A SPECIAL CAMARADERIE
THE UNDER-THE-RADAR 2012 VARSITY BASEBALL WILDCATS ARE DETERMINED TO ERASE THE SEASON-ENDING MEMORIES OF 2011, WHEN THEY FELL TO MIDPARK, 5-3, IN THE DISTRICT FINALS.
SAINT IGNATIUS WILL BE TOTING THE LUMBER THIS SPRING AS ONE OF THE FEW TEAMS IN THE STATE THAT IS SWITCHING EXCLUSIVELY TO WOOD BATS.
*(ON THE BASKETBALL FRONT, CONGRATULATIONS TO WILDCATS JUNIOR FORWARD/POST DEREK SLOAN FOR GARNERING HONORABLE MENTION ON THE ASSOCIATED PRESS DIVISION I ALL-OHIO TEAM).
BY EDDIE DWYER, COPYRIGHT MARCH 2012
Entering his eighth season as the head baseball coach at Saint Ignatius High School, Brad Ganor said he agrees with those who have labeled his 2012 Wildcats as a club that is under the radar.
However, it is obvious Coach Ganor believes there is an extent to which that label applies.
“We’re under the radar because we were young last year,” Ganor said. “We don’t have those big-name guys returning like we’ve had in the past and we didn’t play very well last year.”
Coach Ganor emphasized that although Saint Ignatius did put an emphasis on youth in finishing 11-9 last spring, he and his staff weren’t rebuilding.
“We expect to have a great team every year,” said the man who has guided the Wildcats to a record of 150-49 since 2005, including a program-best three consecutive state final-four appearances – 2007, ’08 and ‘09. Overall, Saint Ignatius has made 10 trips to Ohio baseball’s final four, winning the Division I state championship in 2002 and finishing as a state runner-up in 2000 and 2008.
“But we had an idea that we needed to be young last year, to groom these guys and get ready for 2012,” Coach Ganor continued. “And they’ve done it. The camaraderie has been phenomenal so far. One of the best I’ve ever seen as far as team chemistry goes.
“We’re really excited about this season, very excited.”
As far as the Wildcats’ team strengths go this spring, Coach Ganor likes the depth his team possesses offensively and the speed on the base paths. Saint Ignatius should also be a very strong team defensively, especially up the middle where senior tri-captain and shortstop Mike Ruffing, junior second baseman Dan Rowbottom and senior center fielder and tri-captain Tim McCoy flash their big-game tested gloves.
A standout wide receiver for the Wildcats’ record 11th state championship football team this past fall, McCoy is one of the best at the 8 position that this old-timer has ever had the pleasure to cover.
Another name to remember both offensively and defensively is versatile junior Conor Hennessey, a young man who can swing the bat, take away potential extra-base hits with his quick reaction as an outfielder and use that same speed as a disruptive factor on the base paths. Conor was also a mainstay on the ‘Cats’ state champion football team as a receiver and punt returner.
“There’s quality pitching, too,” Coach Ganor said. “Zak Shockley (6-foot-6 left-hander) is a four-year guy who is going to Marshall on a scholarship and we have several other guys with experience, and some nice young guys. Tom Rolle (5-foot-11 junior southpaw) is going to be a front-line guy for us.”
Among the other veterans are junior left-handed pitcher/first baseman Mike LaManna; senior right-handed pitcher/outfielder Scott Chase, who is coming off a solid wrestling season; gritty senior pitcher/outfielder Dan Oaklief; senior infielder Tim Hawkins Hodgson; 6-foot-5 senior right-hander and tri-captain Matt Hoyer; senior catcher/first baseman Stephen Alexander; senior catcher/designated hitter Ralph Lucarelli and senior catcher/designated hitter Andrew Piscioneri.
With his playing time limited last year because of a shoulder injury, the baseball-savvy Piscioneri is now healthy and chomping at the bit for the season to begin.
McCoy will also contribute to a southpaw-laden pitching staff, as will promising junior right-hander Kyle Pluta and talented sophomore outfielder and left-handed pitcher Nick Longo. Junior Tyler Finkler, the brother of former Wildcats pitching and hitting standout Cory Finkler ’11, is expected to contribute in the infield.
Rowbottom, McCoy, Hennessey, Lucarelli and Piscioneri each hit over.300 last season. Lucarelli sent Mr. Rawlings on a few majestic trips and McCoy and Rowbottom (8 doubles) flirted with .400.
“We need to pitch well,” said Coach Ganor. “It’s the old adage that pitching and defense wins championships. With the (OHSAA approved) switch from aluminum to the wood and BBCOR bats (a modified aluminum bat), I think pitching is a premium. I think you can win games 2-1 or 1-0 just because the offensive numbers aren’t going to be there. The last couple of years we were knocked out in the district finals mainly because of pitching. You can only hit yourself out of so many jams.”
*As far as what the Wildcats will be swinging this spring, it will be the sweet sound of wood. Saint Ignatius is going to use wood bats exclusively. Some real baseball, if you will.
“It’s really been a non-issue,” Coach Ganor said of the switch from aluminum to wood. “It’s not something we address in practice. This is what we are going to be doing, we’ve got everybody on board for it and the kids are excited.”
Over the past few years, many, if not most of Saint Ignatius’ players have swung wood bats in summer league competition. The corner can tell you first hand that they are totally into using them full time.
HOW THEY SEE IT: Stephen Alexander: "I see this team (the 2012 ‘Cats) as a bunch of guys who essentially played all four years together, in terms of the seniors. And with the juniors, who have a lot of talent, I really think we have something special here. We all get along and it’s fun out there. When you care about the guy next to you and are willing to sacrifice stats just to move the guy over, that’s the difference between wins and losses. You have to put your ego aside and it’s easy to do that when you like the guy.”
Andrew Piscioneri: “We have great senior leadership. The leaders this year, Tim McCoy, Mike Ruffing and Matt Hoyer, two of them (McCoy and Hoyer) are state champions in football. So they know what they’re doing. There are not a lot of differences with this team. A lot of upperclassmen are friends with the underclassmen. It is fun knowing that we can joke around and that everybody takes it well. It’s not tense. Everyone takes constructive criticism and meshes well together.”
ANOTHER TRADITION-RICH AND DEMANDING SCHEDULE: The Wildcats’ 2012 schedule, which begins March 27 at Massillon Jackson, is arguably the most attractive in the program’s history.
Among the highlights are a trip to South Carolina for the tradition-rich Hartsville Tournament (April 11-14), where the ‘Cats have gone 3-1 in two previous trips.
Thanks to Mother Nature, Saint Ignatius and St. Edward have not played the past two seasons, but this year they are scheduled to meet three times during the regular season. The highlight of the three encounters is a May 12 tripleheader at Baldwin-Wallace College that will feature a freshman game at 10 a.m., a junior-varsity match up at 1 p.m., and the varsity game at 4 p.m.
April 20th is another date to mark on the calendar, as the Wildcats will play the Strongsville Mustangs at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon. The first pitch is slated for 4:30 p.m. As part of the festivities, Saint Ignatius will honor its 2002 Division I state championship team.
The Wildcats will face the Brecksville-Broadview Heights Bees on April 21st at 3 p.m. in Progressive Field and for the first time, Saint Ignatius will host the Ohio Jesuit Tournament on May 5-6 in All Pro Freight Stadium.
For a look at the ‘Cats’ full schedule, go to www.ignatius.edu/baseball.
NEW DISTRICT SITE: After competing in the Lakewood District for a number of years and last season playing in the Berea District, the Wildcats will be seeking a district baseball championship at Strongsville High School this May.
The teams assigned to Strongsville are: Saint Ignatius; Brecksville; Garfield Heights; Berea; Lincoln-West; Maple Heights; Midpark; Normandy; North Royalton; Parma; Rhodes; Strongsville and Valley Forge. St. Edward has been re-assigned to the Lorain District.
GOODBYE TO THE CRBC: After Walsh Jesuit and Benedictine moved to the North Coast League this school year, there just weren’t enough teams to keep the highly competitive Cuyahoga River Baseball Conference going.
In the spring of 2008, four teams from the CRBC – Saint Ignatius, St. Edward, Walsh Jesuit and Gilmour Academy – advanced to the state final four. St. Edward and Walsh Jesuit brought home the Division I and II state championships, respectively, and the Wildcats were the Division I runners-up. It was a talent-rich circuit, to say the least.