Rockets still in the hunt for a Bay title

By: 
J. Patrick Eaken

Oak Harbor has the highest team batting average in the Sandusky Bay Conference Bay Division at .313 (145 for 463), but at 7-10 overall and 3-3 in the conference, they aren’t exactly on track to win a championship.

That does not mean they are out of it — far from it. Like other local prep baseball conferences, if they can keep their losses to three, they could remain in the hunt. Coach Nick Lance expected his team to be there, but right now Edison appears to be the team to beat at 5-1 in the league, but the Chargers are 9-6 overall.

“I think we will be near the top. We have a competitive group of seniors and a solid mix of younger talent,” Lance said. “Year in and year out our league is solid.  The league always has solid pitching top to bottom and there is never a team that can be overlooked.

“We are competitive, hard-working, and coachable. We have thrown a few new things at the kids this year and they have responded in a positive manner. The team just likes to compete no matter the color of the jersey.”

Lance believes his team needed some time to gel.

“However, not playing a real game for 670-plus days as a team is a struggle to develop some of the younger kids.  Essentially, we have a large portion of our team that is inexperienced, not by their choosing,” Lance said.

The Rockets have a .387 on-base percentage and a .378 slugging percentage. Even their pitching is respectable at a 3.95 team ERA with 118 strikeouts and 64 walks.

Leading the Rockets in hitting are senior catcher/infielder Gunner Gregg (.444 batting average, 20 for 45), junior infielder Grant Belcher (.418, 23 for 55) and senior outfielder Collin Fauver (.386, 17 for 44). 

Lance says Fauver is a “big, strong kid, who likes to hit gap to gap,” and he is doing that with six doubles and 12 RBIs with one stolen base.

Gregg has five doubles, two triples, 13 RBIs and five stolen bases and has been hit by a pitch a team-leading five times and Belcher has one triple, six RBIs and 11 SB.

Two other Rockets are hitting over .300 — Ryan Friar is batting .340 (17 for 50) with four doubles, eight RBIs and two SB and junior infielder Mason Wagner is hitting .308 (16 for 52) with four doubles, 11 RBIs and eight SB. 

Karter Lajti, who is batting .263 (10 for 38), leads the team with four sacrifice flies, plus he has a double, five RBIs and two SB. Sophomore infielder Hayden Craig is batting .289 (13 for 45) with a double, 13 RBIs and five SB and senior infielder Justin Meloche is hitting .280 (14 for 50) with a double, 10 RBIs and two SB. 

No one on the Rockets’ roster has hit a home run yet, but Lance thought this would be a team that would bat for average, not necessarily power. If anyone is going to hit one out of park, it will likely be Gregg, says Lance. Gregg will play collegiately at Defiance University.

“He has the ability to leave the yard at any time and is a great situational hitter,” Lance said.

Lance, who has served as head coach five years since 2009 is 32-57 all-time at Oak Harbor after previously serving as an assistant at Fremont Ross. The Rockets have yet to win a league title under his tenure but have reached the Division II district finals twice. In 2019, Oak Harbor was 9-17 overall and 3-9 in the SBC Bay. 

There are five returners from that team, and key players include six pitchers — senior Ashton Schroeder, Gregg, Fauver, Meloche, Craig and Wagner.

Schroeder, although 2-4 in decisions, leads the team with a 1.87 ERA, 45 strikeouts, 10 walks, 22 hits and eight earned runs in 30 innings. He is a University of Findlay commit and top 100 prospect in the state per the Prep Baseball Report.  

“He has amazing stuff on the mound and great command with velocity,” Lance said.

Fauver is next with a 2.47 ERA but has only pitched 5.2 innings and Meloche is 2-2 with a 2.59 ERA, 16 strikeouts, six walks, 30 hits and 10 earned runs in 27 innings. Lance says Meloche “keeps the ball down and attacks hitters.”

Lance adds that Wagner and Belcher do amazing work defensively.

“The two juniors have worked extremely hard in the offseason to improve their hands and thus far have had great success in the infield. They both have a great instinct for the game,” Lance said.

The improvement Lance is already seeing in his players makes him think the rest of the season could be a race to the finish, if the Rockets can avoid a bad outing in league play.

“Mason Wagner is becoming a solid hitter in the top of the lineup and has developed on the mound as well as being a dependable infielder,” Lance said. “Ryan Friar has changed positions and has developed as a solid outfielder. He has improved dramatically at the plate batting in the middle of the order for us.

“Grant Belcher defensively is solid and has worked hard to improve his hands as an infielder. Hayden Craig has a ‘plus-arm’ and is versatile. He can play just about anywhere and is a true definition of utility player.”

 

 

 

 

 

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