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AURORA -- After having a Final Four state run two years ago, Aurora's baseball team had a transition campaign in 2016 with some youth, but this spring's squad has plenty of experience.
AHS was competitive in the Suburban League American Conference after heavy graduation losses, finishing 14-11 overall and 7-5 in the conference.
"We are looking forward to a great season this year," said Brancazio.
AHS lost ace pitcher A.J. Kimes, infielder Jarett Mazanec and leftfielder Alex Nelson to graduation. Kimes is at the University of Dayton.
"We had some ups and downs [last year], but overall a lot of teachable moments occurred, which should carry over to this season," said Brancazio. "The players have worked diligently in the off-season to improve in every aspect of the game."
Senior Bubba Arslanian returns as one of the area's top catchers, but also will be used in right field and designated hitter.
"He's a four-year starter and will play more outfield and DH to maintain his health as he prepares for football at Akron," explained Brancazio. In 2016, Arslanian hit .368 with a team-high 29 RBIs.
Another senior is Ben Stawicki, who hit .360 last year. "He will continue to work as an outfielder and DH once he is healthy from a football injury,"said the coach.
John Carroll commit Jonathan Blue is a three-year starter and centerfielder, and led the club last year with a .385 average. "His speed on the bases and high baseball IQ makes him a tremendous asset," said Brancazio.
Jaret Rose, Conner Bizjak and Dominic Tyburski are other returning seniors. Rose can be used at first base, pitcher and third base, and is a Mount Vernon Nazarene commit. "I thought Jaret had an outstanding off-season and has improved substantially," said the coach.
Bizjak, Tyburski and Rose all have good size as pitchers. Last year, Bizjak was 0-1, while Tyburski had a 3.32 ERA in five outings.
"Conner has improved each year and could lead us in relief appearances," said the coach. "He can throw strikes with plus velocity. Dominic is a tall left-handeder who has improved command of off-speed pitches. I think he'll be used from the bullpen."
Another three-year vet is junior Evan Fromwiller, who played shortstop. He hit .310. "He will contribute in the top half of the lineup, but his range and footwork defensively has improved significantly," said Brancazio. "He can hit with power and is a plus on the bases."
Junior right-handed hurlers Chase Coady and Michael Sapp came up huge last year. Coady went 4-1 with a 2.62 ERA and Sapp was 3-0 and 0.66. Aurora also has some promising junior pitchers in Zack Elsawy and Trevor Mitch.
"Chase continues to get better. He will start in league games and should be one of our top guys in the rotation," said Brancazio.
"Michael is a huge contributor. His fast ball may have the best movement in our program. He has command of pitches and will pitch in meaningful games."
Brancazio has another starter back. Junior infielder Brent Henderson played third and second in 2016. He will play at the hot corner this year. He hit .267 and drove in 14 runs.
"Brent has shown outstanding work defensively this off-season and is one of the most coachable players in our program," said the coach.
"Henderson's footwork and glove work has shown vast improvement," added Brancazio. "As a hitter, his plate discipline makes him a tough out."
Elsawy, who also saw limited time at second base, is another pitcher, with a 2.47 ERA and two saves.
"We're hoping to get Zach back to full strength with his arm so he can build off a very strong sophomore campaign," the coach said. "His movement on the ball makes him an outstanding pitcher."
Juniors Joe Capretta and Jacob Blue will play key roles after seeing action in 2016 at catcher, first base and third base. They will share catching duties.
Jacob Blue impressed with a .320 average, while Capretta hit .238. Blue also can also play in the outfield.
"Capretta does a great job defensively and manages our pitchers well," said Brancazio. "He shows great plate discipline on offense and can hit with gap to gap power. Blue is another great defensive catcher, who can hit for power and for a high average."
Junior outfielder Will Hermanowski batted .455 in limited action in 2016. "Will spent the entire off-season improving in all facets of the game," said the coach.
Mitch is one of the top newcomers, adding pitching depth, along with gifted freshman Will Carpenter, who can play second base, short and is Aurora's only left-handed hitter.
"Mitch has improved substantially and will be a huge contributor," said his coach. "His low-to-mid 80s fastball has late break movement. He will pitch in some big games this year.
"Carpenter has a swing that's very smooth, and he has skills and athleticism way above his age, which makes his growth as a player something to look forward to."
Newcomers Tate Lawrence, Drew McVay, Jacob Loudon and John Retton could make an impact. Brancazio likes the size and strength of Lawrence, who can play first base and pitch.
McVay excels defensively at second base and short, and can be a pinch runner. Loudon may see action in the outfield or at second base. Retton lends depth in the infield, outfield and as a pinch runner. Sophomore Colin McNamara is a catcher-first baseman.
"Our players are extremely coachable and have embraced their roles to make sure the season expectations can be met," said the coach.
Aurora's staff includes Ken Cardaman, Matt Carpenter, junior varsity coach Michael Berg and freshman coach Matt Cooper.