If success in baseball really does start up the center of the diamond, then the Jackson Polar Bears are well-positioned for the upcoming season.

If success in baseball really does start up the center of the diamond, then the Jackson Polar Bears are well-positioned for the upcoming season.

With a veteran pitching staff that includes three starters who already have committed to play college baseball and a senior catcher who has done the same, the Polar Bears have an established core returning from a team that went 16-11 last season.

“We have top-end arms with experience in big games and (will) look to lean on them early in the season,” fourth-year head coach Bill Gamble said.

Those arms include three left-handers who will anchor Jackson’s rotation. Senior Ryan Gusbar was a Second Team All-Federal League selection last season, posting a 3-3 record and 1.91 ERA. Gusbar will be joined in the rotation by fellow senior southpaws Tim Turner and Sam Williams (4-0, 3.69 ERA). The trio — along with the rest of the pitching staff — will throw to senior catcher and Lafayette College recruit A.J. Kloehn.

Offensively, four-year letterwinner Jake Miller (.342 avg.) will lead the lineup. Miller set a school record with seven triples last season, and his speed will play a big role both on the base paths and in the outfield.

Gusbar, Turner and Williams head a list of 13 returning lettermen, including 12 seniors. With an experienced team coming off a 6-6 mark in Federal League play last season, Gamble sees a group that is both eager to improve upon its performance and has the assets to make an upward move in the standings.

“This senior class is hungry and looking forward to the challenging non-league schedule and to the very competitive Federal League,” Gamble said.

The schedule indeed is challenging, with a non-league tilt with perennial Summit County power Walsh Jesuit on Saturday the first test for Jackson. Contests against Lakewood St. Edward, Cleveland St. Ignatius, Hudson and Canton Central Catholic populate the non-league portion of the schedule. Future league foe Green also is on the schedule. The Bulldogs will join the Federal League in the fall of 2015.

Patience will be key for Jackson, as it is for every area baseball or softball team, early in the season. With 10 games scheduled in the first half of April and the unpredictable spring weather with which to contend, there are bound to be rainouts and postponements. A reshuffled schedule is a annual reality, but with an experienced team led by a large senior class, the Polar Bears are well equipped to deal with such challenges.

Gamble pointed to that senior leadership, along with focusing on the present and not allowing themselves to think too far ahead, as keys for a successful season for the Polar Bears. He also credited the work the team put in throughout the offseason for having the roster ready for a 27-game slate that will lead into the always-tough Canton Division I district tournament.

“This team had an outstanding offseason and summer,” Gamble said.

With five of its Federal League rivals in the bracket, Jackson will have plenty of chances to measure its postseason readiness before the tournament begins. How far the Polar Bears go once they reach the postseason will be predicated heavily on its senior standouts on the mound and behind the plate.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8396 or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB