SPRINGFIELD TWP. That the Springfield Spartans posted a 6-14 record through their first 20 games this season wasn’t totally unexpected.
The roster is extremely young and in a Portage Trail Conference featuring plenty of talent, there were bound to be struggles for the Spartans. The record may not be what head coach John Kinsey and his team would have wanted and their 2-7 start in PTC play leaves room for improvement, but overall, Kinsey believes his squad is trending in a good direction.
"I think our young guys are ahead of schedule. They've showed maturity at several instances over the course of this season. They have played with the best teams on our schedule as well as fighting back into games where we have had significant deficits and have hung tough in several extra inning games," Kinsey said. "The baseball IQ part is always a work in progress with any young team. However, I think if you start to scoreboard watch a little bit, people would be surprised that we are starting five sophomores and three freshman sometimes regularly. We've been able to remain competitive from the top to bottom of our schedule and top to bottom of our league."
The biggest point of progress, Kinsey added, is the younger players on the roster getting used to their roles and figuring out how they fit together on the field. That process is also taking place at the junior varsity level and some players have moved back and forth between the two teams during the course of the season. Given that the program has been working toward sustained success in recent years, developing beyond the varsity level is important.
For the varsity, wins over Canton McKinley, Windham, Streetsboro and St. Thomas Aquinas have been benchmarks along the way. The Streetsboro game underscored Springfield’s tough, gritty approach. A 9-6 win saw the Spartans cobble together early runs with smart base running, a few base hits and persistence. Those early runs proved vital in a close, high-scoring game that banked a second league win and gave the Spartans some much-needed late-season momentum.
"Any coach who has spent time around a relatively young lineup will tell you that , as cliche as it sounds, hitting can be contagious. I feel like Logan Woods does a really good job day in and day out of bringing life and energy to our leadoff spot and setting us on the right track. Spencer Shannon, Zach Ickes and Paul Stubbs have all also done a really good job at the top of the lineup to get us rolling early on and get traffic on the base paths."
Hitting well can be contagious, but as Springfield has seen on its off games, so can not being able to put the ball on the bat. The goal of having a more balanced, consistent approach at the plate is on the Spartans continue to chase. Shannon is one player who has done a solid job of that and after playing only 10 games on the JV level last season, he has found a niche for the varsity, playing all over the field and batting nearly .400 as a sophomore.
"He truly embodies everything we (as a staff) mean when we preach to these kids to ‘play for the what if,’" Kinsey said. "He is always hustling, always swinging a bat, always asking to get more work. He still has some growing to do as a ball player but he has truly served as a super utility man this season."
In growing the program, the coaching staff has leaned on new faces such as sophomores Logan Hornish, Christian Ratcliff and Dom Woodall and freshmen Dylan Hanna and Colton Nutter. All five are underclassmen with a chance to play multiple future seasons for the Spartans and each has found a role on the team. Hornish is a no-excuses player, according to Kinsey, who is willing to take on new challenges. Hanna is an undersized player who has shown promise at second base.
While Woodall and Ratcliff have seen their playing time vary, Kinsey credited both with maintaining a positive attitude throughout. Nutter has helped add pitching depth for a team in need of it. They and freshman infielder Joel Justice are pieces of what the ocahcing staff views as a building process toward the program’s next iteration. Sometimes, that means spending time playing JV or keeping a pitch chart, while other times it means playing a new position to help the team out on a given day.
"I’ve said so many times that, ‘We're building this thing,’ and often times that gets confused with rebuilding, which is not the case," Kinsey said. "Guys are starting to see that they may be asked to play some JV because its best for the program or they may be asked to keep pitch charts because it's what's best for the program and they may even be asked to help and mentor players at the same position because it's best for the program."
Amidst all of the moving parts, new faces and erratic weather that have become the hallmarks for the season, the Spartans are working to keep their eyes on what they’re attempting to build and on each player finding his place in that process.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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