Tested after pandemic, Woodridge coach Dennis Dever soldiers on

Michael Leonard
Kent Weeklies
Woodridge baseball coach Dennis Dever watches the action from the third baseline during the third inning of a baseball game against Ellet, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

PENINSULA — Dennis Dever's time in charge of Woodridge baseball has been long and successful.

Dever started with Woodridge in 2000 and has led the Bulldogs to 10 league championships, two district titles and two regional final appearances.

During his 22 season with the Bulldogs, Dever has earned the admiration of his fellow coaches.

"I have a great respect for Dennis," Ellet coach John Sarver said. "He takes a little bit of talent and he makes them a lot better. He takes teams with a lot of talent and he does big things with them.

"He does a great job getting everything he can out of his players. He knows how to coach them right."

Woodridge baseball coach Dennis Dever speaks with his infielders after pulling starting pitcher Jett Johnston during the third inning of a baseball game against Ellet, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

Heading into the 2021 season, Dever knew he was going to have to prove Sarver's assessment correct if the Bulldogs were to have a good season.

Although the lost 2020 season hit every local baseball team in some way, the Bulldogs were hit harder than most.

Woodridge coaches were looking forward to last year because the Bulldogs' Class of 2020 had 11 players, six of whom went on to play college baseball.

Dever noted that was the largest number of college recruits from any Woodridge baseball class, eclipsing even the regional final teams.

What returned for the Bulldogs this spring was a team that had no players with any varsity experience.

Woodridge second baseman Will Heisler eyes down a ground ball sent up the middle by Ellet's Devin Huwig during the sixth inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

The Bulldogs have known nothing be success under Dever, as Woodridge's last losing record (13-15) came back in 2004. However, Dever stressed it's the responsibility of every Bulldog team to continue that run.

"That tradition we've established over the years is great, but it only lasts until the first pitch," Dever said.

Have the 2021 Bulldogs made the kind of progress he expects?

"Not as much as we hoped," he said. "That's the disappointing part."

Through Friday, Woodridge had managed only three victories this spring, consigning the Bulldogs to the lowest win total of Dever's tenure, regardless of what happens in the season's final week.

Dever was quick to note, however, that this year's team — particularly the Class of 2021 — had to deal with the definition of difficult circumstances.

"You think of what they had to go through — not having a season last year and not really having a chance to play in summer," Dever said. "They did just fine dealing with everything they had to. It was just a lot of adversity they had to deal with."

Dever said he was proud of the way his seniors played Friday in a 7-2 loss Friday at home against Akron Ellet.

The Bulldogs honored Anthony Fitzsimmons, Zach Hess, Jett Johnson, Augustus Neitenbach, Aston Nesbitt and Trentin Tate before the game and all six seniors started for Woodridge.

Johnson made history as the first third-generation starting pitcher for the Bulldogs, but there was no happy ending for him and his teammates.

Ellet banged out 13 hits off Johnson and the Nesbitt brothers, also drawing four walks and benefiting from two Bulldogs errors.

By contrast, Ellet starting pitcher Luke Morrow pitched a complete game to get win, allowing two earned runs on seven hits while striking out 13.

Ellet starting pitcher  Lucas Morrow delivers a pitch to a Woodridge batter during the first inning of a baseball game, Friday, May 14, 2021, in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio. [Jeff Lange/Beacon Journal]

"We did a good job of holding them down," Sarver said. "No matter what their record is, Woodridge always swings the bat well. They had a couple of big hits today. We knew we had to be ready for them."

Dever had plenty of compliments for the Orangemen's lineup.

"They're a good baseball team," he said. "They had three or four hitters that were really tough outs. They were able to foul off a lot of balls and get to strike three."

Shortstop Devin Huwig led the charge for Ellet, going 4-of-5 with three doubles. Huwig opened the scoring in the top of the first when he doubled to left and score on an RBI single by Devin Shaw.

Woodridge tied the score at 1-1 in the second when Aston Nesbitt doubled and scored on a throwing error.

However, Ellet took the lead for good in the third. A double by Huwig and two walks were followed by a two-run single by Trayce Fortunato and a sacrifice fly by Ethan Rine to make it 4-1.

Woodridge got one run back in the third on an RBI single by Fitzsimmons.

However, Ellet got two unearned runs in the sixth inning and an RBI double from Trenton Fink to put the game out of reach.

Dever said he hopes his underclassmen will learn from this rough season, as Woodridge started freshmen Will Heiser and Steven Duffy as their No. 3 and 4 hitters Friday.

"There is no doubt our underclassmen have a chance to get better," Dever said. "Ultimately, though, it's up to them to work on their baseball talents in the offseason."