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Returning talent puts sluggers on hunt for OAA title

Back Row L-R: Coach Jeff Willis, Matt Economou, Keith Paslean, Michael Kitchner, Nick Balch, Kyle Hartwick, John Pesta, Matt Zitny, Nathan Brubaker, Assistant Coach Brian Logan Front Row L-R: Breenon Orr, Liam Logan, Mark Hazelwood, Ryan Kitching, Colin McGeen, Clayton Spiker, Vincent Griffith. Photo by Andrew Moser. (click for larger version)
April 20, 2011 - Oxford Varsity baseball is going to be young, talented and deep in pitching, according to varsity head coach Jeff Willis.

They are looking to replace eight players from last season's squad that showed a 15 game improvement from the 2009 season, finishing with a 21-12-1 record. They also finished third in their last season in the Flint Metro League.

However, the eight returning players provide a solid core and foundation for the Wildcats, as they all had significant playing time last season.

"We have a lot of experience coming back even though everyone says were young. The sophomores that are coming up, four out the five played at some point in time for us," he said.

Willis noted he returns most of his pitching staff from last season.

Senior Keith Paslean, junior Kyle Hartwick and senior Clayton Spiker captain the squad this season.

Last season, Paslean batted .391 with 25 runs batted in and a .505 on base percentage. While pitching, he posted a 1.64 earned run average, had 52 strikeouts and held opposing batters to a .206 batting average.

Hartwick returns as the teams starting catcher. Last season, he batted .279 with 22 rbi's and only allowed three passed balls the entire season.

Spiker, in 26 innings pitched last season, had 23 strikeouts.

Returning pitchers include junior Matt Zitney (3.50 ERA in 12 innings in 2010) and senior Nick Balch (5.37 ERA in 14 innings in 2010).

Other returning starters for the Wildcats include senior infielder John Pesta, who batted .375 with a .611 slugging percentage last year, and junior outfielder Matt Economou, who batted .301 with three homeruns and a .507 slugging percentage.

Newcomers to this year's squad include speedy sophomore outfielder Colin McGeen, sophomore second baseman Ryan Kitching, sophomore Shawn Donaldson, who will split time between third base and shortstop, sophomore infielder/outfielder Vincent Griffith, sophomore Nate Brubaker and junior pitcher Mark Hazelwood.

"The key is we are cohesive...we are all here for the same reason," he said.

This season they will be placed in the Red division in the Oakland Activities Association and go up against OAA powers Lake Orion, Clarkston, Rochester Adams, Rochester, Avondale, Rochester Hills Stoney Creek, Troy and Troy Athens.

Coach Willis isn't too concerned because the Wildcats wound up going 5-1 in games against OAA opponents last season.

They defeated Stoney Creek once, Rochester twice and Troy once. They played Lake Orion in the opening round of districts last season and won on a walk-off homerun. Their lone loss in the OAA came against Rochester Adams in the district semifinals last year.

"It's a tough league; anyone that followed baseball last year knows that every single team in the regional here, all four teams came from the OAA," he said. "Our kids know,, they are prepared and this is not going to be anything unusual for us."

With all of the young talent on the team, Willis hopes to be in the running for a league championship.

"To me, the most important thing is to come in and compete and show everybody around Oakland County that Oxford baseball is not a Flint Metro north school," he said. "We want to make sure we are in every ballgame and we (have) to put ourselves in a position to win every game this year."

"If we play good baseball, are disciplined and do things right, we'll compete," Willis added.

But Willis doesn't just have hopes for a league title.

"The ultimate prize comes at the end, which is to be in Battle Creek for Father's Day," he said.

Opening Day for Oxford was an indoctrination into the OAA as Clarkston beat Oxford 12-3 on Wednesday, April 13.

On Friday, April 15, Oxford's bats against Avondale were just as cold as the wind as they lost 12-0.

"The scoreboard really didn't reflect our effort in either of those games," Willis said. "As a coach, I took a lot of positive things out of those games. I thought we played well enough to compete, it's just sometimes the game is like that."

The next chance for the Wildcats to capture their first victory of the season comes when they travel down to Lake Orion to battle the rival Dragons on Wednesday, April 20, beginning at 4:30 p.m. Oxford then travels to Saline High School to take part in the Saline Tournament on Saturday, April 23 before returning home to play against Swartz Creek on Monday, April 25 at 4 p.m.

Andrew Moser is a staff writer for the Oxford Leader.
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