Nordonia baseball set for 'reboot' with new squad

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies

Heading into last spring, Drew Hoisington was hyped to see what his 2020 Nordonia baseball team could do, as the Knights were going to be a senior-heavy squad.

We all know what happened next, as COVID-19 shut down the 2020 spring season.

Nordonia Knights

Thus, Hoisington is champing at the bit to get back on the diamond, but he's doing so with a bevy of new players.

Hoisington opens his ninth season in charge of the Knights knowing less about his team than any other time in recent years. 

"Coming back to literally two guys that got any varsity experience, it is a reboot," Hoisington said. "This is one of first years that I don't have a good idea of what we have. They hadn't been in a varsity game before. So it's a bit hard to plan." 

It's a tough deal for Hoisington, as the Knights lost 11 players to graduation. Including multi-year starters Matt Hamrick, Nick Heiser and Luke Jackson. 

"We had a lot of kids that would have gotten varsity experience last year, along with that group of the 11 seniors," Hoisington said. "We had a good, solid core. It's left us with a lot of the question marks in what we're going to do."

"This year, we're two weeks out from the start or the season and I have no  idea our starting right now," he added. "It's a good and a bad thing. In wanting to know where you are, it gives you some time to see what we've got. These guys are still competing for playing time."

Nordonia will open its schedule March 30 by hosting Painesville Riverside at 4:30 p.m.

Hoisington expects the Suburban League National Conference to be loaded again.

"I know that each year, every team is going to reload," he said. "We've got a lot of talent here. Your teams change from year to year. I really love this part of the game. You don't coach the players you want, you coach the players you have."

Hoisington will enter the season with a new coaching staff, led by Nordonia graduate Jimmy Smith as pitching coach and Chris Gorta as varsity assistant. The junior varsity head coach is Josh Kirksey, while Jamahel Fayall will be the freshmen coach.

Because of the inexperience of his team and still present threat of COVID-19, Hoisington plans to carry at 22-player varsity roster.

"We wanted to keep a larger group up at the top so we have some depth and flexibility," Hoisington said. "They'll all be able to practice together and learn together. It will all work itself out."

The two players with any varsity experience for the Knights are seniors Billy Levak and Caden Gopalakrishna. Both of them will compete for time in the outfield, along with senior Aiden Chilton.

Other seniors for the Knights include Matt Carozza (first base/third base), Jacob Grahams (middle infield), Louis Hover (utility), Ricky McLeod (third base/pitcher), Logan Shaffer (middle infield), Brad Buddenhagen (pitcher) and Adam Yuzwa (pitcher)

Hoisington notes the lone player with a settled role at this point is junior Zach Whetzel, who will be Nordonia's No. 1 pitcher.

"The kid has worked his butt off of the last two years," Hoisington said. "He had good velocity and can throw multiple pitches for strikes."

Junior Jared Zander and Ben Juriga will compete for the catching duties.

Other juniors include Rocco Covelli, Dan Hanson, Andrew Lastovka and Dominic Perrine.

A pair of sophomores will compete for the starting spot at third base in Jonathan Mitchner and Hunter Grams. 

Rounding out the roster are freshman middle infielders Dash Lanzilotta and Derek Occhipinti.