Northwood underclassmen get valuable experience

J. Patrick Eaken

Northwood baseball is currently a work in progress under coach Clay Rolf, a former Eastwood multi-sport standout and NCAA Division I football player at Bowling Green State University.

“Our strengths are our youth, athleticism, and versatility. We have the ability to move a lot of guys around and it has lead to some really good competition in practice and will be fun to watch throughout the year,” Rolf said.

“Our weaknesses are varsity pitching innings and varsity experience. We are excited to watch out guys continue to grow and develop. They have been working very hard this offseason both on baseball and in the weight room. There are has been a lot of good competition and battles throughout spring practices and it will be fun to see how that progresses throughout the year.”

The Rangers are 4-12 overall and 3-4 in the Toledo Area Athletic Conference. That does not mean there are not multiple bright sports, like the play of junior Gage Reed, who Rolf says “is pacing us offensively.”

Reed is batting .342 with 14 RBIs and on the mound, he is 0-4, taking on the Rangers’ high profile opponents, but that is with 21 strikeouts and an ERA of 2.33 in 21 innings.

“Gage has been a bright spot for us both in the batter’s box and on the mound,” Rolf said.

Sophomore Nathan Huber is batting .342 with five RBIs, and junior pitcher A.J. Cruz is 1-2 with a 2.88 ERA in 17 innings.

In his second year at the helm, Rolf is trying to build on last year’s 8-20 season, including a 6-4 record in the TAAC.

Among the four lettermen returning are Reed, Cruz at shortstop, junior first baseman and pitcher Sean Kovacs, and junior catcher and pitcher Mason Smith. Last year, Cruz was an all-league shortstop, batting .357 with 10 RBIs, 26 runs, and 13 stolen bases. Rolf says the quartet continued working on all aspects of their game before the season began.

“A.J. Cruz, Nolan Wagner, Gage Reed and Sean Kovacs have been working hard in the cages and weight room during the offseason,” Rolf said. “Nolan Wagner, A.J. Cruz, Sean Kovacs, and Mason Smith have been working hard to be consistent and throw strokes. A.J. Cruz has a lot of experience coming back at the shortstop position.”

No matter what happens this year, Rolf will have the bulk of his lineup returning for next year, which makes the future look promising. There are just two seniors — Braden Alore and Zachary Jones.

“We have a lot of juniors who have taken a big step up from their sophomore year last year,” Rolf said. “We have a large sophomore class and there are a number of them that could contribute very soon. The competition at practice has been very good.”

Can the Rangers get back to competing with the upper division of the TAAC? Rolf says that is a lot to ask from a young team. 

“I expect us to compete and be somewhere in the middle,” Rolf said. “Ottawa Hills and Toledo Christian have a great track record and a lot of good returners. Cardinal Stritch has some good pitchers coming back and are very well coached and compete. Our league is very competitive and has some very good teams.”

The Rangers have already split with Cardinal Stritch, winning 6-5 in Oregon and falling to the Cardinals in Northwood, 11-8. In the win, Wagner struck out 11, walked seven and allowed four hits and five runs, throwing 123 pitches over 6.1 innings. Kovacs got the final two outs for the save, striking out one and allowing one hit.

At the plate, Smith, a junior, tripled, had a stolen base and two RBIs, Kovacs doubled and had two RBIs, and Reed doubled. Wagner, Jones, Huber and Zaegan Byington had base hits. Huber also had a stolen base.

Northwood outhit Stritch in the loss, 10-7, but Northwood pitchers gave up nine walks and the Rangers had six errors. At the plate, Reed was 3-for-5 with two RBIs, Huber was 2-for-4 with two RBIs,  and Wagner, Kovacs, sophomore Kaleb Brossia, Cruz and sophomore Kaden Cluckey had base hits.

In a 9-8 non-league eight-inning win against Fostoria, Elias Pecina was the winning pitcher and Smith had the walk off single to score Reed. Pecina pitched the final three innings, allowing one hit and one run while walking three. 

At the plate, Kovacs had two doubles with an RBI in three at-bats, Reed went 3-for-5 with three RBIs, and Cruz, Wagner, Smith, and Huber had base hits. The Rangers stole nine bases, including two apiece by Cruz, Pecina and Kovacs.

Against Bowsher, Reed struck out nine, walked one, and allowed three hits, but the Blue Racers scored an unearned run in the bottom of the third to win, 1-0. Pecina and Cruz had Northwood’s only hits.

In two games against league foe Maumee Valley, the Rangers won 10-0 and 25-0. In the 25-run blowout, Kovacs struck out four, walked two and allowed one hit through four innings. Reed, who was 2-for-2 with four RBIs, had two doubles, Pecina and Kovacs had one two-bagger apiece. 

Pecina, Wagner, Kovacs, and Brossia had two hits apiece and getting base hits were Smith, Jones, sophomores Ethan Clair and Brian Hollabaugh. The Rangers scored 15 runs in the second inning, batting twice around, and took advantage of eight walks and five errors in a mercy-ruled shortened game.

In the 10-0 win, Cruz pitched a two-hit complete game shutout, striking out five and walking none. Wagner was 2-for-3 with a triple and RBI, and the Rangers belted six doubles, including one each by Pecina, Reed, Kovacs, Wagner, Smith and Cruz. Huber was 3-for-3, Reed and Smith had two hits apiece and Cluckey had a base hit and Smith had two stolen bases.

Other losses this season have been to Oak Harbor (13-0), Rossford (6-0), Springfield (10-5), Swanton (13-10), Ottawa Hills (10-0 and 14-1), Lake (8-1), Eastwood (15-4), Fremont St. Joseph (3-1), Gibsonburg (9-1) and Toledo Christian (4-2).













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