With a host of returning starters from last season’s 17-9 team, 15th-year Wellington Dukes baseball coach Roger Sasack thinks now is the time to come together in taking an important next step.
The Dukes’ 10-6 Patriot Athletic Conference record last season was good enough for third place behind Keystone and Firelands. Wellington made it all the way to the Division III sectional final but fell 5-1 to the Kirtland Hornets of Lake County.
“We all want to go to the same place but the only way we’re going to do that is together,” said Sasack on Friday, coming off a 17-0 season-opening win over Open Door. “We’re six weeks in now and it’s a grind, it really is. Trying to keep the guys focused and motivated can always be tough this time of the year, especially with spring break and only being outside a few times to this point because of the weather.”
Seniors Mason Wright and Everett Kropff will be counted on to lead the offensive attack and are coming off respective .310 and .316 campaigns in the batter’s box.
Kropff was named first team All-County as a catcher while center-fielder Wright’s play earned him an honorable mention in the county and PAC as well as a scholarship to patrol the University of Mount Union’s outfield in 2019.
“Mason is one of the best center-fielders I’ve ever coached,” Sasack said. “He’s a four-year starter and just needs to continue what he’s been doing. He’ll be called on to pitch a little more this year after being our closer last year.”
In 14 innings pitched last season, Wright gave up zero earned runs.
“He wasn’t even used to that role at that point,” Sasack said. “But he became our late inning guy. As coaches, we’re not just looking at the next pitch, next inning, or next game, but also the next year. Getting him so much experience with games on the line is only going to benefit him.”
Kropff plans to join the U.S. Navy after graduation.
“He leads by example, kind of a quiet leader,” said Sasack. “He’s an honors student and could’ve went to school anywhere he wanted. He told me recently he got into the Navy program that he wanted and I’m happy for him.”
Other main returning contributors for the Dukes include Ben Bliss, who earned a county honorable mention after posting a 6-1 record, Cole McLean, Randy Sizer, Mason McClellan, and Ben Higgins.
Higgins, a sophomore shortstop, returns to the diamond after breaking both of his arms simultaneously last season in an outfield collision with Wright, then suffering a shoulder injury this past fall while playing quarterback for the Dukes football team.
“It was such a freak thing,” Sasack said. “He has a great glove, great hands, great feet, and is going to make us better with his defense. “It’s one of the most important spots on the field and we’re glad to have him back. It only took Ben a few games last season as a freshman to beat out the senior who was playing shortstop. He hustles and he’s just that good.”
The keys to climbing further up a crowded PAC will be base running, overcoming a lack of established pitching depth, and finding consistent hitting from the bottom of the order, said Sasack.
“Everything is going to come down to our offense this year. Early returns are showing us that we’re going to pitch well and play pretty good defense. We want to come out of the gates fast and build a little confidence,” the coach said.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-775-1611 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.