll be right there in the top three," Pant said.
The Bobcats return four pitchers, including three with extensive varsity experience. Sean O'Leary (7-0) and Grant Track (5-0) helped Whiteford break the school record for strike outs in 2010. Track, who has signed to play at Siena Heights, was hitting .471 with two home runs as of last Thursday.
Opponents have been reluctant to attempt stolen bases against junior catcher Joel Crozier, Pant said.
"He's a really smart kid," Pant said. "He's already got a reputation, I think. Some of the bigger schools we've played weren't even attempting to steal on us. They knew he was quick."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: email@example.com or 419-724-6160