Varsity baseball reloads, looks to repeat last season’s success


Senior Joe Szczepanek returns as one of a handful of starters to see quality time on the field as a junior, as last year’s 23-8 varsity baseball team graduated eight seniors from the roster.

“It will be tough filling in for guys [that graduated],” said Joe, who batted .350 with 11 RBIs last season, “but we have a good group of hard-working seniors that are ready for the challenge. We are confident coming into this season.”

In addition to some big bats, the team lost a bulk of its starting pitching rotation in 2018 graduates Johnny Irish and Nate Doolittle. The two recorded a combined 130 strikeouts with just 27 walks. Of the 188 innings pitched last season, Johnny and Nate were responsible for 96.4 of them.

Seniors Adam Tellier and Cole Coughlin are the returners to the mound with the most experience at the varsity level, as they combined for 58.3 innings pitched last season. Adam recorded an earned run average (ERA) of 2.36 with 36 strikeouts, while Cole had an ERA of 3.19 with 19 strikeouts.

“As a senior and one of our starting pitchers, I, along with my teammates, will now be fully responsible for whatever comes at us,” Cole said. “We will have to be willing to handle the pressure. The team in the field behind me wants to win as badly as I do, and having that support from my friends is a great feeling.”

While losing some powerful arms, the bullpen is now an impressive nine-man deep affair. In addition to six seniors in Adam, Cole, Joe, Ethan Vredenburg, Jake Hornbeck, and Connor Palmitier, junior Grant Coughlin and sophomores Joey Wise and Brady Price will see some time on the mound.

The team adds some young talent in Joey and Brady and in the four juniors Grant, Liam Nyberg, Matthew Henriksen, and Johnny Mielock. Joey will likely see some quality time on the field from the third base position.

“The juniors and sophomores make our team more dynamic in pitching, hitting, speed, and being able to play all positions,” Joe said. “I think the sophomores, Brady Price and Joey Wise, will be key players in our success this season.”

When not on the mound, Adam will assume the shortstop position for his third year, while fellow middle infielder Ethan will lock down second base for his second year.

After losing four-year varsity player and 2018 graduate Jake Heilman behind the plate, Joe and fellow senior Luke Herzog will be competing for the catcher position.

“There is going to be a great battle for starting catcher between Luke Herzog and Joe Szczepanek,” second-year head coach Todd Hartman said. “For the 2019 season, we have multiple players at each spot, which breeds competition during practice and is vital for great intensity and having players push themselves to compete at their highest level.”

On the offensive end, Adam had the most plate appearances out of all the returners and had a batting average of .430 with 32 runs scored and 17 RBIs in addition to 21 stolen bags on the basepath. Senior Kyle Wojczynski also returns as a clutch bat with an average of .333 with 16 RBIs and 12 runs scored. Joe had a considerable number of at-bats to hit .350, while Cole batted .556 on 12 plate appearances. While these four are expected to lead the lineup, offensive production is a big focus for all nine batters in the game.

“This year, I do not see a weak spot in our lineup when it comes to hitting,” Hartman said. “Several of the returning players all faced varsity pitching last year.”

The baseball team opens up the season with two of the toughest conference opponents in Forest Hills Northern and Northview in the first two weeks of the season, respectively. The Rangers took second in the OK White to Northview by one game last season, while FHN is a cross-town rival. The Rangers went 2-1 against the Huskies to take the series last season, but anything can happen in a rivalry game.

“Any time that FHC plays FHN, it is always a big game; records are thrown out the window,” Hartman said. “We look forward to opening our season with our rival. This will be a great test for our team, and we are excited to launch the 2019 season by playing a quality program like FHN.”

Some other highlights for the varsity baseball team’s season will be the second-annual Home Run Derby to be hosted on April 27. Also, the Rangers will be playing in a round robin at 5/3 Ballpark against FHE and FHN on May 3.

After falling just short of the conference title a season ago, that is ultimately the goal for this year’s roster.

“The goal for the team in the short-term is to win each game as we play them, as not to get caught up in the standings or future match-ups,” Cole said. “In the long term, being conference champions is the goal before playoffs.”

Even with losing a majority of the starting lineup, the varsity baseball team has reloaded with ten seniors and is in prime position for a conference championship and deep playoff run.

Many of these seniors have been playing together for years, so the team dynamic is already established to set the boys up for success.

“I have no doubt in my mind that this year will be a fun season,” Cole said. “All of us have played together for so long that we will have no problem getting some wins this year.”