Sunday, January 29, 2023

Hawks have lofty goals

Hawken returns seven starters and a deep pitching staff leaving the Hawks with some lofty goals for the 2022 campaign.

Last spring, Hawken finished 21-6 overall and 9-3 in the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division. The Hawks won a sectional title and finished second in the conference standings.

“After having graduated only two seniors, we have high expectations for the 2022 season,” said Hawken coach Aaron Brandt. “We will have a deep pitching staff with seven or eight pitchers who I feel comfortable being on the mound and return 90-percent of the run production from our offensive line up. A senior class of eight players, four of whom are three-year varsity letter winners—it would have been four without the COVID season–will provide great leadership to mix with some younger talent.”

With a deep and talented roster, the Hawks have their sights set on winning conference and district titles this spring.

To do that, Hawken will have to shore up its defense.

“With some fortunate breaks, we look forward to having the opportunity to advance further in the state tournament this season,” Brandt said. “Finding the best defensive lineup will be the biggest challenge. We made too many errors in 2021, so we are looking for ways to maximize our offensive lineup without compromising our ability to make plays defensively. Another year of experience for most of our players should help as well.”

Hawken’s pitching staff remains one of the team’s greatest strengths.

Senior Devin Anthony headlines that group after finishing 3-1 last season with a 1.36 earned run average. A Wooster commitment, Anthony struck out 36 batters in 24 2/3 innings of work and allowed opposing hitters to bat just .180 against him.

When he’s not pitching, Anthony will play left field. He batted .378 last season with four doubles, two triples, two home runs, and 22 runs batted in. He also scored 32 runs and stole eight bases on the way to earning first-team All-CVC and second-team all-district honors.

“Devin had a great junior year, despite dealing with an arm injury mid-season,” Brandt said. “He has been a mainstay in our lineup since his freshman year and was selected as co-captain for the 2022 season. He will be our No. 1 pitcher and a solid bat in the middle of our lineup.”

Junior Eli Thompson is second in the pitching rotation.

He was 6-3 last season with two complete games and a 2.46 ERA. He struck out 43 batters in 54 innings.

Sophomore Lucas Brandt will provide another capable arm for the Hawks after missing last season due to a medical procedure. He’ll start at second when he isn’t pitching.

Senior Tommy Clark was 3-2 last season with a 4.32 ERA. He struck out 28 in 34 innings. He’ll play first base when he isn’t on the mound. He batted .321 last season with four doubles and a triple, 22 RBI, 19 runs scored, and seven stolen bases. He was named honorable mention All-CVC.

“Tommy was selected as a co-captain for 2022 and looks to anchor our infield with his leadership at first base and on the mound,” Brandt said. “Tommy has been a consistent hitter for the Hawks since his freshman year, driving the ball in clutch situations.”

Seniors James Ciofani, Josh Samulak, and Peyton O’Keefe, junior Dom Brancel, and freshman Asher Kimball also will chew up some innings on the mound for the Hawks.

Ciofani was 4-0 last season with a 2.26 ERA and 23 strikeouts in 34 innings of work.

Brancel is one of the top all-around players in Northeast Ohio.

He was 4-0 on the mound with two saves and a 1.40 ERA with 24 strikeouts in 20 innings and an opponent’s batting average of just .156. He also batted .453 with 12 doubles, two triples, three home runs, 36 RBI, 32 runs scored, and 14 stolen bases. His on-base percentage was .533 and he posted a .744 slugging percentage on the way to being named first-team All-CVC and first-team all-district.

He’ll start behind the dish and step up on the mound when called upon.

“Dom is a top catcher who led our offense last year in almost every category,” Brandt said. “Dom’s approach at the plate has made him one of the premier run producers in the area. His work behind the plate sets the tone for our defense, and his strong arm has shut down opposing running games. Dom’s focus throughout the offseason and during our preseason has him primed for a great junior year.”

The rest of Hawken’s projected starting lineup includes senior Khalil Suggs at shortstop, senior Nick Bollinger at third base, senior Jalen Suggs in center field, Ciofani in right, and sophomore Paxon Laschinger as the designated hitter.

Khalil Suggs batted .291 with 28 runs scored and 21 stolen bases. Bollinger posted a .302 batting average with a home run, 21 RBI, 26 runs scored, and 15 stolen bases. Jalen Suggs knocked in 14 runs with 13 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. Ciofani hit .304 with 16 RBI. Laschinger is moving up from the JV squad.

“Our offensive lineup is balanced from top to bottom and we shouldn’t have to rely on any one or two players to carry us,” Brandt said. “We will have other players ready to step up and be able to have different players ready to take the lead that game.”

While the Hawks have the talent and depth to achieve their goals, they’ll also have to remain healthy, focused, and deliver timely hits and pitching when needed.

“As with any team, we will need to avoid injuries first and foremost,” Brandt said. “We dealt with some significant injuries in 2021, so hopefully we got those out of the way. Some of our losses happened when we had errors that came in bunches, so we need to minimize those occasions, finding ways to not let one mistake multiply to produce a big inning for our opponents.”

Steve Hare
Steve Hare is the Chagrin Valley Conference's Sports Information Director. He also created and publishes, an online publication dedicated to providing hyperlocal coverage to area high school athletic programs. Hare began covering high school sports for the Lake County News Herald in 1997. Hare attended Willoughby South High School through the middle of his senior year, then graduated from Berkshire High School in Burton in 1986. He played football, wrestled and was an all-Geauga county baseball player (1986). He lives in Chardon with his wife Paulette and their children.

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