Aurora -- Losing nine seniors from a "Dream Team"-type squad, the Aurora High baseball squad entered the 2014 season with questions.
The biggest may have been how would the Greenmen respond to the finest season in school history in 2013?
After all, Aurora reached its first-ever state tournament with a school-record 28-5 mark, its first district title in 27 years and set an amazing 25 program records.
The Greenmen responded just fine, thank you. They posted a 20-9 overall record, won shared the Chagrin Valley Conference Chagrin Division championship and won another district crown.
In fact, Aurora showed patience like a longtime juggernaut program. "It was a great season and we bid farewell to five seniors," said head coach Tim Deering. They are Kirk Janoch, Griff Petersen, Luke Calcei, Tom Branstein and Jack Updyke.
"They provided great leadership and guidance throughout 2014," added the skipper.
Deering was quick to point out his club played five of the other seven Division I regional qualifiers from the northeast/west regionals. Those powerhouse clubs were Lakewood St. Edward, Hudson, Massillon Jackson (state champs), North Royalton (state runnerup) and Mentor.
Peterson (designated hitter-catcher), Calcei (pitcher) and Janoch (outfielder-pitcher) played in the NEOBCA all-star game at Avon's All-Pro Freight Stadium earlier in the month, while Janoch will play in the Ohiovarsity.com all-star game June 29 at Kenston High (2 p.m.).
BRANSTEIN was an infielder and utility player, while Updyke was an outfielder.
"The last three years our varsity is 67-20 overall and 24-4 in the CVC, with a regional title in 2013 and district title in 2014)," pointed out Deering. "These seniors, along with the 2013 class, will always be looked at by me as the foundation of our strong program."
Aurora reached the regional semifinal against Ohio's fourth-ranked club in Hudson (24-4) and lost in extra innings 4-1.
The Greenmen had a 6-2 district championship win over Nordonia (13-17) in the after eliminating second-seeded Warren Howland (15-9), 9-1. AHS gained a share of the CVC Chagrin Championship with a 10-0 win over Kenston (13-10) on May 21.
It was a victory that gave the Greenmen a share of the CVC crown with Chagrin Falls and Kenston, all at 7-3.
"We had fought a rough patch in the middle of the season where we went 5-7, and then we won 11 of our next 13 games," said Deering.
Starting off the spring 4-0 with big wins over Massillon Washington and St. Ed, Aurora went 5-7 before getting red-hot behind a deep pitching staff, strong defense and timely hitting.
"We set nine season and career records -- some individual and some team-oriented," stressed the mentor, who pointed out his club turned a record 29 double plays, an average of one a game.
Aurora could be even better next season, as it returns all-district honorees Andy Weber and A.J. Kimes.
JUST A sophomore, Kimes made first-team all-district, as he was outstanding and posted five wins. Weber, a junior second baseman who has earned multiple CVC honors, is headed to the University of Virginia. A staunch defensive player, he has a great bat and made second-team all-district.
Aurora will return an all-junior infield of third baseman Nick Ely, shortstop Matt Carpenter, first baseman Carter Semancik and Weber.
Ely and Carpenter are veterans and outstanding defensive players. Deering has called Ely possibly the best hot corner in Ohio.
In addition, Ely has a strong bat, as does Semancik, who came on strong. Semancik also had a postseason win on the mound.
According to Deering, Aurora returns five pitchers -- Kimes, sophomore Adam Long, junior Josh Andexler, Semancik and Devin Bradley, who all earned valuable experience.
Andexler could be used in the outfield and at first base, while Long (DH-third base-first base) and Bradley (outfield) could help elsewhere. Junior Michael Durkin will play again in the outfield and at catcher.
The new starting catcher this spring -- freshman Alan Arslanian -- should only get better. Arslanian and Ben Stawicki made a splash as freshmen who can really hit the ball. Stawicki showed he can be a .300 hitter, while Arslanian is a hard-swinging power hitter.
"They both had outstanding freshmen years at catcher and in rightfield, respectively," said the coach.