Coming off a season last year where the Geneseo baseball team claimed the school’s first baseball regional title has this year’s Leaf squad looking to uphold the standard that was set.
“The players have done a good job of being self-motivated. They understand the limitations of being inside and are doing a good job of staying focused,” said head coach Steve Brucher. “We talked about last year and that last year’s team set the bar and now the issue is can we sustain it? The other issue is we lost quite a bit last year (with the graduation of eight seniors), so are we going to be in reload mode or rebuild mode.
“The juniors have had a lot of success in baseball, but past success doesn’t guarantee future success. They can’t rest on past successes.”
On a squad of 19, the Leafs return seven players from last year’s squad, which include four seniors and three juniors. Among those seven, Geneseo returns only two position players in Michael Daniels and Rayce Singbush and pitcher Zach Alexander. Also this season, the Leafs will be without starting shortstop Matt Rowley, who is out for the season with an injury.
“We don’t have a lot of varsity experience and it might take some time, but I believe we will be a much better team in May than March,” said Brucher. “I have a lot of confidence in this group that they can be successful.”
Leading the 2013 squad are: seniors Daniels, Zach Riffe, Jon Solberg and Nathan Yager.
“The senior class is small, but all four will contribute,” said Brucher. “The words I would use for the seniors are leadership and ownership. They need to take ownership in the team. Michael will be the vocal leader. He took huge strides during the football season as a leader, and I think it will carry over. Zach, Nathan and Jon, along with Michael, this is the 2013 baseball team and it is their legacy. They have to decide how they want to be remembered.”
The junior class looking to make an impact include: Trevor Craig, Nevada Nilsson, Singbush, Jeremy May, Lucas Knepp, Reed Buysse, Billy Converse, Adam Stenzel, Alex Craig, Rowley, Joe Thomas, Alexander, Kevin Wolak, Zak White and Mike Murray.
“Since Rayce and Zach have a year of varsity of experience they need to take on the leadership burden because of that experience,” said Brucher. “A strength of the junior class is they have a lot of quality players, not just quantity. Early on, we might platoon players to get them opportunities to see who can do what at this level because we have a lot of good depth. We will have to see who can do the job.”
Page 2 of 2 - Coach Brucher’s biggest area of concern will be on the mound, starting and relief. The Leafs lost almost 80 percent of their pitching last season.
“I think we have the people to be able to reload on the mound led by Zach Alexander, along with Reed Buysse, Billy Converse, Nevada Nilsson, Joe Thomas, Nathan Yager and Rayce at closer,” said Brucher. “We just don’t have the varsity experience yet.
“In the field, we are having good competition for jobs and I feel confident that we will be pretty solid offensively and defensively.”
The expectations coach Brucher has for his new squad is — No. 1 get better and better and No. 2 get to the point where the program is competing for a conference title each and every year.
“We expect to win, succeed and do well,” said Brucher. “One of the strengths of this junior class is they have those expectations. I believe we are still in the process of changing the program, but I feel good about the direction it is going.”
The biggest strength of this year’s squad will be their depth with 18 players who can contribute, said Brucher.
Some of the challenges the Leafs will have to overcome according to coach Brucher are — No. 1 is putting the puzzle pieces together and No. 2 the challenge is an “the big if.” If the Leafs struggle, how will they respond to that adversity.
“On paper, we are very inexperienced, but we have players who are more than capable to fill what we lost from last year,” said Brucher.
As far as the outlook of the conference this season, Ottawa returns a number of players and will be the team to beat, said Brucher. LaSalle-Peru, who placed second at state last year, will not be far behind the Pirates.
“I expect us to be right there with them,” said Brucher. “Hopefully, the last week of the conference schedule we are still alive and when we play L-P that last week we hope those games mean something.
“My goals for this team are for them to be a team and play as a team; improve and get better; and enjoy the journey.”
The Leafs are scheduled to start their season at 4:30 p.m. March 12 on the road against Rockridge.