NORTH CANTON  For a Hoover baseball team looking to establish a new identity, maybe joining some of the Midwest’s other snowbirds for a trip south can do the trick.

Like many Northeast Ohio baseball and softball teams, the Vikings are taking a trip to South Carolina during spring break to get a chance to play games in better weather and hopefully knock the rust off before beginning the Ohio-based portion of their schedule.

"We’re going to Myrtle Beach for four games and it’s good because we have a lot of guys who need that experience," Hoover head coach Jeff Hite said. "They need to see live pitching and the difference between junior varsity and varsity is like night and day."

That last portion of Hite’s observation is vital because the Vikings graduated a lot of valuable seniors from last season’s team and with returnees few and far between, the more games the newcomers can play early in the season, the better.

On the mound, Brody Ware and Sam Bucher are back after solid sophomore campaigns. The duo will look to anchor a rotation that has changed significantly around them since last season and if the two can replicate their success with the normal dose of sophomore-to-junior-season progress mixed in, it will go a long way toward laying the foundation for a winning year.

The defense behind them will look much different than last year’s with senior infielders Bryce Grisez and Jordan Hite the two familiar faces. The trip south will serve a few purposes beyond simply getting on the field in warmer temperatures, although anyone hoping the last sight of snow for the foreseeable future is already past might enjoy the trek for that reason alone.

"When you’re together for an extended period of time, you learn a lot about your teammates," Hite said. "For players and coaches, it’s a win-win. So it has some impact on that (team chemistry) and hopefully we grow together as a team."

Because Jordan Hite and Grisez are the only returning position players on the roster with much starting experience at the varsity level, playing against another team in a game setting as opposed to practices or even scrimmages should be a big help for Hoover.

While the early season could see some bumps in the road due to the team’s inexperience, Jeff Hite believes the Vikings "have the "potential to be a pretty good team down the road."

Hoover’s opponents in South Carolina will be four teams from Virginia and the Mingo Bay tournament in which they’re playing has a talented field of squads that should show the Vikings where they stand before returning home to open Federal League play against Perry.

"I don’t like playing a league game that early, but if you push it back a week, then at the end of the year, you’re trying to play league games right in middle of the (sectional) tournament," Hite said. "We’re all in same situation in our league, so you just start league play early and do your best with it."

While the South Carolina trip is a unique chance to get away for a week as a team, Hoover hasn’t been left out in the cold when it is in Ohio. Unlike a lot of area teams, the Vikings have their own indoor facility dedicated to baseball and having a fieldhouse where they can practice and not have to field ground balls on a gym floor or try to track fly ball in the lights of a gymnasium has been a major benefit the past three years.

"It’s tough, but we’re fortunate to have an indoor facility where we can spread out a bit," Hite said. "It’s been huge … in the past behind everybody else was ahead of us because in our gym, batting cage was up where the track is and during basketball season the bleachers are out and we didn’t really have room. Everybody else was hitting all winter and we weren’t. Now, our facility baseball players have a facility they can call their own and go in there and sit down on a couch and hang out too."

Hite, now in his 14th season leading the program, knows that players love having their own space and hopes that the extra room the fieldhouse affords the program combined with the spring break trip will speed up the growth process for a group that is looking to figure out who it is and the approach it needs to take to consistently win games.

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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