By Greg Gielczyk
ROSCOMMON — With five returning starters, and three players who came up from the junior varsity for the district tournament permanently on the varsity, Roscommon’s baseball team has high expectations to exceed the success of 2017.
The Bucks lost a handful of seniors who were major contributors last year, including a couple of pitchers who were stalwarts on the mound. Coach Derek Smitz feels the team has gained some offensive ability in the batting order that could help mitigate those losses.
Included among the returning veterans are third-year senior Ethan Noreyko, who’ll start at shortstop and do some pitching; third-year junior Dane Smitz who catches, pitches and plays in the infield; third-year junior Trey Heliin, an infielder and pitcher; senior outfielder Hunter Hoffman, and senior Josh Freese, who’ll be moving between third and first base, as well as some outfield and doing some pitching.
Last year, the Bucks brought up juniors (then sophomores) Max Thomas, Jeff Kuchar and Kyle Hartman off the junior varsity for the post-season. Filling out the 10-player varsity roster are junior Walter Suchar and sophomore Tyler Lorenz.
Thomas and Kuchar swung some heavy sticks last year, and coach Smitz expects them to do the same this spring. Both can pitch, and Thomas will shore up the catching position. Hitting let the Bucks down in key situations last year, and that’s where coach Smitz hopes to see the most improvement.
“I think the Jack Pine Conference is going to be open this year,” coach Smitz said.
“I don’t think anyone is going to run away with it. I think Clare, Meridian and Beaverton are going to be solid. I think we’re going to be solid.”
“Even Gladwin, Evart and Farwell. They all have some ball players and some arms. It’s going to be … competitive. I think it’s going to be an evenly matched conference. I think everyone is going to earn their wins.”
During the time they’ve been stuck inside due to the harsh spring weather, that more resembles January or February than April, the Bucks have maintained a strict bullpen regimen.
“We’ve been throwing hard, but we’ve been limiting bullpen sessions to about 50 pitches. We’re going to keep a close tally on pitch counts when we start,” said coach Smitz. “But, we’ve been running some very productive practices.
“The kids have been staying motivated. I’ve had no complacency. They know when they hit the field, they’re going to have to be ready to go. There’s going to be no excuses. Everybody’s been basically in the same boat.”
Roscommon dropped two heartbreakers to Beaverton by a single run each time on opening day last spring, when snowflakes floating lazily around the diamond and it was 38 degrees.
It put the Bucks in a bad spot in the conference right off the bat, and while they played well against teams and had opportunities but couldn’t pick up any ground on the league leaders.
For years the Bucks got a bad break from the schedule makers having to play doubleheaders against Beaverton, Meridian and Clare in succession, and found themselves in a hole after the first six conference games.
This year is different.
The conference schedule has been completely revamped, and the Bucks won’t face nearly the meat grinder they had to go through at the start of the conference season.
Without getting outside and really airing things out, the Bucks have been hitting as much as they can in the batting cage.
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