Beachwood graduated a talented group of seniors who lost out on their final year of high school baseball.
That leaves the Bison with an untested lineup but head coach Andy Pohl is confident his approach to the 2021 season will pay off as his young team gains experience and confidence.
“We graduated an experienced crop of seniors in 2020, all with really high baseball IQs, so both our players and coaches will need to embrace patience as we insert a new group of athletes who lack varsity experience,” Pohl said. “Our overall talent level is not really going to jump out at you, which really doesn’t concern me, but our ability to embrace winning in a different way certainly does. We need to really embrace the little things–moving runners over and making productive outs, being smart and decisive on the base paths, valuing the importance of the routine play, executing all the right throws in the field, keeping hitters off-balance–all with high energy and excellent communication. That’s a significant challenge given those skills require experience and maturity, but if this group can accelerate their growth and maturation, I think there is a path.”
The Bison finished 9-17 overall and 4-10 in Chagrin Valley Conference play two seasons ago.
Just four letter winners return from that squad, leaving each player with an opportunity to earn a starting role.
Pohl plans to foster a culture of competition to help the Bison achieve their goals down the road.
“I don’t necessarily believe in set starting lineups,” Pohl said. “I prefer a rotation of 14 or 15 interchangeable parts, using everyone’s strengths and putting each player in situations where they can be successful. We are preparing for the last game of the season as opposed to the first game, so we’ll have plenty of time to get everyone’s feet wet so to speak, embrace fluidity and development, and see how it plays out. As a head baseball coach, I’ve always placed a greater priority on supervising and overseeing the entire program–top to bottom–rather than just serving as the varsity coach. That said, I believe I have a really good pulse on the younger players in our program, as most days I find myself giving more time and attention to our younger guys as compared to our varsity players anyways. A strong, trusting relationship between our newer varsity players and our coaching staff has already been developing over the past two years, so I feel we already have a good understanding of their skillset and potential.”
Beachwood has two or three players competing for time at most positions.
Junior Brendan Malek and sophomore Drew Keilin will fight for innings behind the plate while seniors Jordan Levin and Ian Stender are competing for the job at first base. Junior Matt Blumenthal and sophomores Luke Bennett and Brett Zawatsky are in a competition for the job at second base and Bennett and Malek will split duties at shortstop. Senior Drew Dubin and junior Dylan Kay both will see time at third base.
Beachwood’s outfield depth consists of senior Austin Muttillo, juniors Jacob Greene, Clay Tepper, and Will Owens, and sophomore Vincent Crenshaw.
Muttillo, a lefty, is projected to lead the pitching rotation followed by Levin, Dubin, Owens, a lefty, Crenshaw, Kay, and Bennett.
“We are a very young and inexperienced group, graduating several multi-year varsity team starters,” Pohl said. “We will be throwing a lot of kids into the fire, so to speak, before they are ready, so they will need to embrace a growth mindset and realize mistakes are opportunities for learning. Thankfully, we have three returning senior pitchers with significant varsity experience, so we are hoping they can shoulder a lot of the weight until our younger players get their varsity ‘sea legs’ underneath them.”
Grooming inexperienced players already is a daunting task but factor in the lost year of development and the uncontrollable caused by the global pandemic, and Pohl and his coaching staff will have their hands full this spring.
“The biggest obstacle is building a cohesive, communicative, and trusting team culture after missing an entire year of playing together,” Pohl said. “The physical and emotional demands of high school baseball are unparalleled. While summer baseball can certainly prepare athletes physically, it is not comparable to the grind of a typical high school season, nor does summer baseball really stress team first concepts that are critical to a winning high school program. Furthermore, the overall energy and enthusiasm level is lower than I would want it. The emotional toll of COVID is noticeable, so we need to be cognizant of our athlete’s emotional state of mind and find ways to inject some fun. I am fortunate to be surrounded by a great coaching staff; all of them have the skill set of a head varsity coach and understand the game at a really high level. This allows me to take a step back and see the big picture–evaluate and develop our habits and team culture daily–while they immerse themselves in the day-to-day baseball grind. I think this is incredibly critical given our constraints this season.”
With the right leadership and focus, the Bison can overcome their relative inexperience.
“Leadership from guys who have played a lot of high school baseball is a critical component to filling that hole,” Pohl said of his team’s youthful roster. “We also need some consistency in terms of our daily approach and habits. We have been vigorously addressing this daily in an effort to develop a more disciplined, focused, and business-like approach with a belief that every little thing matters. I think we are making some progress in this area, to the kid’s credit.”
It’s that daily approach Pohl hopes will lead to success on the field.
“There is a lot of luck involved in winning high school baseball games,” Pohl said. “I am confident that we can be competitive; the rest may be beyond our control. That said, our focus is to control the controllables, learn from our mistakes, and get better daily. If we do that, we will have a successful season, regardless of our record.”