Friday, September 22, 2023

Independence made strides on spring trip

After opening the season with a win over Brooklyn, Independence’s baseball team spent last week at The Ripken Experience in Myrtle Beach, S.C.

The Blue Devils finished the spring trip 0-5 but head coach Mark Echstenkamper was pleased with what he saw out of his squad, both on and off the field.

“We’ve been doing a spring trip for a long time, we plan on it at least every other year,” Echstenkamper said. “That’s part of my philosophy of building a culture and team unity. Every graduating senior class, one of the things they always talk about and one of their best memories from high school is the spring trip and the memories they created and the unity they developed together. I’m going to do it as long as I’m coaching here.”

Despite the setbacks, the Blue Devils were competitive in every game they played in Myrtle Beach, even against schools with much larger enrollments.

“Our goal was to get better from the time we got down there and we did that,” Echstenkamper said. “One of the things we always face, at least at Ripken, is we’re one of the smallest schools that go down there so we always face a difficult schedule. The smallest school we played had over 600 kids enrolled and most were over 1,000. We played four Division I schools and two Division IIs. The pitchers we faced all week were as good or better than what we’ll see all season.”

That pitching kept the Blue Devils in check for most of the week.

They scored just five runs in five games and hit .157 as a team.

“The big problem on the trip was a lack of run production,” Echstenkamper said. “Our team (Earned Run Average) was around 2.00, so I was really happy with our pitching and defense. The issue in most games was we had one inning of one or two mistakes that just compounded. We have to eliminate those mistakes. It’s that one inning we can’t afford because our run production is so low.”

Nick Mroczynski and Zak Billings both hit .333 on the week. Three of Mroczynski’s four hits were doubles and he also drew five walks.

Owen Ramm hit .286 with four hits.

“We had some good, solid at-bats throughout the week but we just couldn’t get a key hit when we needed to,” Echstenkamper said. “Nick had some good at-bats and Owen Ramm had a good week. Jordan Mallernee and Kyle Stefanski had some good at-bats. We had a few too many strikeouts so we have to correct that and put the ball in play more.”

Independence’s pitching staff allowed just nine earned runs in 30 innings of work (2.10 ERA).

Stefanski struck out 12 in six innings of work and Jamie McMahon whiffed four batters in his 7 1/3 innings.

“We saw some depth in our pitching,” Echstenkamper said. “Jordan Mallernee had a really nice start for us and we had some other guys too. Brad Watroba is a nice short-stint guy for us, a lefty that does a nice job, and Mroczynski and Billings threw some good innings. We really threw a lot of guys.”

Overall, the Blue Devils left Myrtle Beach ready to compete in the Chagrin Valley Conference Valley Division.

“We were 0-5 but we have to look at it context of who we played and how we played,” Echstenkamper said. “We feel really good opening up CVC play this week. I want to give a big thank you to the parents and everybody for the success off the trip. We had a good week.”

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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