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Strong senior lineup for Cards

March 22, 2018
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Bad memories of how last season ended still haunt the Canfield baseball team.

The Canfield boys made it all the way to the regional final and came away one run short of capturing that regional championship. The good thing coming out of that heartbreak is that many of the kids who were almost in tears last spring are returning to the roost in 2018. In fact, it'll be the grandest group of upperclassmen to don Canfield uniforms since head coach Matt Koenig took charge thirteen seasons ago.

"This will be the biggest senior class I've had with fourteen seniors," Koenig said. "It'll be our deepest team. These kids are buddies off the field and have been together a long, long time."

About the only spots on the field Coach Koenig will need to replace are second base and shortstop. Those are definitely two of the most important positions on the diamond, but the coach believes he has players that can get the job done.

"We have guys that can do it," Koenig said.

One of those guys is senior Nick Piersante who has been waiting his turn for three seasons to show what he can do at shortstop.

"(Piersante) has been patient," Koenig said. "Now he's finally getting his shot. He has all the tools to play shortstop."

While one man is stepping up at short, there are as many as three Cardinals that Koenig may try out to keep second occupied. Senior Jimmy Fitzgerald lettered last season a designated hitter. Senior Richie Juliano played enough second base and outfield in 2017 to also earn a letter. Junior Chance Merlin is another Cardinal who is pushing for starting time at second.

One of the strengths of this Canfield club is its outfield where three sensational players reside. Senior Alex Hernandez is Canfield's leadoff hitter and a 2nd team All AAC player from a year ago. Ian McGraw is another senior who shined on the basketball court this winter and is expected to bring that athleticism with him to the baseball team. Junior Dom Pilolli was all-league as a sophomore and a main cog in Canfield's batting order.

Another two-sport star is catcher Angelo Petracci who is known as a mauler on the gridiron as well as one in the batting order. Petracci and McGraw will also be counted on to transfer some of the winning attitude from their other sports to the ball club.

"(Petracci and McGraw) are fun to watch," said Koenig.

Holding down first base is senior slugger Spencer Woolley who was also All AAC last year. On the opposite corner will be senior Anthony Longo.

Of course, the Cardinals will only fly as high as their pitching staff will allow them. Luckily, Koenig's crew is very rich in the pitching department. The number one starter on the staff is senior Jack Rafoth who was 1st team All Northeast Ohio last spring. When he doesn't toe the rubber, Rafoth will join the amazing Canfield outfield group. Also getting the ball on the bump will be junior Ricky Havrilla who was sensational as a sophomore and Longo who broke out on the bump a year ago earning the MVP of the Myrtle Beach tournament.

One younger Cardinal to keep an eye on is sophomore Brayden Beck who is a lefty that Koenig can call upon with confidence.

"(Beck) has a ton of potential and could excel as a pitcher this year," Koenig said.

The coach is also very keen on the duo of Havrilla and Longo following Rafoth in the rotation.

"We will count on those two," said Koenig. "They complement each other very well."

With such a strong roster there is little doubt why Canfield's veteran coach is eager for 2018 to commence. Canfield's athleticism, depth and powerful pitching are three reasons why it is one of the teams to beat in a stacked All American Conference Red Tier. The biggest fear Koenig has is making sure his kids don't buy into all of the positive publicity they have been receiving this preseason.

"We're excited for the season to start," Koenig said. "We can't be complacent. The lesson these kids can learn is that everything is brand new this year. We're still hungry and need to work as hard as everyone else in the state."



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