Cuyahoga Falls baseball looks to reboot with new coach
When Brian Shannon was named head baseball coach job at his alma mater ahead of the 2020, he was pumped for a big year.
The 1998 Cuyahoga Falls graduate headed into last season with 14 seniors and a drive to re-establish the Black Tigers as a baseball power.
All of which COVID-19 cared nothing about.
The loss of the 2020 season still weighs on Shannon, who technically begins his season season in charge of Falls this spring.
"I keep making the joke that this is has been the longest rookie year ever," Shannon said. "I still haven't gotten my feet under me. We had 14 seniors on the roster last year. My heart still breaks for all those guys."
While Shannon will have a much less experienced roster — only one player returns with significant varsity experience from two years ago — he notes Falls is not starting from scratch.
"We got to work with this squad as soon as we could," Shannon said. "Thankfully, they did get to play in the summer and in fall with the good weather we had. They're all committed to it. These kids hit the ground running."
Shannon notes his ultimate goal is restoring Falls to the level it played in the late 90s.
"We expect to surprise people," Shannon said. "These kids want it. They don't want to be the underdogs and get kicked around anymore. We talk about the winning ways of the past often, but it's a balance. We're looking to institute a new culture."
Shannon admits one reason for the Black Tigers struggles is the continued excellence of the Suburban League National Conference.
"Anybody will say it's the toughest league in the state," Shannon said. "There is so much quality here."
Shannon's coaching staff includes pitching coach Ted Lesiak and varsity assistants Steve Wright and Bryce Fordyce. The junior varsity team is led by Jake Michel, with Don Booth, Steve Hoffman and Andrew Albright as assistants.
With so much inexperience, Shannon notes the lineup will be fluid for the Black Tigers, particularly on the pitching staff.
"We only have 13 guys on varsity, but 12 of them can pitch," Shannon said. "Our lineup is going to move around a lot."
The lone Black Tiger who doesn't pitch is senior catcher Gavin Hawley, who has committed to play baseball at Hiram College.
"He's a good all-around player," Hawley said.
Sophomore Hunter Novak will be Falls' backup catcher.
Falls most experienced player is senior captain Dylan Grochowski, who will likely start at first base and committed to West Liberty University.
"He's always had a good bat," Shannon said. "He's really put in the work over the last two seasons.
Junior Nick Deckert looks to have the edge to start at second base, while the starting shortstop spot is up for grabs between senior Alex Eggleston and freshman Ryan McDonald.
Falls' other captain is senior third baseman Teddy Nime, who also should be one of the Black Tigers' top four pitchers, as he has committed to Walsh University.
When Nime is on the mound, junior Brady Parsons will play at third.
Senior Brady Semick will start in left field after getting some time in the outfield as a sophomore. Semick also is competing for a top pitching spot.
Shannon noted sophomore Damien Smith covers a lot of ground in center field and also will see time on the mound.
Junior Tyler Harris will get the start in right field, while Novak and junior Lakota Zrelak will provide outfield depth
Pitcher Joey Medkeff rounds out the roster for Falls.
Falls will have a busy first week of the season.
The Black Tigers travel to Canton Central Catholic March 30 at 5 p.m. and Archbishop Hoban March 31 at 5 p.m. Falls will then play a home-and-home series with Kent Roosevelt April 1 at Water Works Park and April 2 at Roosevelt.