JACKSON TWP. Two commodities appear to be in strong supply for the Jackson Polar Bears as high school baseball season gets underway: seniors and quality arms.
One of the most successful programs in Northeast Ohio over the past decade has 10 seniors - and 17 returning players total - on the roster and the biggest name in that group is also part of a pitching staff expected to set the pace for Jackson as it makes yet another Federal League title push.
Senior pitcher Yianni Skeriotis headlines a group of pitchers veteran head coach Bill Gamble knows gives his team a strong foundation for the season to come.
“We return a lot of arms with experience and people have heard of Yianni, but Taylor Johnson also returns for us, Spencer Stanton is a guy who has pitched well for us and we have a couple of juniors, guys like Trent Jones, who we can count on,” Gamble said.
Having strong pitching is vital for any team with league title aspirations and hopes of making a deep tournament run. This season, that tournament run won’t have to leave Northeast Ohio as the Ohio High School Athletic Association recently announced that the state tournament will be held at Canal Park in Akron due to a scheduling conflict at Huntington Park in Columbus, the tournament’s normal site.
Not being able to use a certain facility is something with which the Polar Bears can relate as they look forward to the completion of their new indoor practice facility located adjacent to the high school and its baseball diamond. Work has been ongoing at the facility for months and according to Gamble, all of that work is beginning to come together and the facility should be ready to use in the coming days. “We’re close to being able to use that but it’s not quite ready yet, so for our players it’s been status quo,” Gamble said, noting that the team’s preseason work has been in the same locations as it has been in past seasons. “For our coaches and volunteers and work crews, it’s been a lot of cleaning and getting things ready and it should be done in the next couple weeks.”
Having the facility will add to the program’s already-solid infrastructure, which includes its recently remodeled home field, weight room and multiple gyms at the high school for its various teams.
Knowing that finding a rhythm and being consistent can be tough for both batters and pitchers in the early season due to both rounding into form once games start and the frequent disruptions weather causes to both game and practice schedules, Gamble wants to see two areas of his team hit their stride as soon as possible.
“Our biggest thing is two areas, one being that we want see guys throw strikes and we want to fill the (strike) zone up a lot, and then we want to be playing defense behind it and make those routine plays we’re capable of making,” Gamble said.
Noting that because baseball is unique among most high school sports because it’s not possible to create scoring through good defense, the veteran coach wants his pitchers and fielders to get their jobs done and get off the field as quickly as possible so they can get their bats in hand and go to work on offense.
One slight edge this year’s team has over some of its predecessors is that the boys basketball team had a slightly shorter tournament run than it has enjoyed in recent years. Though the basketball team reached the district final, having the campaign end a few days earlier than normal allowed players on both the basketball and baseball teams to transition to baseball a week or so earlier than in the past.
Gamble admitted that while he loves seeing his players succeed in their other sports, be it football, basketball or wrestling, he and his staff don’t mind a few extra days for them to get into the swing of things on the diamond.
One player who is a multi-sport athlete but has been sidelined from those sports for nearly a year is senior outfielder Ethan Kulich, who had a foot injury that required surgery and kept him off all playing fields since last May.
“He missed football and basketball, but we’re glad to have him back and looking forward to hopefully getting him on the field,” Gamble said.
Kulich, a center fielder, is expected to be one of the big bats in a lineup that includes multiple Division I signees, with Skeriotis (Ohio State) Stanton (Toledo) and Trey Wright (Toledo) among them. Kulich, who has committed to Sinclair Community College, and Wright, who plays both catcher and second base, figure to make Jackson solid up the center of the diamond.
Add in pitchers such as Taylor Johnson and Andrew Welling and the pitching should provide the offense with the time to get its legs under it should the cold, rainy spring weather make it a difficult start to the campaign for batters and when tournament time rolls around and a team has multiple games a week, pitching depth will continue to be a valuable asset. Right now, it’s full speed ahead toward the team’s March 23 opener against Boardman, a game that is, as players, coaches and fans know well, subject to the weather whims of arguably the most unpredictable month of the year when it comes to the forecast.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
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