New baseball coach aiming to return Eagles to win column
Cleveland Hill’s baseball team struggled to find ways to win in 2016, but that’s about to change if first-year coach Michael Hamner has anything to say about it.
Hamner, who has not previously coached at the varsity level and whose playing experience — he’s been both a catcher and outfielder — did not include playing the sport at the varsity level, is looking forward to helping this year’s group of 16 players improve on last spring’s 2-13 effort. Helping guide the Eagles to a 5-3 victory over Depew in a scrimmage held April 3 only bolstered that desire to do well among both coach and players, especially after they lost just one player to graduation off of last year’s roster.
Junior co-captain Brett Kochanski, a pitcher and returning starter in the outfield who can also play shortstop, had a home run to guide the Eagles’ efforts against Depew. Sophomore pitcher and starting outfielder Sean Jones, who can also play second base, added a triple, while junior outfielder/third baseman Johnathan Augustyn had a key suicide squeeze that Hamner said “ended up being the difference maker.” Second year senior co-captain Tyler Phillips, an ECIC IV Second Team all-star who also starts at shortstop, pitched well in relief.
The Eagles’ good fortunes didn’t carry over to their regular-season opener Thursday at Silver Creek, however, as they were upended by an 8-5 count. Phillips again looked great in relief, while Jones again had a triple.
Junior David Grant, a pitcher and returning starting outfielder who can also play third base, had a nice double, while senior co-captain Mitchell Dietl, a second baseman, “did a great job getting on base.” Kochanski made a couple of key defensive plays for Cleveland Hill, which also lost its league opener to Springville on Tuesday, 9-4. Information other than the score was not available at press time, however.
“Mitchell has a work ethic that you dream of from a player,” Hamner said. “He always wants extra reps in whatever he does.”
Dietl’s work ethic is almost a common theme among the Eagles, whom Hamner called “a great group of student athletes who understand that grades come first.” Hamner noted that his players have practiced both before school and well into the evening during the preseason, and also does team-building activities after practice to bring them closer as a cohesive unit.
“This group communicates very well on and off the field, and I’m very proud of how they have come together,” Hamner said. “I think we’re going to be a pesky team to play because we’re going to play hard all innings and in all situations. We’ll be able to try unconventional things and play an up-tempo small ball game — and we’ll do it with a high level of sportsmanship. I think we’re going to be competitive and be contenders in the division and beyond.”
Cleveland Hill (0-2 overall) was slated to resume play Wednesday against crosstown rival JFK, but information about that contest was not available at press time. The Eagles aren’t scheduled to play again, however, until they begin a stretch of four games in as many days Monday by traveling to Lackawanna. Cleveland Hill will then travel to Maryvale Tuesday and Eden Wednesday before hosting Tonawanda on Thursday, April 27.
“I’m just looking for us to constantly improve,” Hamner said. “It’s OK to make mistakes so you can learn from them. You achieve the goal for which you set the bar, so the best thing to do is to set the ultimate goal and then set attainable and achievable goals. If we play smart, fundamental baseball and limit our mistakes — and most importantly believe in each other and support each other — I think the fans are going to enjoy watching us.”