By the recent standards of Aurora baseball, 2018 was a down year.
The Greenmen finished 9-12 overall and 6-6 in the Suburban League American Conference, despite having a 12-man senior class.
With many of those seniors moving on to college baseball, Aurora head coach Michael Brancazio said the Greenmen didn’t meet expectations.
"Last year was a disappointment," he said. "I own it. I’m ready to learn from last season and move on. Certain things and situations didn’t work out.
"We’ll have a bunch of new faces and we’ll be a lot more young this year. If we develop it the right way, we, theoretically, could have the core in place for the next two, three or four years. We’re well aware with youth comes inexperience. There’s a give and take with at lot of these younger guys."
Despite all that youth, Brancazio (65-35) believes this could be his most complete team, as he enters his fifth year in charge.
"This is the first team where we have depth at every position," Brancazio said. "Our bench guys could be starters very easily. It’s exciting as a coach."
Aurora will have to deal with another loaded year in the American Conference, which sent two teams to the state final four last season.
"Roosevelt probably returns the most from last season," Brancazio said. "I have full faith in our guys. That’s no disrespect to our opponents. It wouldn’t shock me to see any of the six teams win it."
Brancazio is happy to have former Greenmen head coach George Snider back as a varsity assistant coach this spring, along with returning varsity assistant Matt Carpenter. Nick Kukarola will serve as junior varsity coach, while Victor Torres will serve as freshman coach, as he joins the program from Bedford.
Brancazio admits he’s working with "a whole new staff" on the mound, particularly with starters Zach Elsawy, Michael Sapp and Chase Coady graduated.
At the moment, Brancazio will look to a pair of young left-handers to lead lead the staff in the sophomore Jack Fecko and junior Pat McBirney.
"Both guys already are throwing in the low 80s," Brancazio said. "We’re going to be fine there."
Also in the starting rotations will be junior Will Carpenter and freshman Colin Skolaris, a right hander who already has good velocity.
Seniors Justin Demassimo and Adam Ryncarz and junior Lenny Feckner also are fighting for starting time, while senior James Love, Zach Horvath and Carter Miley will see time in the bullpen.
"There’s depth there," Brancazio said. "I know we’re replacing 80 percent of our innings. If they progress the way we think, they’re going to be fine by the time we get to the postseason."
The good news for Aurora is all those inexperienced arms will work with one of Aurora’s best athletes at catcher: senior Colin McNamara.
Brancazio said McNamara was back practicing with the Greenmen less than 48 hours after winning a Division II state runner-up medal in wrestling March 9.
"He didn’t play the first 10 games for us last season," Brancazio said. "By the end of the year, he was batting cleanup for us."
Brancazio said McNamara will hit fourth again this year after hitting .345 last year.
Sophomore Andrew Horvath and freshman Kepler Rhoden also will see time at catcher.
After splitting time at first base last year, senior Carter Gerbrick will get the starting nod. He will bat in the middle of the order after hitting .304 with seven doubles last spring.
Sophomore Mike Carpenter will see time at the corner infield spots or at designated hitter.
Brancazio said freshman second baseman Chase Gerbrick is a switch hitter and a "plus defender."
Will Carpenter will get the nod as Aurora’s starting shortstop this spring, as he has already made a commitment to Penn State. He hit .283 with a home run and nine RBIs last spring.
Carrying on another family tradition for the Greenmen, sophomore Evan McVay looks to get the starting nod at third base, as Brancazio notes he likely will be Aurora’s leadoff hitter.
Junior Nate Ring will bring a power bat to third base.
In center field, Brancazio is leaning towards speedy senior Brody Lally to start, but noted his starting outfield spots could be interchangeable this spring.
Seniors Kyle Obly and Cooper Bizjak, junior John Papesh, Skolaris and McNamara all will see time in the outfield.
"They’re all going to contribute," Brancazio said.
Aurora is scheduled to open the season with a home doubleheader against Ravenna March 23. First game is set for 11 a.m.
"It’s a different schedule this year," Brancazio said. "We’re doing a lot less back-to-backs in the conference, which I like."
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, firstname.lastname@example.org or @MLeonard_RPC.