Spring training is over – time to get out on the mound and throw some heat.
The cold weather may not be gone quite yet, but for four area baseball teams the season is underway and pitching will once again play a prominent role.
Northville, off to a 2-0 start, is coming off a 27-5 season in which the Mustangs reached the regional semifinals before losing to West Bloomfield, 4-3.
Although they lost more than 100 innings on the mound to graduation, the KLAA Central and Kensington Conference champs boast a strong one-two punch on the mound in senior left-hander Evan Flohr (7-1, 0.85 ERA) and senior right-hander Ian Borthwick (4-0, 0.23 ERA).
Flohr, an attractive college recruit who has yet to commit, is a strikeout pitcher who has increased his velocity during the off-season.
“(Flohr) is a mid-80s (mph) guy right now and last year at this time he was 83,” 11th-year Northville coach John Kostrzewa said. “This summer he was 85. And he hit some other numbers here in the fall. He’s kind of a late bloomer as a senior. I think because of that, he’s been a little late in the recruiting game. He’s 6-2 and left-handed and keeps progressing.”
Borthwick adds a slightly different flavor on the hill.
“(Borthwick) is a strike thrower,” Kostrzewa said. ‘He pitches to contact. Every single time he goes out there, he throws strikes. That’s his M.O. He’s a great competitor and knows what he’s doing.”
Junior lefty Chris Dunn and senior Dugan Darnell hope to full out the rotation.
“We’re trying to figure out who that third guy is going to be in that third league game that you’re going to have to have,” Kostrzewa said. “We’ll have that figured out in the next couple of weeks.”
Senior Connor Walters inherits the catching job, while the infield will feature Flohr at first when he doesn’t pitch, Darnell (.299) at second and Tyler Lowe (.338) at third. The shortstop job is up for grabs between sophomore Nathan Wixon and senior Kevin O’Connell.
The outfield will be manned by senior Nick Zalewski in left, junior Zach Prystasy in center and senior Steven Grosz in right.
Novi coach Rick Green, now in his 16th season, lost some key players to graduation from a year ago, including ace Tyler Whitehead (6-2-1, 2.19 ERA).
But senior right-hander Adam Tobias (6-1, one save, 2.80 ERA in 35 innings) returns as the Wildcats went 24-15 and won a Division 1 district crown.
Junior Scott Beaton takes over for Andrew Turek at short and will also add depth to the pitching staff, along with sophomore Alec Bageris and senior Mike Ninkovich.
“Beaton probably has the best set of hands I’ve ever seen to come to a varsity program,” Green said. “I coached him on a team and he had 89 chances and didn’t make one error all summer long. Turek was a great shortstop for us and could get the ball, was very quick and made a lot of great plays for us, but I think Beaton is going to be one of our best for sure hands shortstop. He may not get there like some of the other guys do, but when he gets it he’ll field it and throw it and he has a very good arm. We’re really happy with the way Scott has progressed over the last year and a half.”
The Wildcats also lost second team all-state first baseman Bryan Klosterman and center fielder Craig Wilson (Saginaw Valley State) to graduation.
But the cupboard is far from bare as senior outfielder-first baseman Mike Mitchell (.414, 16 extra base hits and 45 runs) has committed to Hillsdale College, while senior catcher Brendan Wexler (300 average, 15 RBIs) hopes to improve.
“Our defense will do pretty well up the middle with Wexler, Beaton and Mitchell,” said Green, whose team lost its season opener Sunday to Howell, 10-5. “The biggest concern is always staying injury-free. We hope to pick up where we left off following spring break. That’s my biggest concern every year … if our pitchers throw the ball and they take some swings.”
Novi Detroit Catholic Central (13-19) hopes to make great improvement this season in the Catholic League’s always formidable Central Division under second-year coach Dan Michaels.
The Shamrocks feature a pair of talented junior right-handers in Grant Hartwig, who is drawing college interest, and Dante Toppi.
Jake Hintz, a senior, adds depth on the mound along with juniors Luke Hargis and Nick Marcon.
Hargis will also excel at the shortstop position.
“Defensively, we shouldn’t be bad,” Michaels said. “I think my shortstop (Hargis) is one of the best around from an athletic standpoint. He can go get the ball. He’s got some good range.
“My catching is very strong. I think Grant Hartwig is one of the best catchers in the area. So up the middle, I’m feeling pretty good. Sean Garcia will be playing second base and I have high hopes for him. He’ll play short when Luke pitches as well. (Dante) Toppi is a strong center fielder that covers a lot of ground.”
Novi Franklin Road Christian (8-15), a member of the Michigan Independent Athletic Conference’s Red Division, is coming off a Division 4 district title.
Eighth-year coach Mike Harris will be leaning heavily on his two sons – Kyle, a senior catcher, and Gavin, a junior pitcher-infielder – to lead the way.
Kyle Harris, who has signed with Spring Arbor University, is a career .462 hitter with 32 doubles, four triples and 84 RBIs.
Gavin Harris, meanwhile, throws in the 82-84 mph range with a three-quarter sidearm delivery that features good ball movement.
Junior Matt Lorey, who throws in the 80-82 range, will be the No. 2 starter as the Warriors try to upstage defending Division 3 state champ Grosse Pointe Woods University-Liggett, Allen Park Inter-City Baptist and Sterling Heights Parkway Christian in the MIAC Red.