Ninth-year coach Lynn Gray said he “lost half his team” following a mass exodus of seniors, including leading hitters Sam Wilson and Elijah Bugg, and a 2-17 season in 2016.
This year, the Oberlin Phoenix will try to pick up the pieces with a group that Gray called, “the most dedicated team I’ve had in the past five year.”
Seniors including pitcher Rex Young and outfielder Matt Stanfield will help provide leadership for a multitude of underclassmen like juniors Chris Palmer and Matthew Rasmussen as well as sophomores Jackson Schaum, Gavin Horning, and Hunter Clawson.
Schaum was a full-time varsity player as a freshman last year, which Gray said could be an indicator of brighter days to come for the Phoenix.
“A lot of these guys didn’t play much last year, so we’re going to be a very young team,” said Gray. “The majority of this incoming team did not play varsity ball last year, but they’re eager to step up and prove themselves.”
For those on the roster new to varsity baseball, Gray said the work ethic the team has already demonstrated could bring progress sooner than many expect.
“We were more experienced last year for sure,” he said. “You could call our inexperience a weakness now, but that could change very quickly. From top to bottom, these kids are hungry. They’ve gone to practice at 6 a.m. then come back again at 3:30 or 5:30 p.m. That’s dedication. It will all depend on how fast they mature and get used to facing varsity competition.”
Buckeye and Firelands are being forecast as the early Patriot Athletic Conference favorites. Gray said a number of teams could surprise.
“This is a baseball conference,” he said. “From Wellington, to Buckeye, Firelands, Keystone, and Columbia Station, all the teams have a reason to be positive. We’re looking forward to jumping in and seeing if we can swim.”
The Phoenix open the 2017 season March 30 when they travel to Wellington.
“You can just see this team’s attitude in how they want to learn,” said Gray. “This is a fun team to be around. They get along great and love to play this game. That’s a huge part of the equation.”
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.