By: Hannah Lovejoy, West Staff Writer
After a phenomenal 2016 campaign in which the team was ranked as high as sixth nationally among junior and community colleges, the Tri-C Challenger baseball team begins its season with four games in Georgia this weekend.
It is seeking to repeat as Ohio Community College Athletic Conference champions, build upon its 41-14 won-loss mark last year, and return to the NJCAA Region XII playoffs.
Coach Evan Agona lost a majority of his position players and half of his pitching staff to graduation or transfers to strong four-year college programs. But he isn’t rebuilding— he’s reloading for this season.
“We hope some of our returning players, who saw part-time action, will play more key roles and bring some valuable experience to the team this year,” Agona adds. “We have a lot of talented freshman and some transfers as well.”
One returning veteran, second-year pitcher Mitch Cromley, takes the role model position very seriously. “Helping those younger guys has put me in a position where, from time to time, I’ll get called ‘coach’ or ‘dad’,” said Cromley. a Bowling Green HS alum who has been playing baseball since he age 5.
While young players dominate the team, Cromley believes they compensate a lack of experience with extraordinary talent. “I know we can fully count on our team,” he adds.
Offensively, returning starters Collin Minor (3B, .333 batting average, 29 RBIs and 29 runs scored last year) and Matt Starcovic (CF, .349 average, 7 home runs, 42 RBIs, 12 stolen bases) are expected to be pacesetters for the Challengers.
Minor, a 2015 Medina graduate, has played baseball since the age of 4. Post Tri-C, Minor will continue his baseball career at Lake Erie College. He is also a Gold Glove winner in 2016, for being the top defensive third basemen in the league.
“If we continue our momentum from last year, we hope to be conference champions again and get farther into the playoffs this year,” Minor adds.
Agona pointed out that one aspect of the team’s recent success is a strong a home field advantage. “We love to play at Mottl Field, where we went 29-0 last year,” Agona says. “Our biggest competition (Sinclair in Dayton) is on the road, but we always appreciate the support we get at home, especially in Friday games.”
The new season kicks off Friday, as the team takes on the Georgia Highlands Chargers at 5 pm. Georgia Highlands went 28-31 in the 2016 season.
JMC Professor John Kerezy contributed to this story.