With just four returning starters and a host of new faces projected to start this season, Wickliffe head coach Phil Motta knows he’ll have to be patient with the Blue Devils as they find their way this spring.
“Our young players will have to adjust quickly and be ready for a very difficult Chagrin Valley Conference schedule,” Motta said. “When you play 14 league games, there is never a day off with the caliber of teams in the CVC Chagrin. Our guys are going to have to be ready every day to compete against these very good teams.”
The Blue Devils finished the 2017 season with a 15-13 record and an impressive win over Trinity, ranked No. 7 in Division III, to win a sectional championship.
Another postseason run isn’t out of the question if the Blue Devils come together as a team.
“Our returners are going to have to produce for us to be successful,” Motta said. “We will have players that will be playing their first season on the varsity and they will need to contribute quickly.”
Junior catcher Nick Colbert, senior third baseman Dominic Motta and senior shortstop Dylan Ward are Wickliffe’s most experienced players and their coach will lean on them to consistently lead the team on and off the field.
Colbert led the Blue Devils in hitting last spring and Ward, a Notre Dame College recruit, took over at shortstop midway through the 2017 season.
“(Colbert) is a tough out at the plate,” Coach Motta said. “We moved Dylan Ward to shortstop in the latter half of last season and that move really solidified our defense. He is by far one of the most reliable, consistent, and hard-working kids I’ve coached.”
Dominic Motta also will lead the Wickliffe pitching staff after earning first team All-Lake County and second team All-District last season with a 1.63 earned run average. The Westminster College recruit allowed just four extra-base hits in 47 1/3 innings of work.
“Dom mixes up his pitches very well, has good off-speed stuff, and has the ability to change speeds on his fastball,” Coach Motta said. “He gets kids out and buckles down with runners on base. He was successful last season because he knew how to use his defense while pitching.”
Senior left fielder Riley Pugh, junior center fielder Jonny Abramczyk and sophomore second baseman Rob Hillyard also have varsity experience while juniors Tommy Shirer, Hunter Cunningham and Brad Dieterich will see their first varsity action this spring. Shirer will play first, Dieterich will be in right field and Cunningham will DH.
Shirer, Colbert, Dieterich and senior Ryan Timothy also will pitch.
Wickliffe’s success hinges on its ability to develop its younger players and find a consistent pitching staff.
The Blue Devils also have to get creative on the offensive side to put runs up on the scoreboard.
“We will need to be patient with our young players as they adjust to the speed of the game at the varsity level,” Motta said. “This group isn’t a real fast bunch of players overall, which may impact our offensive strategy. We may be forced to manufacture runs more so than we needed to last season.”