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Cardinals still favorites for AAC

March 18, 2020
Nik Zirounis , The Town Crier

The most dominant baseball team in the All American Conference a season ago was the Canfield Cardinals.

Last year's version of the Cardinals ran the table in the AAC helping them earn the number one seed in the Division II Struthers District tournament. Although they fell a win short of reaching the regionals, the Cardinals proved to be a force to be reckoned with. Despite losing a few star players from that 2019 squad, there's no reason to believe that the Canfield kids won't once again be one of the best outfits in the area this year. Two huge reasons for that is the Cardinals' overall depth and tenacity.

"We'll take some lumps early, but we have lots of kids on the team with many good players," said second year head coach Gary Knittle. "Team chemistry is there. The younger kids are hungry and have really come together."

Knittle mentioned the younger Cardinals, but he does have a sensational group of six seniors he can use on an everyday basis as well. Leading that contingent will be two time letter winner Brent Herrmann. The senior earned the number one spot in Canfield's pitching rotation thanks to his 53 innings pitched in 2019. That work led to a 7-0 record and 1.80 ERA and, most impressively, selection as Most Valuable Player in the AAC. Following Herrmann in the rotation will be senior Brayden Beck. The three year letter was limited last season due to injury but was still able to log 20 innings pitched. That resulted in a 3-0 record and an ERA under 1.00. Herrmann will also see time at first base while he and Beck will both play some outfield.

"Pitching is our strength and Herrmann and Beck are our senior horses," said Knittle.

Another senior starting pitcher is returning two-time letter winner Seth Velker. He will spell his above-mentioned senior teammates on the hill and also patrol the outfield. Velker smashed the ball at a .280 clip a year ago. Returning letter winner Cole Rothbauer will come back to the infield. Catcher Sam Starr and outfielder Dom DeBonis are the other two Canfield twelfth-graders that Knittle can call upon.

Junior Dom Magliocca is another returning letter that will start in the infield and lend a lot to the offense. Outfielder Gianni Gaetano, catcher Vinnie Machuga and infielder/pitcher Alex Iannizzarro may sound like a trio from the Jersey Shore, but in reality, they are three more talented upperclassmen that can pay dividends for the Cardinals in 2020. The final junior on the roster wasn't expected to be on the roster at all. According to Knittle, Chris Sammarone approached him about a tryout late in the offseason and, when he started spraying shots all over the batting cage, the coach wrote designated hitter next to his name.

"(Sammarone) started tearing the cover off of the ball," said Knittle. "The ball comes off his bat differently. We expect big things (from him)."

Big things will also be expected of sophomore Nate Shaw and freshmen A.J. Havrilla, Brock Lowry and Ben Slanker. Shaw saw a lot of time as a rookie both on the bump and in the infield. He pitched 26 innings picking up 3 wins and sporting an ERA under 4.00.

"(Shaw) is the real deal," Knittle said.

Havrilla will pick up where his now graduated older brother Ricky left off at third base. Lowry can be found roaming the outfield pasture and Slanker is a left-handed pitcher that will also act as a utility type player. Sophomores Ryan Petro, Drew Carrocce, Landon Beidelschies, Josh Juliano, Colin Burdette and Jake Grdic are other names that Knittle mentioned as potential important players. The number of intriguing athletes is there, but the coach still thinks his squad will have the ability to sneak up on a few opponents.

"We'll be under the radar because we lost eight seniors," Knittle said. "We'll have a new catcher, first baseman, second baseman, shortstop and right fielder. We have a lot of holes to fill and we'll be young in a lot of spots."

One spot Knittle hopes his team stays in is the one at the top of the AAC standings. Huge home-in-home series' with Howland, Fitch and Boardman should help determine the outcome of the league. An enormous battle with rival Poland will take place at the end of the schedule. The Bulldogs edged the Cardinals 8-7 in last year's district championship making this rematch even larger than a normal Canfield/Poland battle.



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