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Canfield boys have new coach and new perspective heading into 2019

March 20, 2019
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

Gary Knittle takes over for longtime head coach Matt Koenig as leader of the Canfield baseball team this season.

The goal of capturing another conference title for the defending co-champion Cardinals is important, but perhaps not as crucial to Knittle as one may think. The former Canfield assistant and seven year head coach in Liberty is already a champion because he has successfully overcome thyroid cancer. At this point, Knittle is just thankful for the opportunity to continue his coaching journey.

"Things work in mysterious ways," said Knittle in a recent phone conversation. "It's all very emotional."

Due partly to his illness, partly to the fact that he has a wife who is doing post graduate work in college and that he has two small children at home, Knittle decided originally to walk away from coaching after Koenig called it quits. After talking things over with his family, he decided the offer Canfield made to him to take over for his coaching buddy was one he had to accept.

"The Canfield family supported me so much (during his fight with cancer) it was the only place I would consider coaching," said Knittle. "I felt indebted to Canfield. It was my way of giving back."

In return, Canfield is giving Knittle one heck of baseball team to share his leadership skills with. The team that tied Boardman and Fitch for the All American Conference's Red Tier in 2018 is poised to capture the top spot for themselves in 2019. Eight of the reasons are the seniors who all are more than capable of collecting all-conference honors this year. Leading that pack is superstar outfielder/pitcher Dominic Pilolli who has already committed to the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to continue his playing career. There may be other plans for Pilolli before he steps foot in Charlotte however.

"He is a candidate to get drafted by Major League Baseball," said Knittle. "He was All-State in 2018 and an All American nominee in 2019."

Pilolli also plastered the ball at a .483 mark last season and reached 90 miles per hour on his fastball while pitching. The incredible news for Canfield is that he has an equal on the mound as a teammate. Two time letter winner Rick Havrilla has all of the pitching tools to be an ace and he clubbed the ball at a .369 clip too. Havrilla plays third base when he's not slinging.

"(Havrilla) will play a vital role on the mound and is a mainstay at third base," Knittle said. "His leadership will be needed."

Canfield can also call upon two capable catchers to help bring along the pitching staff. Seniors Jad Jaddallah and Danny Beistel will both provide leadership and hitting ability whenever they are in the lineup. Beistel batted .716 for the Jayvee team so he hopes that translates to the varsity club.

Three other Canfield seniors have the opportunity to contribute in Knittle's rotation. Dante Flak, Evan Skripac and Michael Budde are a trio of arms that the rookie head coach may turn to in order to spell Pilolli and Havrilla.

"Flak will be leaned upon on the mound," Knittle said. "Skripac tasted varsity (last year) and looks to build off of that. Budde has the potential to be a breakout arm on the mound."

When Flak isn't pitching, he'll man first base. He will be joined in the infield by the final senior on Canfield's roster Chance Merlin.

"(Merlin) is an important part of our middle infield," Knittle said. "He brings much needed speed."

Junior Brent Herrmann is a left handed hurler who should slot in somewhere near the number one spot of the pitching group.

"(Herrmann) is a top of the rotation pitcher," said Knittle. "He'll provide punch on offense too."

Fellow juniors Brayden Beck and Seth Velker also throw from the port side and will pitch and play outfield. Beck lettered last season after logging 19 innings and "brings a strong bat and runs well" according to his coach.

Sophomore Dom Magliocca and freshman Nate Shaw are two underclassmen that may have the chance to prove that they're ready to pay major dividends at the varsity level.

"Magliocca should play a vital role," said Knittle. "He has a strong work ethic. Shaw has a fastball in the mid 80's and command of three pitches. He will find himself pitching meaningful innings this year. They should be fun to watch."

It will also be fun when the Cardinals travel to Virginia Beach over the Easter Break to play some of the best teams from Virginia, New York and New Jersey. They'll start the 2019 schedule on March 23 versus Lakeview at home. Canfield begins its quest to conquer the AAC when it plays a home-in-home series with Boardman before March concludes.



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