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If pitching and defense wins ballgames, then the Nordonia High School baseball team is going to win a lot of games this season.
The Knights won a lot of games last season. Nordonia finished with an overall record of 17-12. After a 1-2 start in the National Division of the Suburban League, the Knights ended up 9-5 and tied for third place in the final standings with Hudson.
According to Nordonia head coach Drew Hoisington, his team is well stocked with pitchers this year.
"Pitching-wise, we're very solid," said Hoisington. "We've got 10 guys who can do a lot of different things on the mound. We have a good set of starters, a couple of really good long relievers, and some good short relievers. We're deep in our rotation, and we have guys who can come out of the bullpen. It's a nice situation to have."
The bad news is that Nordonia lost nine seniors to graduation. Those nine were shortstop/pitcher Justin Post, catcher Santino Ciocca, outfielder Dennis Kopacz, second baseman Ryan Soltis, first baseman/pitcher Owen Dobbins, outfielder Jacob Laviano, outfielder Tyler Soltis, outfielder Donovon Nichols, and utility player Brandon Nichols.
However, Nordonia has a number of players returning for the 2017 campaign, including seniors Kyle Seither (pitcher), Trey Crockett (middle infield/utility), Chris Nolan (outfield/pitcher), Luke Alders (outfield/pitcher), Daniel Heiser (third base/pitcher) and Nathan O'Donnell (outfield/catcher).
Among the Knights' returning juniors are Sammy Spagnola (pitcher), Mason Mimms (outfield/pitcher) and Peter Toula (infield/pitcher).
There are also many newcomers to the varsity squad this year. They include junior Blake Williams (third base/pitcher), freshman Michael Hamrick (third base/outfield/pitcher), junior Nick Kovacs (outfield/pitcher), sophomore Robby Levak (middle infield), sophomore Brendan O'Donnell (catcher/utility), and junior Dylan Hiles (pitcher/first base).
"Defensively, we're strong, and we have a lot of good leadership," said Hoisington. "We also have a lot of experience in the field returning from last year. We have our whole middle infield back."
According to Hoisington, one of the question marks on the team this season is offense.
"It's the same question mark we had last year," he said. "We don't have a lot of guys who can hit the three-run homer, so we'll have to play 'small ball' and execute to get runs in. If our pitching staff allows us to stay in ballgames, we'll have some opportunities to do that."
Hoisington believes that the Knights can compete for the division championship again.
"Twinsburg and Wadsworth were the two strongest teams [in the division], and we went 3-1 against them," he said. "The league is very competitive. You have to bring your A-game every day.
"There are a lot of very good programs in this league, and we strive to be one of those programs. We want to win league titles and make deep playoff runs. We believe that we have the team to do that this year. It will be a good test to see how we fare against these other teams."
Hoisington is entering his fifth season as the head coach at Nordonia. His varsity assistant coach is Taylor Hoisington, while Anthony Ciocca will serve as the varsity pitching coach.
In addition, John DePiore is the new junior varsity coach. His assistant is Jeff Goodman. Matt McRitchie will serve as the freshmen coach.
Nordonia kicks off the season in grand fashion this week at the Cal Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. The Knights were set to play a string of five games on through March 31.
Nordonia will open National Conference play April 4 at Stow-Munroe Falls at 4:30 p.m.