PREVIEW: Youth movement set for baseball

February 28, 2013

Senior Hunter Justus is the lone returning all-OAC player for the Quakers. (Wilmington file)

Senior Hunter Justus is the lone returning all-OAC player for the Quakers. (Wilmington file)

After years of struggling near the bottom of the Ohio Athletic Conference, Wilmington baseball coach Tony Haley really believes the youth movement running through Wilmington will have the Fightin’ Quakers ready to begin their assent up the conference ladder.

“The good thing about this team is that we have some athletes that know what it takes, and that have been around,” said Haley. “Our seniors, who in the last few years haven’t won like we should have, are hungry. They saw the freshmen in the fall, and they think we are going to be good. We are really pleased with our practices in the gym. I think every coach looks to the upcoming season, but I really think with this year’s team we put together – our seniors will have to be leaders. All of the seniors have played since they were freshmen, so I am hoping they can carry on and they know what it takes to win in the OAC.”

When Wilmington takes the field on March 3 in Fort Myers, FL, the Fightin’ Quakers could have four freshmen, three on the infield, starting. The possibility of throwing out so many youngsters doesn’t worry Haley in the least.

“Most of the freshmen have played at good high schools and they played great summer baseball in the Cincinnati area,” said Haley. “They are used to seeing top-notch pitchers. If you can play as a freshmen or a senior, you can play. They are not going to get any better sitting on the bench, so when we find out they can play – we will just throw them out there.”

Other than the freshmen, the main reason for Haley’s optimism is the development of this year’s pitching staff, led by senior Hunter Justus (Circleville, OH/Logan Elm). The right-hander led the team with a 4.50 ERA and was on the mound for two of the three conference victories. He also earned a spot on the All-Ohio Athletic Conference team a season ago. His 19 strikeouts in OAC action were also a staff best.

“By far Hunter is our hardest thrower,” said Haley. “But he also locates well and gets his off speed over for strikes. We really hope Hunter can lead by example. Hunter is a kid that is a hard worker, and he buys into the team concept.”

Sophomore Troy Wagner (Bright, IN/East Central) returns for his second season with the Quakers. Haley said that Wagner, who went 0-2 with a 7.81 ERA, improved his velocity by three to four miles per hour this season. Senior Reid Wurtz (Lawrenceburg, IN/East Central) comes back after sitting out last season. Two years ago, Wurtz was 1-2 in 14 appearances with a 6.75 ERA.

Haley is looking for senior left-hander Jake Vinkovich (Circleville, OH/Circleville) to return to form from his sophomore season. He finished that year 2-2 with an ERA of 4.02. Last season was a struggle for the southpaw as his ERA rose to 11.50 in 10 appearances. Junior Luke Teeters (Waverly, OH/Waverly) will also provide depth to the staff after going 1-1 with a 5.84 ERA.

Freshmen Corey Walker (Hillsboro, OH/Hillsboro), McKale Stakely (Pataskala, OH/Licking Heights) and Billy Foster (Xenia, OH/Xenia), along with senior Cameron Schwalbach (Circleville, OH/Circleville) could all provide quality innings for the Fightin’ Quakers. Look for sophomore Tommy Chamberlain (Trenton, OH/Edgewood) and freshman Cole Voltz (St. Sterling, OH/Madison Plains) to also make a push.

“We’ve been in the bottom of the pack the last two or three years,” said Haley. “We just haven’t had the pitching that we thought we had. We really went out and recruiting pitching hard. You know from little leagues to the major leagues, all in between, it takes quality pitching. We are really hoping the pitchers can locate. Overall our pitching staff, with Coach Cleaver working with them, will be good.”

While Justus will also see his share of innings behind the plate, sophomore Alex Finney (Crestline, OH/Buckeye Central) will compete with freshmen Max Ramsey (Waynesville, OH/Waynesville) for the lion share of the remaining innings.

Defensively, freshmen Clay Cleaver (Pleasant Plain, OH/Little Miami) and Tyler Schrock (Waynesville, OH/Waynesville) could shore up the Wilmington defense through the middle at shortstop and second base, respectively. Teeters will be competing with Schrock at second base.

Junior Brandon Arehart (Wilmington, OH/Wilmington) will continue his nomadic baseball existence, moving to first base. Coming into his third season with the Quakers, first base will be the seventh position he has played.

Third base will be the position with thehottest contested battle. Sophomore Roenick Whitney (Goshen, OH/Goshen), who moves over from first base, will be battling with freshmen Blake Schmidt (Cincinnati, OH/McNicholas), Bryce Bean (Lees Creek, OH/East Clinton) and Walker.

Sophomores Mike Orahood (South Vienna, OH/Northeastern) and Russ Neeley (Springboro, OH/Springboro) could see some innings in the infield.

“Our defense kind of let us down last year,” said Haley. “You have to be strong up the middle. I really think we solidified our defense this year. We brought in a couple new guys that will help us defensively.”

Freshman Alec Hutzelman (Centerville, OH/Centerville), Vinkovich and Schwalbach will get the majority of playing from left to right, respectively. Walker and Arehart will some time in the outfield when Vinkovich or Schwalbach are on the mound. Sophomore Dan Conroy (Columbus, OH/Centennial) will also press for time in the outfield.

Offensively, the Fightin’ Quakers will have to scratch out some runs due to the lack of pop in the lineup.

“We will not have any power, so we are going to rely on going gap to gap and put pressure on the defenses,” said Haley. “We have great team speed with two three guys that hit left handed. We will have Hunter and Cam in the middle. We are just hoping to put pressure on the other team.”