Coach Jeff Inselmann says he expects players like Ethan Langham, left, Christian Pool, Bleus Creek, Sam Culler, and Luke Nye help the Golden Bears continue the dominance of the NWOAL.
If there is a baseball dynasty in the Northwest Ohio Athletic League, it resides in Bryan.
The Golden Bears have won or shared 20 NWOAL championships in the past 30 seasons, including three of the last four crowns and seven of the past nine. They have 29 titles all time in the league.
So, with six starters returning from its 2016 league title team, it is no shocker that the Bears are favored to win their third in a row this year.
Bryan (17-6, 7-1) received six of the eight first-place votes and 62 of a possible 64 points in a preseason poll of NWOAL coaches to finish first. Archbold (22-9, 6-2) nabbed the other two first-place votes at second with 55 points; Wauseon was third at 47, and Swanton was fourth at 42. Patrick Henry, Delta, Evergreen, and Liberty Center rounded out the poll, in order.
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Sixth-year Bryan coach Jeff Inselmann will look for leadership from seniors Bleus Creek (shortstop-pitcher, .342 average), Christian Pool (P-first base, 4-2 record, 1.42 earned run average), Sam Culler (center field-P) and Luke Nye (infield-P), and juniors Chema Sanchez (1B-P-DH, 5-0, 0.48 ERA), Alex Morr (outfield), and Zac Nobis (catcher-P-OF, 3-0, 2.42 ERA).
Pool was named first team All-NWOAL in 2016, and Creek was named to the second team.
“Our four seniors and a mix of juniors who gained experience last season will lead the team,” Inselmann said. “Many positions are up for grabs, and we have a number of guys competing to crack the starting lineup.
“Although this is an unproven team, the goals remain the same in competing for the NWOAL title and advancing as far into the state tournament as possible. This team will be battle-tested by the time the sectional tournament is here.
“Our season will depend on the ability of our pitchers to throw strikes, playing solid defense, and having our hitters drive in runs consistently.”
Archbold and ninth-year coach Dick Selgo will build its title hopes around eight returning letter winners from a 2016 team that reached the Division III regional finals last year before falling 4-3 to Bellville Clear Fork.
Back to lead the Blue Streaks — who have not won a share of an NWOAL title since their D-III state championship season of 2005 — are seniors Toby Walker (CF, .426) and Ian Radabaugh (1B-P, .299, 23 RBI). Walker was selected first team All-NWOAL.
Others returning include juniors Bryce Williams (2B, .333), Trevor Rupp (P-3B, 4-0, 1.13 ERA), Nic Rodriguez (LF, .293), and Brandon Miller (P, 4-3, 2.41 ERA), and sophomores Corey Erbskorn (RF) and Travis Ziegler (C).
“Our guys are very excited about the season,” Selgo said. “Getting beat by one run in the regional finals last season has left them hungry for more.”
Wauseon (14-6, 6-2) looks to get back to the form which earned the Indians back-to-back NWOAL titles in 2013 and 2014.
In his 11th season guiding the Tribe, Trent Thomas will rely on six returning letter winners to set the tone in Wauseon’s title quest.
Back are seniors Carter Bzovi (P-utility, .344, 1-2, 1.30 ERA), Marcel Barajas (IF-P, 3-0, 1.69 ERA) and Kris Moebs (OF), and juniors Brooks Gype (P-1B), C.J. Moser (P-C) and Everett Bueter (P-utility).
“We will look to continue to compete for a league championship, which will require consistent play throughout the season,” Thomas said. “We feel like we have developed a nonleague schedule that prepares us for the league season and a longer tournament run.”
Swanton (14-10, 5-3) looks to make some waves in the league championship chase this season with seven returning starters, plus two other letter winners.
Back to lead that pursuit for fourth-year coach Tim McCarthy are seniors Gunnar Oakes (OF, .406, 18 RBI), Noah Johnston (P-IF, 3-2, 1.33 ERA), Jonny Shanks (utility), and Josh Adcock (IF).
Also returning are sophomores Michael Lawniczak (C-P, .348, 22 RBI), Roman Epley (IF-P, .338), and Hunter Mix (IF-P).
Oakes was named first team All-NWOAL, and Lawniczak was an all-league second-teamer.
“I really like our pitching depth, especially with the new OHSAA [pitching inning] guidelines,” McCarthy said. “Defensively, this team should be the best I’ve had here at Swanton. Offensively, we will be led by our top four hitters from a year ago.
“Expectations within the program are high. Our overall depth and lack of varsity experience is a concern, but I believe the continued hard work and improvement will lead to a successful season.”
Patrick Henry (11-12, 3-5) looks to get back to its peak level as a program when the Patriots won back-to-back league titles in 2006 and 2007, then back-to-back Division IV state championships in 2008 and 2009.
In his ninth season, Pats coach Shawn Sunderman (132-78) has the resources of eight returning letter winners, a group led by seniors Mason Fintel (IF, .354), Kal Harris (IF), J.J. Rettig (OF-P), and Kent Petersen (IF-P). Fintel was named second team All-NWOAL in 2016.
Also back are juniors Jarrett Maas (OF) and Jordan Moore (OF), and sophomores Christian Petersen (IF-P-C) and Alex Shanks (IF-P).
“Our biggest strength is the returning pitching staff and defense,” Sunderman said. “The pitch-count rules should not have a major affect with the depth of our starting pitching. The defense returns seven starters, which will help the pitching staff be effective.”
Delta (11-14, 3-5) also returns eight letter winners for fifth-year coach Damon Mattimore, who seeks the program’s first league title since the Panthers took a title share in 2005.
Back to lead Delta will be seniors Travis Barnes (OF-P), Owen Jagodzinski (IF-P), Justin Anderson (IF-P), Chris Brick (IF), and Jesse Beverly (IF-OF-C-P).
The other returnees are juniors Gabe Freeman (P-IF-OF), Jason Beverly (C-OF), and Robby Arredondo (IF-P).
“We have a real young group, experience-wise in varsity baseball, this year,” Mattimore said. “But, they have played a lot of baseball [overall], they are very coachable, and they want to prove they can compete at the varsity level.
“Offensively, we are unproven, and are learning how to grind out at bats and get into good hitting counts. We will have to be better defensively in key situations in the field.”
Evergreen (9-18, 2-6) and 25th-year coach Brian Nagy (312-284 record) look to the 2017 NWOAL race with optimism, but he also knows they must overcome overall inexperience.
Seven letter winners return for the Vikings, a group led by the senior trio of Drew Greene (OF), Teagan Pinkelman (OF-P), and Phoenix VanOstrand (P-IF).
Also back are juniors David Moore (P-1B) and John Ruth (IF), and sophomores Bryce Hudik (P-OF) and Sam Lubinski (1B-OF).
“Offensively, we continue to look for more consistency and better production with runners in scoring position,” Nagy said, “as well as our ability to string together several productive at bats in a row.
“Our team will have to learn how to do the little things within the game in order for us to compete on a daily basis.”
Liberty Center (6-13, 2-6) hopes to make a climb in the NWOAL standings this season after taking some lumps with the league’s youngest lineup last year, when four freshmen started.
Back to lead third-year coach Ryan Zeiter’s Tigers are nine letter winners, a group led by seniors Austin Bachman (1B) and Joseph Everson (P-2B).
Also returning are juniors Ethan Cramer (C-1B) and Lucas Frankforther (3B-P), and sophomores Jarrett Krugh (P-SS), Austin Like (CF), Conner Sonnenberg (LF), Max Weaver (DH), and Gabriel Hinton (2B-P).
“Having to start four freshmen last year, our intent this year is to have some more understandings and experience,” Zeiter said. “Our pitching should be a solid rotation, giving us some productive innings. The outfield should be solid with depth and young talent.
“We hope to improve on putting the ball in play, and by doing so be more competitive in games.”