The Mentor Cardinals don’t have the big names from 2014, but first-year coach Jeff Haase likes what he has to work with and the high expectations of the program have not changed a bit.
Kade McClure is at Lousiville. Caleb Potter is at West Virginia. Sam Vilk, Kyle Hagey, Nick Fillar and Evan Lovick have graduated.
The core of the 2014 Division I Euclid District champion team is gone, but Haase is encouraged by what he has on the current roster.
“This is a scrappy group with a lot to prove and they sat behind some big names, so in a sense a lot of guys are unproven, but I think they are hungry and ready to go,” Haase said.
Tyler Thompson is a senior shortstop who got meaningful experience last season. Matt Eiswerth is a two-way standout that earned varsity time as a sophomore. Michael Hritz, Ryan Kanetsky and Zack Schaefer are all returning players from a team that advanced to the Canton Regional last May.
Along with some promising sophomores, there is a talented core of Cardinals that Haase believes will pick up where last year’s team left off.
“We are defensively sound and we can hit a little bit, but the biggest thing is they will fight til the last out,” Haase said.
“There are expectations that are set that are sometimes difficult to live up to, but I think we have kids who know how to win and it will translate on to the field.”
Mentor plays a difficult schedule in the NOC and outside the league, which Haase looks forward to in order to prepare to defend the district title at Euclid in mid-May.
“We are going to play aggressive baseball. We are going to play the game the right way and we are going to use our athletes,” Haase said. “We need to find our own identity. I know we are going to find it, the thing is just how fast that is going to happen.
“As far as pitching, we don’t have that typical Mentor power arm, but we have guys that are going to take the mound and get us going.”
Mentor’s first week of play has almost been wiped out by Mother Nature, but the Cardinals are scheduled to open the spring on the road against Normandy on March 31.
The schedule features a challenging league schedule and talented non-conference teams such as North, Mayfield, South and St. Edward.
“You play a schedule like that for a reason and that is to get ready for the postseason,” Haase said. “That’s always the goal here at Mentor, to make a run in the postseason, and I think we are very capable of doing that.”
JEFF HAASE TAKES OVER AS COACH OF MENTOR BASEBALL TEAM
Jeff Haase knows the game of baseball and has played at many of the highest levels.
The former high school and college standout is ready for his next challenge.
Haase has taken over as head coach of the Mentor baseball team, replacing veteran Len Taylor, who stepped down after the 2014 season.
Haase was an All-Ohioan in high school at Eastlake North, an All-American in college at Cleveland State and a 13th-round draft pick of the Indians. He played four seasons in the minors from 2000-2003 and reached Double-A ball before an elbow injury ended his career.
Haase started at Wickliffe Middle School and went on to be the head coach at Harvey from 2008-2010, and served as an assistant at North and Lake Catholic.
“It’s an honor to take over for a man like Len Taylor, he is a legend in Northeast Ohio,” Haase said. “You just hope you can fill those big shoes and I am excited for this opportunity.
“There are expectations. You know you have the horses and you have an unlimited amount of kids coming through the program. The biggest thing is for the guys out on the field to enjoy the experience. If you are here at Mentor you expect to play the best and beat the best and make a postseason run.”
Haase has high expectations in his first season on the bench at Mentor, but he is also realistic.
"We want to finish at least .500 in our conference, and our conference is unbelievably tough, and then we want to win the district. I think that is very attainable," Haase said.