Aurora loaded with talent as team excited to return
Baseball just may be the tonic we need this spring.
After a season of not playing, the ballpark will surely be a welcomed addition and no one is more eager to hit the diamond than Aurora’s program and veteran coach Michael Brancazio.
“Our entire program is excited for this upcoming season as our players are showing grit, toughness and an exceptional ability to be coached and work hard each day,” said Brancazio, who enters his sixth season.
Aurora is set to open the season March 31 at home against Mayfield at 4:30 p.m. The Greenmen will play host to Willoughby South the following day at 4:30 p.m.
“Bottom line is I am just grateful for our players, their families, our coaching staff and this great school district to be back playing baseball,” said Brancazio, who has an overall record of 80-45.
In 2019, the Greenmen finished 15-10 and reached the district finals. Aurora will be competing in Division I this spring.
Brancazio noted key graduates that will be missed as standout shortstop Will Carpenter (Penn State) and pitcher Lenny Feckner (Ancilla College in Indiana).
“We return a plethora of pitching, hitting and defense and the lineup is loaded with depth, power and speed,” said Brancazio.
With scheduling changes likely to continue this spring as it did in the winter season, Brancazio brought up some critical points.
“Being a spring sports coach, we are used to scheduling difficulties with the weather, bus availability, and league game priority protocols,” he said.
“Safety and health being priority number one, we are just taking it day by day and being patient with the process as we can only control the controllable things,” he added. “The great news with our team, we have depth and talent at numerous positions which creates creative roster flexibility throughout our season.”
Returning seniors for Aurora are Jack Fecko, Andrew Horvath, Michael Carpenter, Sean Fritinger, Mark Luke, and Ben Duncan. Fecko was Aurora’s top hurler in 2019 and is headed to Central Michigan University, but the lefty is out for the season with an arm injury.
“Jack was an ace pitcher in 2019 but is out for the season and he has had a great attitude about his recovery and still wants to be part of the team as he prepares to pitch at Central Michigan,” said Brancazio. “This is obviously a big loss for our program as Jack has contributed since his freshman season.”
Horvath, a University of Akron commit, is a tested catcher and relief pitcher who hit .289 in 2019 and has defensive skills.
“Andrew has a strong arm and is outstanding defensively,” said Brancazio. “He will hit in the power part of the lineup and he is a great leader for our program.”
Making great strides since 2019 when he had 15 RBIs, Michael Carpenter is a standout at third base and first base. He is committed to play at Washington and Lee (Va.).
“Michael has improved substantially in all facets of the game and will hit in the middle of the lineup with his gap-to-gap approach,” said Brancazio. “He is a strong leader for our program.”
Fritinger can play right field or in left field.
“Sean is a plus-runner for us with great defensive range and a strong arm,” said Brancazio. “As a left-handed hitter, Sean can hit to all fields.”
Luke is a veteran right-handed pitcher who will have a big role as a starter. He is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds with a lively fastball.
“Mark will be a top of the rotation starting pitcher as he has improved not only his command, but velocity of all pitches,” said Brancazio. “He’s in the upper 80’s for his fastball with much better command.”
Duncan will help the offense as a first baseman-outfielder and designated hitter.
“Ben is a big, strong kid who is getting better daily,” said Brancazio. “He can hit for power to all parts of the field and is very coachable.”
Aurora also has an exciting cast of returning underclassmen in juniors Chase Gerbrick, Colin Skolaris, Kepler Rhoden, Ryan Weber, Tyler Fernandez, and sophomore Ben Schechterman.
Gerbrick is a veteran who help in all areas after hitting .303 with 20 RBIs and seven extra base hits in 2019. He will play shortstop and is a Lipscomb (Tenn.) University commit.
“Chase is a three-year starter and will hit at the top of the order, is a plus-runner, and his range and arm strength continues to impress during practice,” Brancazio said. “He never stops working and it is showing especially this off-season.”
Skolaris is back after getting plenty of work as a freshman.
“Colin now has an upper 80’s commanding fastball with great off-speed,” said Brancazio.
The speedy Weber will be used in centerfield and Brancazio indicated he will hit near the top of the order.
“Ryan is a plus runner who can hit from power from the left-side,” the coach said. “He has outstanding range in the outfield.”
Rhoden will catch and be used as a DH while Fernandez (OF-1B-3B) and Schechterman (P-OF-1B) will play huge roles with their versatility.
“Kepler is an outstanding defensive catcher with a plus-arm and he will also hit for power with a gap-to-gap approach,” said Brancazio.
“Tyler continues to impress with his power hitting and offers great versatility as a defender,”he added. “Ben commands the zone really well and should both start and pitch in relief. He has good gap power as a left-handed hitter.”
Aurora has a bright group of newcomers that will make an impact.
A transfer from Western Reserve Academy, senior OF Michael Mylott (6-4, 215) adds great punch. He is a Bradley University commit.
“Michael will hit cleanup with a high IQ hitting approach and can hit to all fields with power, along with a strong arm defensively in the outfield,” said Brancazio.
Juniors Kurtis Miller (INF-P-3B) and Anthony Dolata (INF-OF) lend versatility for the Greenmen and will compete for the second base job along sophomore newcomer Andy Eichenauer.
“Kurtis has a great left-handed swing who provides defensive versatility while competing for the starting second base job while Anthony provides a plus-defender and versatility throughout the entire diamond,” said Brancazio.
Making an impact in the outfield will be juniors Michael Mancine and Zach Geier, who can also be used as a pinch runner.
“Michael is another power hitter who can hit to all fields and has improved defensively,” said Brancazio. “Zach is an outstanding defensive outfielder who can fly on the base paths.”
Hunter Lane is a junior who adds even more depth at catcher.
“Hunter is a strong defender with a plus arm behind the dish, who will provide great depth,” said Brancazio.
Eichenauer can also sub at shortstop if he doesn’t win the second base job.
Sophomore Sam Retton is another second base prospect who can be used in the infield.
“Andy will compete for the second base job as we progress this season and Sam provides depth up the middle, has steadily improved, and has shown a hitting approach of going gap to gap.”
Freshman Nate Fletcher is a 6-3 pitcher who has opened some eyes in tryouts and may be a factor on the pitching staff.
The pitching rotation will feature Skolaris, a righty who was 2-4 in 2019 with a 3.35 ERA. He struck out 25 in 23 innings.
“With Fecko’s injury, a lot will fall on Colin, along with Mark Luke and Ben Schechterman to lead our staff,” said Brancazio.
“Nate Fletcher is a big left-hander who impressed during tryouts with 80’s fastball, is coachable, and is getting better daily with command of all pitches.”
The bullpen will be a mix of the starters, along with Horvath (RHP), Miller (RHP), Carpenter (RHP), Weber (LHP), Fritinger (LHP), Eichenauer (RHP), and Mylott (RHP).
“With our projected lineup, we are just looking for arms to achieve a goal of commanding the strike zone,” said Brancazio.
Horvath had a 2-0 record with one save and a superb 0.84 ERA in 2019.
“Our pitching staff has plus arms and will need to command the strike zone with all their pitches for Aurora to have a successful campaign,” said Brancazio. “If our defense just makes the normal, ordinary play along with our hitting and pitching, this has the makings of a really good team.”
The coaching staff includes George Snider (varsity assistant), Matt Carpenter (volunteer varsity assistant), Alex Darovich (varsity student assistant coach), Victor Torres (junior varsity), Adam Berger (freshmen), Tyler Groth (JV and freshmen volunteer assistant), Tom Wymer (trainer), and Joe Bitonti (trainer).
“Anything can happen in this difficult game of baseball, especially with a tough Division I road ahead, so we are taking an approach of getting better every day and using our roster depth to our best advantages throughout our season,” said Brancazio.
Aurora opens Suburban League American Conference play April 6 at home against Tallmadge at 4:30 p.m.
“The Suburban League American Conference is one of the best in northeast Ohio and I am expecting it to be challenging this year,” said Brancazio. “Our philosophy is to take it game by game and we believe if we play the game the right way, we should have a successful season in this great league.”