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Cardinals target district championship

Already preparing to knock off Poland and claim AAC title

March 24, 2017
By Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

It's no secret Poland Seminary High School is the baseball team to beat in the Division II Struthers District state tournament.

Another truth is that the athletic teams at Canfield High School enjoy beating the ball clubs from Poland.

That is why one of the top goals in 2017 for these Canfield boys is to wipe out the Bulldogs, in the division and the district championship. But, head coach Matt Koenig knows that won't be an easy task.

"Poland has owned the (All-American) Conference," Koenig said. "Until someone knocks off Poland, nobody is going to win."

With a limited amount of seniors on the Canfield roster, the Cardinals will have to gain support from a grand group of juniors to polish off Poland.

"We have a large junior class," Koenig said. "We may have as many as 15 sophomores, too, so we may be forced to play the young guys."

Super hitter and letter winner Spencer Woolley leads Canfield's junior clan. The first baseman hit .377 as a sophomore, earning him second team All-Conference honors. Woolley also was wonderful on the basketball court this past winter, so it's no surprise that he is one of the baseball team's better returnees.

"(Woolley) is a really good athlete," Koenig said.

Catcher Angelo Petracci slammed the ball at a .461 clip last year and is good at handling a pitching staff. He also earned a letter last year.

Anthony Longo and Jack Rafoth are two other Canfield juniors who lettered as sophomores. Ian McGraw is a versatile Canfield athlete who has been playing ball since his freshman season, but he didn't get his sophomore letter due to an injury.

Third baseman Kyle Willis did not see enough time last spring to letter, but he'll heavily be counted on in 2017. Nick Piersante and Ethan Kalina also will be in the starting nine more often than not.

While the juniors grade out well, Canfield's two seniors seem destined to be stars. Second baseman Anthony Vross and shortstop Mark Wittmann are important cogs in the Canfield lineup and in the middle of the defense. Vross batted .325 as a junior, and Wittmann hit .294. Both players are three-time letter winners.

"We have a very small senior class," Koenig said, "but both are good middle infielders and three-year starters."

Both Vross and Wittmann will see some time on the pitching mound, but Koenig probably will sort through a slew of pitchers to make starts. Rafoth spun a 1.61 ERA last season, so he should get the ball often, and Alex Hernandez is a junior hurler who has a very strong arm.

McGraw pitched in the playoffs as a freshman, so he should toe the rubber a lot again now that he's healthy. There will be a lot of other Cardinal throwers, too, such as Kalina, Longo and Piersante.

One of the things Koenig's crowing about this season is the vigor he feels every time the Cardinals stepped onto the practice diamond. It has brought an energy that the veteran skipper hasn't seen for many seasons.

"This is a fun group to be around," Koenig said. "These guys are constantly competing and are hungry. Baseball matters to them."

Can the Cardinals eclipse last year's 12-win mark and upend Poland?

Koenig's crew will battle the Bulldogs April 24 in Poland and again the following day at home. Those will be the first two games the Cardinals play after their annual trip to Myrtle Beach. A showdown with Fitch will be held in early April.

Canfield's coach said he thinks a lot of teams besides Poland will be tough to handle inside the Red Tier this year.

"It's a competitive conference," Koenig said. "Boardman is always near the top, too. Fitch, Howland and (Warren G.) Harding will compete as well."



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