BASEBALL: Spring Grove has lofty expectations in 2016
- Spring Grove was the only York-Adams baseball team to make the PIAA playoffs in 2015.
- West York won the York-Adams title a year ago, but will be led by a new head coach this season.
- Delone Catholic and York Catholic have dominated Division IV in recent seasons.
It's a game that's been in the back of the mind of every Spring Grove baseball player during the offseason.
It was last year's first-round PIAA Class AAA state playoff contest against Pottsville, and all the Rockets needed was a run. But not only could they not get at least one run to force extra innings, they couldn't even get a hit off of the Tide's starting pitcher, Eli Nabholz, losing 1-0 to end their season.
So all offseason, Spring Grove has been feeding off of that frustration, using it as motivation for the 2016 season.
The Rockets are also motivated by the idea that they are generally viewed as the team to beat this year in the York-Adams League.
"It motivates us to work harder and get better," junior catcher Derek Hoiles said during the Y-A League spring sports media day. "Just to be able to know that we're going to out-work every other team."
Spring Grove is coming off an 18-8 season in which it won the Division I crown, finished as the District 3-AAA runner-up and was the only team from the league to qualify for the state tournament. Yet, as great and as fun as last year's season was, the Rockets ended the year losing their final two games. That has them inspired to better last year's success.
Spring Grove is returning all but one player from last year's team — starting pitcher/outfielder Anthony Reed. Hoiles will again be behind the plate, while senior third baseman Caleb Ruth will also be back, along with senior pitcher/shortstop Matt Brooks, who signed with NCAA Division I North Carolina Charlotte over the summer. Joining them will be sophomore Trent Baker, who led the team in hitting with a .379 batting average, junior pitcher Jon Sager, who earned seven wins and threw 38 2/3 innings, and junior pitcher/second baseman Brandyn Schuhart.
"They're a really close-knit group of kids," assistant coach Nathan Wertz said during media day. "We always see them together and working together. At practices, we don't ever have to ask them to do anything because they'll just go and do it on their own. They're a pretty motivated group of kids."
While the Rockets will have many eyes on them this year, that doesn't mean you should sleep on Dallastown. The Wildcats finished second in Division I behind Spring Grove and were the only Class AAAA school to qualify for the district tournament. Dallastown is coming off an 11-9 campaign in 2015 and finished 10-5 in Division I.
Division II: Entering this season, the conversation surrounding West York isn't about whether or not it can build off the league championship it attained last year. Instead, it's about whether or not new head coach Scott Erickson can continue the same success that the Bulldogs enjoyed under former head coach Roger Czerwinski.
Erickson takes over a West York team fresh off a 16-5 record last year, including a 13-1 mark in league play, a Y-A League crown and a District 3-AAA appearance. However, the Bulldogs were one-and-done in the district tournament, despite being the No. 3 seed, and enter 2016 without their two best players from last season, Brett Kinneman and Cash Gladfelter. Both are off playing baseball in college, with Kinneman at Division I North Carolina State and Gladfelter at D-II Shippensburg.
Still, West York should have more than enough talent to make up for its losses and still enter as the favorite in Division II.
"It's an honor for the past success," senior outfielder/pitcher Evan Zinn said about the team having a target on its back. "We're ready to see everyone's No. 1 and No. 2 (pitchers). It should be a lot of fun."
Only Northeastern finished above .500 last year in D-II, but does bring back a steady dose of pitching, which should see it improve on last year's 11-9 overall mark, 9-5 in league play, and contend for a spot in the district tournament. Susquehannock is also worth paying attention to, despite being just 8-11 overall last year and 6-8 in league play. The Warriors are bringing back 10 players from last year's club, including senior shortstop/pitcher Connor Hood, who's committed to NCAA D-I Seton Hall, and senior Dustin Babaie, who recently committed to Delaware Technical Community College.
Division III: This was the only division that did not have a district qualifier, despite champion Eastern York finishing 13-7 overall and 12-2 in league play.
So, that should lead to some added motivation, not just for the Golden Knights, but for the other four teams in the division. Realistically, this division looks like it'll come down to Eastern and last year's runner-up, Gettysburg (9-11 overall, 9-5 D-III), again. However, Littlestown isn't to be counted out. The Thunderbolts have historically fared well in D-III and actually finished as the only other team with an overall record above .500 (12-7) in 2015, despite finishing third in the division.
Also, it remains to be seen if York Suburban can continue to make positive strides, after finishing 8-10 last year. Suburban did get off to a 4-0 start to the year before faltering down the stretch. The Trojans will return senior Thomas Merkle, senior outfielder Brad Smith and infielder Ryan Day. Infielder and pitcher Nick Miller will be counted on to have an increased role as a sophomore after seeing varsity time as a freshman in 2015.
Division IV: This division might not have the glitz and glamour programs of D-I and D-II, but it might have one of the most compelling rivalries in the entire league.
Enter York Catholic and Delone Catholic, the only two parochial schools in the league. They took their rivalry to a whole new level last season. Dating back to 2009, either the Fighting Irish or Squires have won every Division IV title, but of those seven, six have gone to Delone, with York Catholic only edging out its rival in 2011 by a game. However, despite finishing just a game behind the Squires last year, the Fighting Irish got the last laugh in 2015, defeating Delone in the District 3-AA quarterfinals, 2-1, ending the Squires' season.
"It definitely helped, beating them when it really did matter, playoff-wise," junior shortstop and pitcher Brenden Kennedy said. "I think I would rather beat them in the division too, to sweep them completely. That would be nice."
Really, this division is all about the two Catholic schools. They were the only two schools to finish above .500 last year and the division will, most likely, come down to those two again.
— Reach Patrick Strohecker at email@example.com