After 'tragic' loss of season, Woodridge baseball starts over

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Woodridge Bulldogs

Regarding the cancellation of the 2020 season, Woodridge baseball coach Dennis Dever sounds like he's still not over it.

"It was tragic to be honest with you," Dever said. "We were just getting ready to break camp and then all hell broke loose with COVID. Cancelling the season, it was very disappointing. That team was going to be one of the best we had."

The class of 2020 that was denied its senior season included 11 players, six of which went on to play college ball, which Dever noted was a school record.

Andrew Mekeal and Carson Murphy went to Marietta College, Kyle Motice went to Heidelburg University, Josh Kearns headed to Geneva College, Brandon Albright went to Baldwin Wallace and Malcolm Neitenbach went to Mount Union.

So what's left for the Bulldogs? Not much in the way of varsity experience.

"We're very much looking forward to getting started," Dever said. "Our coaching staff, we have not coached a single one of these kids until this year in competitive [varsity] baseball.

"We're very inexperienced, but we have some good seniors. Our team is enthusiastic and they work hard. You have to kind of deal with stuff as it comes this year."

Woodridge opens play this year in the Metro Athletic Conference. Dever notes there is one clear favorite.

"Field will be the team to beat," Dever said. "They have the most experience coming back."

Dever's coaching staff includes varsity assistants Brian McGalliard, Nick Jones and Jacob Morehouse. Mark Petrusky returns as head JV head coach with assistant coaches Mark Opritza and Rueben Belliasrio.

"Our motto this year is to get better every day," Dever said. "What that entails, as far as wins and losses, is not going to be important."

Dever Woodridge's pitching staff doesn't have a true ace yet. Starting on the mound will be senior Antonio Fitzsimmons, sophomore lefty Jacob Englehart and freshmen Steve Duffy and Will Heisler.

The Bulldogs' bullpen includes senior Aston Nesbitt and long with senior sidearmer Trenton Tate. Sophomore Gavin Nesbitt can go long in the bullpen, while senior Jett Johnson will pitch and serve as Woodridge's emergency catcher

A pair of juniors also could see time on the mound. Tim Spencer could pitch at the varsity or JV levels, while Max Schneckenburger is playing the role of team manager as he recovers from injuries.

Sophomore lefty Jared Mottice also could contribute after he overcomes some back issues.

Throughout Dever's tenure, Woodridge has had great catches. Dever believes he has another rising star behind the dish in sophomore Alex Parker.

"He's an excellent receiver and a solid thrower," Dever said of Parker. "So far, he's been our most consistent bat in the lineup."

Junior Jacob Wagner will serve as backup catcher.

Fitzsimmons looks to have the edge to start at first base with Gavin Nesbitt and Wagner also likely to see time.

Dever is very high on Heisler starting at second base as a freshman.

"He's going to be a really good player," Dever said.

Sophomore Will Schmeltzer will get the nod at shortstop

"He's been doing a nice job for us this season," Dever said.

Dever noted the competition to start at third base between Spencer and Gavin Nesbitt likely will be determined by who has the better bat this spring.

In the outfield, senior Augustus Neitenbach and Tate are battling for the starting center field spot with the loser of that competition starting in right field.

Austin Nesbitt looks to have the starting edge in right field with Duffy serving as the Bulldogs' fourth outfielder.

Woodridge opens its season with a home and home series against Twinsburg. The Bulldogs were set to travel to Twinsburg Saturday at noon before hosting the Tigers Wednesday at 4:30 p.m.