Monday, February 26, 2024

Wickliffe filled with potential

When it comes to the “lost season of 2020,” most of the focus has been on the games area baseball and softball teams had wiped from the schedules last spring.

But, those teams also lost valuable practice time and coaches such as Wickliffe’s Phil Motta are trying to make up for lost time.

Motta returns just one starter from his 2019 squad that finished 15-10.

“We have had to really do a great deal of instruction with our players,” Mott said. “Having missed an entire season of games, they also missed half a season of practice. Unfortunately, we are going over things like game situations that you would think that a summer program would have implemented. For many, it is all new. With that being said, we are really excited about our team.”

While Motta’s players lack varsity experience, they do have plenty of potential and he plans to maximize that over the course of the next several years.

“Like so many programs, our team is extremely young, but I love that,” he said. “We have three years to continue to build on what is a great core of young players. We may start a little slow out of the gate as the guys are getting used to playing together. That is something that is lost in the world of summer travel ball. Everyone is with a different organization, so now you have guys learning what each other does. It is a unique problem, to say the least. We are excited about having a good core of young guys that like to compete. We are still looking for some leadership among the players. That is always a fine balance with underclassmen as some may not feel comfortable leading yet, but we have some athletes on our team. Most play multiple sports and love to compete.”

Junior shortstop Calvin Cackowski is Motta’s most experienced player. Along with sophomore second baseman Colin Casey, Cackowski will kick start the Wickliffe offense and he’ll serve as the team’s top pitcher.

“Calvin Cackowski is one of the area’s better players,” Motta said. “He started games as a freshman. We are going to have to rely on him and Colin Casey to get things going at the top of the order. Colin plays loose and aggressive baseball. He is confident and is really stepping up more like a guy that leads by example.”

Sophomore third baseman Bryce Gilman and junior first baseman Josh Dohm have the corners locked down on defense and should provide some power in the batting order.

“It will be fun to watch Bryce Gilman progress as he has a ton of potential at the plate,” Motta said. “Josh Dohm is overcoming injury, but when he is on at the plate, he can generate the type of power that is valued from the left side of the plate.”

Greg Kita will start in left and also see innings at first base and Shaun Derganc will patrol center field. Vince Gargiulo will play right field and second base at times. Zak Esteves will play outfield and provide depth behind the plate and Jack Bunn will play first and DH.

“Greg Kita has been a nice surprise so far by showing his versatility by playing multiple positions,” Motta said. “Vince Gargiulo also plays many positions and brings some more speed to the lineup. Zak Esteves is a returning letterman and starter. Zak is a very good contact hitter and is a quiet competitor. Shaun Derganc is another guy that covers a great of ground in center field. He is going to be a guy that we could use in the same breath as center field graduates that patrolled our massive outfield at Could Park. He has shown a great deal of promise on the mound and is another competitor.”

Sophomore Jimmy Nemeth is projected as the starting catcher and freshman Bobby Plumb will add depth in the outfield.

“Jimmy Nemeth is another sophomore and has done a good job behind the plate. He can also play outfield and third base,” Motta said. “Bobby Plumb is only a freshman, but he gives us another speed guy in the outfield. Bobby will float between JV and varsity when getting pitching innings in for the season. He is the fastest player in our program.”

While Motta is confident his players are up to the challenge at the plate and on defense, he knows he has a young pitching staff that will have to develop in a hurry.

“Many of our guys haven’t pitched much,” he said. “They will need to be efficient and learn the importance of getting ahead on batters and in many cases pitching to contact. We have had a couple very good scrimmages in which our pitchers did exactly that. Scrimmages do not bring the same intensity that games bring. It is going to be interesting to see how many of our young guys handle adversity. That is huge for so many that have never played an inning of high school baseball at any level.”

Wickliffe’s success hinges on its pitching staff stepping up to the challenge but the Blue Devils also have to focus on the fundamentals and take advantage of those things they can control.

That all starts with good communication.

“In order for this team to be successful, they are going to have to communicate better,” Motta said. “It is a lost art in baseball. It can be a more reserved group. We need guys to step up and to own their time on the field. We are going to have to learn to do the little things that we pride ourselves in with our program. Play good defense, get ahead of batters, and manufacture runs. Our philosophy is to get a lead and put pressure on the defense. It is easy to play from ahead, but how we react when we are down in a game is the true test of any team.”

Steve Hare
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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