For the Tallmadge baseball team, the last two seasons have provided plenty of excitement and trophies.
After winning the Division II state title in 2017, the Blue Devils returned to the state final four last spring before bowing out to eventual state champion Dayton Chaminade-Julienne 2-1.
Tallmadge finished 19-12 overall, including 10-2 in the Suburban League American Conference to win the conference title.
However, the Blue Devils were hit hard by graduation. Tallmadge lost 10 players from last year’s squad, including five who are now playing Division I college baseball: designated hitter Scott Seeker (The United States Military Academy in West Point, New York), outfielder Seth Gergely (University of Purdue in West Lafayette, Indiana), shortstop/outfielder Phil Glasser (Youngstown State University), pitcher/third baseman Zach Boyd (Morehead State University in Kentucky) and pitcher/outfielder Jared Burick (Wright State University in Dayton).
So how does head Tallmadge coach Kenny Linn (332-227) approach his 16th season in charge?
"Next man up," Linn said. "We have the same approach and the same goals. We should be going for the league championship, then looking for district, regional and state championships. Nothing changes year to year."
There will be plenty of new faces this spring for the Blue Devils, as the Blue Devils have only four seniors and five freshmen on their varsity roster.
What does not change is how tough the American Conference will be.
"Highland has a quality number of guys back," Linn said. "Revere was in the regional last year. Kent was very young for the last two seasons. They have a chance to make some noise in the league. It’s a very competitive league. Anybody in the league can beat anybody."
Linn said the 2019 Blue Devils likely will be a work in progress this season.
"I think we have the potential to pitch well," Linn said. "We’re going to have to scrap a lot to try to put pressure on people. We’re going to be as stacked as we were one through nine the last few seasons. It’s tough to tell right now."
Linn’s assistant coaches remain intact with Ben Shepherd and Scott Campbell serving as pitching coaches and Mike Barr serving as varsity assistant. The junior varsity coaches are Scott Noel and Seth Norton.
Tallmadge’s graduation losses hit particularly hard on the mound, as Linn notes he lost "80 percent" of his innings pitched from last year.
Linn said his team will rely on seniors Jake Reifsnyder and Sam Seeker as its top pitching duo this spring.
"He’s going to finally get a chance to swing it everyday in the lineup," Linn said of Reifsnyder. "He’s probably going to hit No. 6 in our order. We know what he can do defensively."
Sam Seeker has committed to play baseball at the University of Toledo. In addition to more time on the mound, Linn said he wants to see more from the younger Seeker at the plate, after he hit .308 with 20 RBIs last season.
"He has really good stuff," Linn said. "He’s going to have to pound the zone. As long as he lives in the zone, he’s going to be hard to hit because he has a lot of movement on three pitches."
Beyond the top two, Tallmadge’s pitching staff is largely devoid of varsity experience. Senior Todd Bangston will see time after pitching for the junior varsity team last season, while junior Andrew Ayres will see a much larger role.
Sophomores Owen Jascoe, Brandon Golubski and Devin Norton also will see time on the mound.
With all that inexperience on the mound, the Blue Devils will have their most experienced player at catcher: senior captain Richie Eyre. Fresh from competing at the state wrestling tournament, Eyre will start for the the fourth year behind the plate, after hitting .388 with 18 RBIs last season.
"We were glad to get him back after a nice appearance in Columbus," Linn said. "He has been accepted to West Point and is talking to them about playing there. He’s a wall. His engine never stops."
Sophomores Joey Ellis and Norton will serve as backups — and understudies — to Eyre.
Ayres returns to start at first base, after hitting .343 with 17 RBI during his sophomore year.
"He was our leading hitter during the first half of the season," Linn said. "He cooled off, but he’s still a middle-of-the-order guy."
Jascoe will get the starting nod at second base, while Reifsnyder will get the nod at shortstop when not on the mound.
Linn noted a combination of illness and injury held junior Luke Thomas back from competing for a spot on last year’s squad. Thomas will start at third base this season and serve as Tallmadge’s leadoff hitter, as Linn notes he "can fly on the base paths."
Sam Seeker will return to his starting center-field spot when not on the mound, while Golubski will get the start in right field.
A platoon of players will compete for the left-field spot, including Ellis, Norton, junior Drew Cross and freshmen Niko Roidan and Matt Dexter.
Tallmadge is scheduled to open its season with a trip to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, where it is set to play four games between Sunday and Tuesday, beginning with an 11 a.m. game Sunday vs. Fordham Prep from New York.
After returning to Ohio, Tallmadge is scheduled to travel to Springer Stadium in Avon to face Lakewood St. Edward March 29 at 5 p.m.
Reporter Michael Leonard can be reached at 330-541-9442, email@example.com or @MLeonard_RPC.