2018 Bobcat Baseball Season Preview (03/19/2018)
(By CSZ Sports Writer Kenn Staub) The 2017 Clarion Area baseball team was arguably the most successful in school history. The Bobcats’ put together a 21-4 record while advancing to the PIAA Class A Championship Game in State College, where they claimed runner-up status after falling to Myersdale in a 2-0 heartbreaker. Despite losing several key players from that squad, Bobcat head man Rob Jewett, the 2017 D9Sports.com Manager of the Year, says the goals for the 2018 team remain the same: win KSACs, win Districts, win States. Jewett plans to have his team accomplish these goals using a tried and true formula: throw strikes, play good defense, and put the ball in play when at bat.
This season Jewett will be leaning somewhat on his seniors, Sterling Conner, Cam Craig, and Spencer Miller, all of who have been starters since their freshmen seasons. Each will be counted upon on the mound, in the field, and at the plate.
Last season Connor played primarily in the outfield and saw some time on the mound. In addition to these duties, Connor will also be doing his share of the catching this go around. In 2017 he batted .227 and knocked in 15 runs. He made 10 appearances on the bump, pitching 15 2/3 innings on his way to compiling a 1-0 record and meager 0.89 earned run average (ERA). He was named to the 2017 All-KSAC Second Team as an outfielder.
Craig saw action at a variety of spots on the diamond a year ago, playing infield, outfield, and pitching. He batted .175, driving in 17 runs. As a pitcher he made 6 appearances and hurled 18 innings, posting a 1-2 record and 2.33 ERA.
Miller started at shortstop last year and made 7 appearances as a pitcher, primarily in relief. At the plate he batted .412, contributing 16 runs batted in (RBI). Once on the bases Miller was a terror, swiping 18 bags over the course of the season. Miller threw 5 2/3 innings in 2017, going 1-0 with 2 saves and not allowing a run. He was named to the 2017 All-KSAC First Team as an infielder.
A big hole that will need filled is the one left by the graduation of pitcher Reed Anthony. Last season’s ace threw 70 1/3 innings, posting a miniscule 0.40 ERA while compiling an 11-1 record. Jewett is, however, pretty confident in the arms he has, noting that it will be pitching by committee with the focus for each hurler being to pound the strike zone.
In addition to the three seniors, sophomore Skylar Rhoades will see a lot of time on the mound. Rhoades pitched 10 2/3 innings over the span of 7 games, going 3-1 with a 5.25 ERA. Most notable, Rhoades, a hard thrower, surrendered only 4 hits while striking out 25.
Points of emphasis this season will be defensive fundamentals and improving at the plate. Though last year’s team only had a .259 batting average, they did put the ball in play as evidenced by the 54 times hitters reached on errors. Jewett wants to see his players battling at the plate, particularly when they are down two strikes, as opposed to leaving the decision in the hands of the umpires. This said, the Bobcats are discerning and not free swingers, taking 107 walks last season. Once on base they didn’t stay put, racking up a total of 57 steals.
Last season catching duties were primarily handled by the since graduated Kyle Patterson. This year Jewett is looking to use Conner as his backstop, with sophomore Lake Staub and freshman Cole Slaugenhaup battling for playing time when the senior pitches or plays the outfield. Staub saw some action last season as a catcher and pinch hitter, posting a .375 batting average and collecting 3 RBI across 7 games.
Clarion’s left side of the infield appears set, with Miller handling shortstop and Craig manning third when they are not pitching. The right side is a little less certain, as the graduation of ReedAnthony, Ryan Anthony, and Dominic Fleming left openings at first and second. Junior Drew Whren and Geiger have been discussed as possible first sackers. Each saw playing time at the position last season, with Whren collecting an RBI in 4 games and Geiger batting .250 in 5 plate appearances. Also in the mix are Staub and newcomers German, Nick Frederick (sophomore), and Noah DiTullio. When discussing the infield Jewett made a point of noting that it will not be uncommon to see players shuttling in and out and that everybody could be playing a lot of positions
The Bobcats outfield will be experienced, particularly in left and center fields where Datko and Rhoades, respectively, will be positioned. Datko hit .283 last season and drove in 6 runs. Rhoades, a 2017 All-KSAC Third Teamer in the outfield, hit .250 and had 13 RBI. It is also anticipated that Conner will see playing time in the outfield. Frederick, Donald Dunkle (junior), and Cutter Boggess (freshman) will also be vying for spots. Dunkle, the only returning player of the three, put up a .167 batting average last year and had 3 RBI.
A common thread in Jewett’s discussion of the upcoming season is the need for contributions from the total team, as opposed to a reliance on just one player. To this end, he is emphasizing to his squad that they need to play together as a unit and not worry about individual accomplishments.
Many teams are sure to have their games with the Bobcats circled on the schedule. Likewise, Jewett is looking forward to a few games as well. He singled out Clarion-Limestone, noting that they are familiar rivals who are always fun to play. Other highlights on the schedule are games against North Clarion, Cranberry, Moniteau, and Karns City. Jewett noted that playing more competitive teams and those from bigger schools help the program by presenting the Bobcats with a challenge.
This year’s team will also have a different look. The Bobcats will be sporting new jerseys for the first time in 10 years. Jewett said they will be lighter and more breathable than those previously worn by the team, adding that it was nice to get them and that they were well earned.
Jewett will be assisted again this year by coaches Andrew Waugaman, Lee Weber, and Derek Lauer.
Clarion has two scrimmages this week, at Dubois on Tuesday (March 20, 3:00PM) and Oil City on Thursday (March 22, 4:00PM). The regular season gets underway on Tuesday, March 27 against Clarion-Limestone in Strattanville (4:15PM start).
(photos by Christie Datko)