Aurora -- How do you respond to a dream season in which your baseball team reached its first-ever state tournament with an all-time best 28-5 record and an incredible 25 other am records?
That's the task of Aurora High second year head coach Tim Deering.
Aurora lost nine seniors from that record-setting club, which featured a school mark 15-game winning streak. Deering misses those players, who helped the Greenmen to their first district title in 27 years.
"We will look to seniors and juniors for leadership after losing such a great senior class," said the mentor. "Our JV team won 20 games last year, and although we lost nine seniors, we planned out playing time at the JV level to prepare for this year."
Gone to graduation are four Chagrin Valley Conference first team athletes in pitcher Jake Czerwinski, outfielder Tyler Thomas (playing at Ashland College), catcher Frank Sivillo and first baseman Joey Zidones.
Czerwinski, who was the cleanup hitter and an ace hurler, was the most valuable player in the CVC's Chagrin Division and made honorable mention All-Ohio.
In addition, AHS lost pitchers Adam Berger (9-1) and Kyle Messner (playing at Baldwin Wallace).
But the Greenmen return a strong nucleus, led by senior Kirk Janoch and juniors Andy Weber, Matt Carpenter and Nick Ely. A pair of seniors entering their third season will return in Griff Petersen and Luke Calcei.
"We are going to lean on Janoch, Weber, Ely and Carpenter for leadership," Deering said. "These four play every day and were instrumental in helping us reach the Final Four."
The coach added all of those four could end up playing college baseball. Janoch, Petersen, Janoch hopes to walk on at Ohio State. He plays a huge role in each aspect -- offense (as the leadoff hitter), defense (a speedy centerfielder) and pitching. A CVC second teamer, he hit .358 with 38 runs, 39 hits, 20 RBI, four triples and a .450 on-base percentage.
ON THE mound, Janoch will have a larger role. In 2013, he was 3-0 with a 1.99 earned run average and two saves in 24 innings of work. "He is our offensive catalyst and needs to open up the games with his speed," said Deering, who stressed Janoch runs a 6.8-second 60-yard dash.
"I expect him to steal 25 to 30 bases, and he can hit to all fields. His range in the outfield is increasing every day," Deering said.
Weber was a CVC first teamer at second base a year ago, and at the plate will move from the two hole to the third spot. Weber recently committed to play at the University of Virginia.
A fine defender, Weber led the team with 16 double plays, but his offense was much improved as he hit .337 with 35 hits, 26 RBI, 23 runs, five doubles and four triples. "This year, Andy is our all-around best athlete and top offensive threat," said his skipper.
Both Carpenter and Ely also made CVC second-team and will play huge roles. Carpenter will return to shortstop and bat second, while Ely plays third base and will start out as the cleanup hitter.
"All of these guys make up the most important parts of our defense," said Deering. "Matt is at short, Andy at second, Kirk in center, and Nick plays third base about as good as anyone in the state.
"Carpenter is a smooth shortstop who commands our defense. His arm strength is top of the line for his age [83-86 mph across the diamond]."
"Ely is a good third baseman and whether it is line shots, slow rollers or double plays, he gets it done," Deering said. "Normally, I do not like pitching Nick because of the consistency Nick, Matt and Andy bring to our infield, but we will need him to pitch a little."
Ely led Aurora in batting with a .388 average. With only eight strikeouts in 109 at-bats, he was a good contact hitter and had 40 hits, 23 runs, 15 RBI and seven doubles. On the mound, he was 1-0 with one save and a 0.00 ERA.
Carpenter hit .325 as the nine-hole man with 17 RBI and 16 runs. Peterson hit .286 with four RBI as the backup catcher for two years. This year, he will be the designated hitter, catch and pinch hit.
"GRIFF WILL hit in the sixth spot, and we expect him to have a solid year offensively," said the coach. "He is a big kid who can catch or DH, and he will also pitch."
Aurora will need solid pitching, and Calcei is a southpaw with two years of experience. He was 3-0 in 17 innings last year, with an ERA of 3.29.
"Luke is back for a third season and will bring his crafty style to the mound with the most combined innings coming back from his sophomore and junior seasons," said Deering. "We look for Luke to spot start and relief."
The coach pointed out the team's projected 5, 7, 8 and 9 hitters all come from a very successful JV team.
Junior leftfielder Devin Bradley will hit fifth, in front of Petersen, and also will pitch. Deering said Bradley is a good hitter who will be called upon to drive in runs.
Senior Jack Updyke is slated in the seven hole and will play right field. Two years ago, he had 44 RBI in 27 games at the JV level.
"Jack would have been on varsity a year ago if he did not come down with mononucleosis after tryouts," Deering said. "He will play all three outfield spots and be another run producer for us."
A pair of juniors will round out the initial Aurora line up -- Carter Semancik will bat eighth and catcher Michael Durkin will be ninth. Semancik will be a designated hitter, who will also pitch, play first base and back up Ely in the hot corner.
"Carter will start on the mound and at first, and he works tirelessly at the game and will be a key contributor," said Deering.
"Michael Durkin is filling the biggest shoes at catcher ," said his mentor. "His nickname is ëDocí. He is one of the smartest kids in the junior class and really understands the finer things of the game. We need him to have a big season."
First-year senior Tom Branstein will be a key sub. "He will play middle infield or any of the outfield positions when needed and he has always excelled at baseball and we look for him to contribute in 2014," Deering said.
Sophomore Adam Long will be a key first-year player because he can pitch and has some pop in his bat. Long will pitch, DH, pinch hit, plus be used at first or third base.
"ADAM WILL spend the majority of his time on the mound and may also need to play in the corners because he is a big kid who can hit for power," Deering said. "He will be a great pinch hit weapon off the bench."
Junior Josh Andexler can help the pitching staff and assist in the outfield or at first base. "He will pitch and potentially play outfield as he is a weekend starter on the mound, and will relieve during the week."
Sophomore A.J. Kimes is another key newcomer who adds depth to the pitching staff as a combination lefty. "He will pitch key non league games early on and relieve in league games," said Deering. "He is a three-pitch kid that has made tremendous improvements from his freshmen to sophomore years."
Freshman Alan Arslanian will make an impact with his bat. He can catch, play right field, DH and pinch hit. "He hits the ball hard and is a kid who does not take a cheap hack at the baseball," said his coach."
Aurora's schedule may be one of its best ever.
"We ramped up our non-conference schedule, including [if weather permits] Cleveland St. Ignatius, Lakewood St. Edward, Massillon Jackson and Louisville,"said Deering. "After week one, we should know if we prepared our program for another great season."
The Greenmen are scheduled to open CVC play with a home-away series against Orange on April 7-8. "We will play for a league championship, with Kenston and Chagrin Falls having good teams returning. Perry, West Geauga and Orange will again be solid.
"2013 was year one for the coaching staff, and we made a run for the state title. Nothing changes for year two. I think we need to do the three things we preach everyday -- prepare our kids to play, let them play loose, and win every little battle."