As always, the expectations surrounding the Chagrin Falls baseball program are very high.
The Tigers have won three straight Chagrin Valley Conference titles and have four returning starters back from the 2019 season.
The challenge for the Tigers, of course, is putting it all together after a two-year hiatus due to the global pandemic.
“Losing a year of baseball makes it difficult to determine how we will fare this season. It also makes it very difficult to know what the competition will bring,” said Michael Sweeney, who is in his 21st season as head coach. “We have some guys who can really pitch so I know we can compete with anyone when those guys are on the mound. We just want to play each and every game the best that we can. It may take us some time to hit our stride on offense, but at some point, I think we can be very good. We will definitely find out how good with the schedule we are playing.”
Despite having four returning starters, Sweeney has many question marks heading into the 2021 campaign.
“Part of me feels like this is a brand new team and part of me feels like we are just replacing a few players,” he said. “We have a lot of players who have been waiting for this year’s baseball season. I know they are excited to get going as am I.”
While the Tigers will welcome many new faces into the lineup, Sweeney will rely on a tried and true formula for success.
“We have very good players at each position and will be solid up and down the line-up,” he said. “They have high baseball IQ and understand how to play the game. We won’t beat ourselves very often. We have a couple of top-of-the-line pitchers and a lot of good pitchers who have the ability to get people out on a consistent basis.”
Chagrin’s relative lack of experience isn’t overly concerning to Sweeney as he is confident the Tigers have the talent and determination to grow up quickly on the diamond this spring.
“We don’t have any glaring weaknesses,” he said. “We will be somewhat inexperienced and definitely lack depth. We obviously won’t be a perfect team, but we will do everything pretty well. I think we will continue to get better and better as the year goes on. It may take us a little time to get going offensively, but I think we will be OK.”
Chagrin’s returning starters include senior captains Charlie Greenlief, Dawson Pierce, and Jack McMullen, and junior Andrew Kirkpatrick.
Greenlief, a 6-foot catcher/shortstop who is committed to Otterbein University, was named first-team All-CVC as a sophomore after batting .333 with three doubles, 11 runs scored, 15 runs batted in, and a 4.44 on-base percentage.
“Charlie does an outstanding job in the field and has tremendous hands and a quick release,” Sweeney said. “Charlie will hit in the top part of our order and be extremely valuable to our team, both in the field and at the plate. I expect an outstanding season from Charlie. The more you watch Charlie play, the more impressed you will be.”
Pierce, a 6-foot-3, 225-pounder who pitches, catches, and plays first, will earn his fourth varsity letter this season with three of those years as a starter. As a sophomore, Pierce batted .250 with five doubles, one home run, 15 RBI, and an on-base percentage of .465. He also was 1-0 on the mound with a 0.778 earned run average in nine innings pitched. He will play at Marietta next year.
“I expect big things out of Dawson this season,” Sweeney said. “Dawson throws three-plus pitches for strikes and will be our No. 2 pitcher this season. His fastball has topped out in the mid to upper 80s. He will also hit in the middle of our order and give us tremendous power while hopefully driving in plenty of runs. Be ready for a monster year from Dawson both on the mound and at the plate.”
McMullen, a 6-foot-3, 215-pound outfielder/pitcher who has committed to LaFayette, was 0-2 with a 3.048 ERA but has a fastball that tops out in the low 90s.
“Jack is a relentless worker and has worked as hard as anyone in the offseason to have a dominating senior season, especially on the mound,” Sweeney said. “Jack never takes a day off from his workout routine and all of his hard work is paying off. Jack will throw in the low 90s with some excellent off-speed pitches to complement his fastball. Injuries kept Jack from having the type of season he wanted as a sophomore, but he still finished strong for us. He is a big-time pitcher and will be our No. 1 pitcher this season. I also expect Jack to help us at the plate and in the outfield as well. He is a gifted athlete who will be very difficult to beat when on the mound.”
Kirkpatrick, a 6-foot-4, 225-pound first baseman/pitcher, earned first-team All-CVC honors as a freshman. That year, he batted .368 with a .462 OBP and he hit two doubles, two home runs, scored 25 runs, and knocked in 32 more.
“It is hard to believe, but Andrew has improved a lot since his freshman season,” Sweeney said. “He has a ton of power and should be a force in the middle of our lineup this year. I expect an even bigger season than the last time he stepped on the field for us. Andrew will also help us on the mound this year as I expect him to be our No. 3 starter with an arsenal of quality pitches. I expect Andrew to have a special season.”
Seniors Will Tropp, Justin Lewinski, and Mikey Amendola, junior Leo Fornara, and sophomore Donny Hardy round out the projected starting lineup.
Tropp is a 5-foot-10 left fielder who also can play shortstop. Lewinski is a 5-foot-11 third baseman/pitcher. Amendola is a 5-foot-10 second baseman. Fornara is a 5-foot-10 outfielder/pitcher, and Hardy is a 5-foot-11, centerfielder/pitcher.
Senior Richard Higley, junior Brett Vaccaro, Nick Calabrese, Andrew Bazzone, and Noah Elconin will provide the Tigers with depth.
McMullen, Pierce, Kirkpatrick, and Fornara fill out the starting pitching rotation while Higley, Tropp, Lewinski, and Vaccaro will come out of the bullpen.
“I feel good about our team, but we need to play and gain some experience,” Sweeney said. “It is hard to tell how good we will actually be until we start to play games. We do not have a lot of depth. We cannot afford an injury to a key player, especially one of our pitchers. We have some big guns in the order, and also on the mound, but we also have some unknowns. I do think we have kids who play hard and know how to play the game and win.”
Chagrin Falls finished the 2019 season with a 21-7 record overall and won the league title with a 13-1 mark.
With a challenging schedule that includes games against St. Edward, Chardon, Tallmadge, Hudson, Solon, Twinsburg, Mayfield, Gahanna Lincoln, Shaker Heights, Warren Champion, and Lakeview, as well as a rugged conference slate, the Tigers are going to be challenged every game.
“We need to play our best each and every day,” Sweeney said. “We need to stay focused and stay healthy. We also need to trust that we will continue to get better and better as the season goes along and not get too worried if we struggle early at the plate. We should have a pretty good idea of what type of team we have come tournament time. Hopefully, playing this type of schedule will get us ready for the postseason.”