A new strategy? Small-ball may take a back seat for Colts’ baseball team


BELLVILLE — Clear Fork High School head baseball coach Rusty Staab opens the 2017 season with an ambitious goal “strong contention for an OCC title and try to get back to Columbus.”

Before that the Colts have a more pressing mission. “This year our biggest goal, bar none, is to win the OCC. It’s our last year and we have the pitching and I think we can make a good run,” Said Staab.

Staab added, “The Ohio Cardinal Conference goes in cycles for teams like Clear Fork, Orrville and even Madison. You’re playing unbelievable teams, Division I and Division II. We play Wooster twice early, if we could split or win two, that sets the tone for the Lexington’s and the Madison’s.”

The 2016 Colts, who finished fifth in the Ohio Cardinal Conference with a 6-8 record, made an improbable run to Columbus. Clear Fork defeated Bucyrus, Crestview, Galion, Eastwood and Archbold on their way to a Division III Regional Championship, before dropping a 4-3 decision in a state semifinal game against Apple Creek Waynedale.

It was Staab’s first appearance in the Final Four and the Colts first appearance, since their state championship in 2010.

The Colts return six starters and five pitchers this season.

Headlining the offense for the Colts are senior catcher Luke Clark and junior outfielder Thomas Staab. Both were first team Ohio Cardinal Conference selections in 2016.

The 5-foot-11, 230-pound Clark, a two-time 1st team all-district selection, begins his fourth season as a starter. He had 29 RBI from the left side of the plate in 2016.

“Great arm and blocks great too!” his coach said

Thomas Staab, a two-time, second-team all-district pick, hit .400, scored 28 runs and stole 25 bases in 2016. The 5-foot-11, 175-pound switch hitting center fielder also had 15 RBI.

“Great speed, roams the outfield very well, with an above average arm,” coach Staab said.

Philosophically Staab has always believed in a proven system.

“A a player you take what works with you and the other kids and small ball always works. Because, how many teams in high school have the monster hitters?

“If you can take until you get a strike, if you get a ball inside and you ‘take one for the team,’ now you got guys on base. You get those guys in scoring position so when your big boys get up, all they have to do is hit the ball hard somewhere.”

But the veteran coach may have a different look this season.

“My son, Joe joined the staff,” said Staab. “He’s great with hitters. We have new approach on offense. We don’t have to just rely on small ball.

“Last year we won so many games on two hits and we scored runs on bunts and ground balls, then we let our defense play.” Staab said. “We were like the Atlanta Braves, we had great pitching, great defense and timely hitting.”

He continued.

“(This season) we hope to build on our offense, because our pitching staff is a lot better this year; our defense is a lot better this year and our hitting can only get better. “

Three right-handed underclassmen dominate the Colts’ pitching staff.

Sophomore Mitch Dulin looks to be the ace of the staff. The 6-foot-6, 245-pound Dulin posted a 1.59 ERA last season and played first base.

With a mid-80s fastball and a good curve, 5-foot-10, 210-pound junior Jalen Sherrif comes into the season after posting a 1.95 ERA in 2016.

Gavin Bailey, at 6-foot01 and 220 pounds, will pitch and play the outfield. Bailey, “a strong, but unproven power hitter,” according to his coach, hit .289 last season. He posted a 2.37 ERA with a fastball in the mid to high 80s.

Pitching depth over the course of the season becomes more significant this year, due to new pitch count restrictions by the Ohio High School Athletic Association.

Pitchers will be required to get a specific number of off days based on the number of pitches thrown in a game. The closer a pitcher gets to the maximum number of 125 determines the number of days res … up to three days.

Staab doesn’t see the restriction as a burden. “The new pitching rules aren’t going impact a lot of programs, fortunately we have five or six pitchers.

“We lost a couple of seniors, they were good players, but we have everybody back. Our pitching staff has been working hard all winter.”

George Fleiner | The Star

Thomas Staab gets mobbed by his teammates at dugout after scoring in the fourth inning on a RBI single by Luke Clark.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/39/2017/03/web1_Thomas-Staab.jpgGeorge Fleiner | The Star

Thomas Staab gets mobbed by his teammates at dugout after scoring in the fourth inning on a RBI single by Luke Clark.

George Fleiner | The Star

Clear Fork freshman Mitch Dulin threw 4 strong innings in the Colts loss to Waynedale in the Div. III state semi final game against Waynedale Friday at Huntington Park.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/39/2017/03/web1_Mitch-Dulin.jpgGeorge Fleiner | The Star

Clear Fork freshman Mitch Dulin threw 4 strong innings in the Colts loss to Waynedale in the Div. III state semi final game against Waynedale Friday at Huntington Park.

George Fleiner | The Star

Jalen Sheriff a Clear Fork sophomore comes in relief for Mitch Dulin in the fifth inning and gets out of a bases loaded out jam to keep the Colts in the game with Waynedale in Div.III State final four at Huntington Park.

http://aimmedianetwork.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/39/2017/03/web1_Jalen-Sherif.jpgGeorge Fleiner | The Star

Jalen Sheriff a Clear Fork sophomore comes in relief for Mitch Dulin in the fifth inning and gets out of a bases loaded out jam to keep the Colts in the game with Waynedale in Div.III State final four at Huntington Park.

 

By Mike Tanchevski

Bellville Star