With seven returning starters and a host of others with varsity experience, Independence’s baseball team is gearing up for a run at the Chagrin Valley Conference Metro Division title.
The Blue Devils, who finished 13-9 overall and 8-4 in the Metro Division, finished a game behind Beachwood in the league standings last spring.
“Expectations for this particular team of Independence Blue Devils will remain high due to the fact that a number of them have been teammates with one another for a long time,” said Independence coach Jim Crooks. “There’s strong chemistry. There’s a love for the game. They genuinely enjoy seeing their teammates succeed, and relish in team victory over personal glory. These traits make this mix of varsity Blue Devils a special group of young men.”
That chemistry, along with Independence’s overall baseball IQ, should help the Blue Devils march toward their goals this spring.
“Our team has an incredible mental outlook,” Crooks said. “How they think is everything. They think positively and create an optimistic environment. None of them want to follow the herd, and that makes them leaders and winners. In addition, they aspire to develop the traits that make them best when competition is toughest. They pick one another up. They’re encouraging to one another. They strive to master the details of the game. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen such mental characteristics from a group of high school athletes, and because of this combination of mental attributes, they’ve proven themselves to be cool under fire.”
Among Independence’s returning starters are three players who earned first-team All-CVC honors last spring in seniors Rory Corrigan, Mike Andryszczyk, and Evan Beacher.
Corrigan will DH, pitch, and see time at first base.
Last spring, he batted .364 with two home runs, 18 runs batted in, and 21 runs scored.
“One of the greatest teammates one can have and is oblivious to self, and therefore can perform in the clutch,” Crooks said of Corrigan. “He will be one of the top hitters in the league this year.”
Andryszczyk, a two-time all-conference performer and Capital University recruit, returns in center field and he’ll also throw some innings off the mound. He batted .368 with 25 runs scored and five triples last spring.
“He will be one of the top players in the conference this year,” Crooks said. “He will provide a major presence at the plate, on the bases, and in the field and on the mound.”
Beacher is a returning starter at shortstop and will serve as the team’s ace on the mound. He batted .413 with 22 RBI last year.
“He plays for the sheer pleasure of playing. Period,” Crooks said. “He was all-conference first-team at shortstop and pitching in some key games last year.”
Senior Luke Pascarella was a second-team All-CVC selection last season in left field. He batted .333 with 19 runs scored as a junior.
“Luke has a friendly, competitive outlook towards his teammates and his opponents,” Crooks said.
Seniors Max Tarnowski and Charlie McGreal will play second base and right field, respectively. Tarnowski also will see some time on the hill.
McGreal earned second-team All-CVC honors as a sophomore and was an honorable mention selection last season.
“Charlie has a well-balanced outlook on the game and understands percentages, knowing when and where his role is needed to help our team succeed,” Crooks said. “Max epitomizes leading by example. He treats baseball like a job, punching his timecard with efficiency and diligence. When he puts on his uniform, it’s like he’s putting on a work shirt. Every team needs someone like Max Tarnowski.”
Rounding out the projected starting lineup are junior Cy Jolliffe and sophomore Dom Narduzzi and Sam Crooks.
Jolliffe earned honorable mention all-league honors at first base.
“Cy is a strong player for the Blue Devils,” Coach Crooks said. “We will rely on his bat and fielding this year for our team to be successful.”
Narduzzi, who hit .345 last season, will catch.
“Dom Narduzzi is an underclassman the team will look to as a steady presence and on the field,” Crooks said. “He swings the bat very well and works hard to serve his teammates and the coaches.”
Sam Crooks gained valuable experience as a freshman, especially on the mound where he won a pair of key games for the Blue Devils.
“Sam Crooks will be relied upon on the mound this year and enjoys studying the qualities of money players past and present,” Coach Crooks said. “He realizes the difference between most players is not great, and that intelligence will overcome that gap. He was 2-0 on the mound last year with no earned runs in those two outings.”
Sophomore Andrew Stamp will provide depth on the mound and in the infield and outfield, and freshman Vinny Carriero will back up Beacher at shortstop. Freshman Anthony Sobonya also will find a way to contribute.
“(Stamp) is an exciting new talent with a live arm and talent,” Crooks said. “Vinny is a freshman infielder with exciting new talent and skills. Anthony will platoon with some varsity action as the season progresses. He’s a talented infielder with experience.”
Independence has the talent and experience to achieve its goals this spring, but as always, focus and consistency will play a key role in the team’s success.
“Success this season will depend on the Independence Blue Devils’ ability to recognize that all of the mental traits needed to achieve are possible to be obtained,” Coach Crooks said. “The baseball skills, chemistry, and proven success have been ingrained in this group of young men. Ninety percent of our success will be based on attitude and approach. Attaining our team goals must be bought at a price, including self-sacrifice, effort, and willingness to work hard and execute. “