When he took over the program prior to last season, coach Scott Koenig knew reviving the fortunes of Cuyahoga Falls baseball likely would be a multi-year process.
Year one certainly showed how much work needed to be done.
Falls finished 2016 with record of 2-25. The Black Tigers also went 0-14 in the inaugural season of the Suburban League National Conference.
"Towards the end of the year, even if our record didn't reflect it, we were competitive," Koenig said. "I had umpires asking me, "You guys really haven't won one game this year, right?"
It wasn't hard to see why Falls struggled.
"We had the pitching last year," Koenig said. "Our team battling average was .196. We committed at least 80 errors. We were in a lot of games. I think we could have fun at least half of them if we could have cut down on the mistakes."
Needless to say, Falls has nowhere to go but up. Koenig has been encouraged by his team's off-season effort.
"The culture has changed. You can see a big change into the enthusiasm for the program," Koenig said. "The seniors have taken on a good role of leadership. I have eight of them this year.
"They've got a little bit of a chip on their shoulders," he added. "You wouldn't know we were a 2-25 team by the way they act."
One problem for Falls is the National Conference remains loaded.
"It's probably the toughest conference in Northeast Ohio," Koenig said. "The guys you coach against are all good coaches in the conference. I think it's up in the air this year. With kids graduation, teams change. I don't think there's anybody who's a standout favorite."
Falls' varsity coaching staff includes assistant head coach Kris Immel and pitching coach Ted Lesiak, along with Steve Hoffman and roving coach Jim Deistel. Brian Shannon and Don Booth coach the junior varsity program, while Augie Micozzy will coach the freshmen.
"I think it's going to resolve around pitching again this year," Koenig said. "Our team ERA was about 3.00 last season. We've been going at it since October with open gyms every night. I just want them to get so comfortable hitting. That's the area we need to work on most."
Falls did lose its No. 1 pitching to graduation in Tyler Tofil, along with starters Jeff Shaffer and Bryce Fordyce.
Pitching-wise, Falls should have a good No. 1 starter again this spring, as senior Will Rightley will move up from the No. 2 spot. Koenig noted Righley pitched well enough to have a winning record last spring, but was victimized by poor run support.
Behind Rightley, Zach Allen also showed some good pitching at times last season, while Kyle Borton also will see time on the mound.
Senior Alex Kolvey has developed into a good control pitcher for the Black Tigers, while Jack Kramer got some varsity experience last year.
Koenig also is looking for a good season from sophomore Zach King on the mound.
With Fordyce graduating, Falls doesn't have a lot of experience at the catcher spot and two wrestlers are fighting for the starting spot.
Senior Jacob Sage looks to have an edge to start at catcher, while junior Caleb Puchajda is pushing for time. Junior Derek Waffen is trying to convert himself into a catcher this season.
At first base, Borton and junior Dakota Page will share starting time.
Second base will be occupied by senior Zach Metzger, who was up with varsity during the last month of the season. Sophomore Alex Abernathy will serve as a backup, as Koenig calls him "one of our most fundamental players on our team."
Senior shortstop Pat Horrigan is back after starting every game last season for Falls. He'll look to cut down on his errors as his glove progressed during the season last year.
Rightley will start at third base when not on the mound, as he hit .295 and was Falls' offensive MVP last season. Junior Logan Fordyce also will see time at third after spot time with the varsity squad last year.
Senior Alex Kolvey is a returning starter for the Black Tigers in right field, while Koenig pulled a bit of a coupe by getting senior Nate Vassalotti to return to playing baseball.
"Not having played since his freshman year, I can see his baseball talent coming back to him," Koenig said. "He's getting better every day.
Allen and junior Ben Kinker are competing for the starting spot in left field.
Falls was scheduled to open the season March 25 vs. Revere, but results were not available at press time.
The Black Tigers have a loaded first week, beginning with a visit from Lakewood St. Edward March 27 at 5 p.m. Falls will then host Brecksville-Broadview Heights Match 28 at 4:30 p.m. before traveling to face the Bees March 29 at 4:30 p.m.