The Black River Pirates may have finished with a 7-17 record in 2016, but second-year coach Jake Wright sees plenty of reasons for optimism this spring.
“I think our biggest strength last year was our pitching staff,” he said. “We’re bringing back our number one and number two pitchers. Seth Pluta’s ERA was under two for the year and Brandon Wine was under three. We just weren’t able to score runs.
Pluta also hit .343 with 14 runs batted in and a home run in 2016.
Consistent arms will be part of the effort to offset the losses of five graduating seniors, including Derek Hawley, Kyle Petruzzi, and four-year starting catcher Colin Filak, who allowed just three passed balls all season, hit .290, and scored 16 runs.
“It will be a challenge for us, putting together enough offense to keep us in games,” said Wright. “We lost a lot of games 3-0, 2-0, or 2-1. We’ve got to manufacture runs and support our pitchers.”
Also returning to the Pirates are senior outfielder Patrick McCafferty and junior infielder Travis Sexton.
Last season Sexton put up a .370 batting average, .518 on-base percentage, and scored 13 runs.
“We have a lot of young guys who got experience last year and hopefully that pays off,” said Wright. “A couple freshmen and a couple sophomores were thrust into roles they weren’t quite ready for. Like with anyone, experience changes that and it can help us put it together on the offensive side.”
The coach said he understands if prognosticators are skeptical of the Pirates’ chances in an imposing Patriot Athletic Conference but said his troops have put in the work to flip their fortunes.
“Our side of the conference has been very competitive and very tough the past few years and I don’t see that changing,” he said. “Buckeye and Firelands led the way last year and we expect them to be good. Keystone was very young and brought back virtually their whole team. Wellington at one point, I think, was hitting .400 as a team last year.”
“We were in the basement, and that may be the outsider’s forecast for this year, but I like our guys and I like how hard they’ve worked. If we have one of our top pitchers going, I think we can give anyone in the conference a ball game. It will be about getting that key hit in key moments,” he said.
Black River opens the season March 25 at home against Crestview.
Jonathan Delozier can be reached at 440-647-3171 or @DelozierNews on Twitter.