Hornets eye early improvement

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Kirtland Baseball

Kirtland returns just four starters from last spring but the Hornets aren’t short on talent.

Head coach Luke Smrdel is optimistic his players can make a run at a league and district title once the younger players gain the necessary experience on the varsity stage.

“I’m very excited about this team,” Smrdel said. “I think we have a ton of talent, just not a ton of experience yet. I think we’re going to see some improvement as the year progresses. We just have to get these guys as much experience in varsity games and big situations as much as we can early in the season and hopefully build off of it.”

The four returning starters include junior shortstop Joey Torok, senior center fielder Mike Zeuli, a second team All-Ohioan, senior third baseman Ryan Lipps and senior pitcher Tyler McCrory.

Torok recorded a team-high 30 stolen bases. Zeuli batted .421 with 29 runs batted in and Lipps hit .446 with 22 RBI.

“There is a great wealth of leadership among those guys,” Smrdel said of his core. “From the time we started practice, they’ve made a big impact on the younger guys to make sure they know how to do things the right way. It’s been great.”

Junior Seann McGill is projected to play first base while sophomore Joey Mongelluzzi will play second.

“McGill has good size and takes a good approach to each at bat,” Smrdel said. “(Joey) is excellent in the field. We’re excited to have him and Torok up the middle. Defensively, we think he’s going to make a huge impact and offensively, he’s doing a good job.”

Sophomore Mike Alfieri and junior Ethan Garcia are competing for the starting job behind the plate. Both will see action, especially early in the year.

“We’ll see who gets the job done early in the season and go from there,” Smrdel said.

Several different players are vying to join Zeuli in the outfield.

“Tentatively, Gino Rosson should step into one of those spots,” Smrdel said. “The last one could be Anthony DeMarco or Luke Potosky. They’re fighting for that spot. Vince Liuzzo is in there as well. There are like four guys fighting for those two spots. They’re going to get a lot of playing time and we’ll see who pans out and go with that.”

McCrory returns as the team’s No. 1 pitcher. He was 4-2 last season with a 3.37 earned run average.

McGill, Rosson and Tyler Bratton also will chew up innings on the mound for the Hornets.

“Everybody else knows how to pitch so everybody could get that chance this year,” Smrdel said. “The new state rules impact how we have to approach our pitchers. It makes things a little bit more difficult so now everybody is a pitcher.”

Smrdel hopes that pitching holds up early in the season as the Hornets find their footing and establish a day-to-day lineup.

Once that happens, he’ll be looking for steady improvement as the season progresses.

“We have to keep working hard,” he said. “These guys have put in a lot of time and effort. We have to get a lot of these guys some good in-game experiences and if we can do that we can be a pretty good team.”

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The creator and publisher of OhioVarsity.com, Hare has covered high school sports in Northeast Ohio since 1997. He began as a correspondent for the Lake County News Herald, where he contributed until 2011, primarily covering high school football and wrestling. In 1999, Hare began writing for IrishIllustrated.com, a member of the Scout.com network of high school and college sports web sites. He focuses on covering Notre Dame football recruiting. OhioVarsity.com was created in 2004 and was a member of the Rivals.com network until 2012. The site's original purpose was to cover Ohio high school football and recruiting news but since has grown to cover all sports and to provide sports information services to high school athletic programs and individual teams. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.