October 24, 2014

Elyria
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Seeing stars

League’s teams filled with talent

Kull McClurg certainly isn’t used to seeing these kinds of fastballs. Not at this quality. Not in the Patriot Athletic Conference.
With the high school baseball season fading fast in the rearview mirror, McClurg’s just settling into the American Legion season. After three weeks, McClurg says the differences are staggering.
“It’s the next level up,” said McClurg, who plays center field for Elyria Post 12. “The pitching’s so much better than during the high school season.”
Part of that can be explained by the very nature of Legion ball, which pools the best talent from a half dozen communities.
Elyria’s team features many of the top players from cities such as Elyria, Grafton, LaGrange, Amherst, Wellington and Lorain. From that pool, Post 12’s greatest strength is pitching, headlined by Kyle Shaw, a left-hander from Keystone, Brenton Brada, a right-hander from Elyria, Travis Stephens, a right-handed freshman at Lorain County Community College and Nick Simonovich, who just finished his sophomore year at Firelands.
Avon Lake Post 211, meanwhile, is equally loaded, pooling from Avon Lake, Westlake, Bay, Avon and Lorain. It also features two players currently playing for Baldwin-Wallace in brothers Chris and Scott Nealon. Legion ball has a 19-year-old age limit, which allows for college players to participate.
“This is pretty much an all-star team — every team is,” said Elyria first baseman Nick Kennedy. “They’re just stacked with some incredible talent.”
The challenge, said Elyria coach Brad Chenoweth, is molding all those new pieces into a cohesive unit.
Over the last month, Chenoweth has tried nearly a dozen different batting lineups, shifting players all over the field. Sometimes the results have worked. Other times not. The defense, for example, has been largely inconsistent.
“It’s a bunch of guys that haven’t played together before,” said Chenoweth. “They’re all from different schools and it takes a while to get everything to gel. We’re all learning a new system and new styles. But slowly it’s coming together.”
From a social standpoint, the adjustment’s been easy, said Kennedy.
“It took me two days to feel comfortable around here,” said Kennedy. “Everyone here’s so nice and we get along so well. We molded as a team quickly.”
Avon Lake (10-6) has dealt with similar adjustments. But one difference this year, said coach Mike Dillon, is the team has greater numbers. The Legion season is essentially a high-speed marathon. Nearly 45 games remain in the year, spread over as many days — most of them nine innings in length. If a pitching staff is short on arms, the schedule can become a buzz saw.
“We’re deeper this year,” said Dillon. “We have 17 players that can play everyday. And we have a lot of pitching. I’m not afraid to play anybody, anytime.”
One of the biggest changes this year for both Elyria and Avon Lake is one notably missing opponent: Vermilion.
Longtime coach George Adams resigned during the offseason and his position was never filled.
“We picked up a couple guys from Firelands and Amherst (such as Simonovich, Dominic Gentile, Ryan Rua),” said Chenoweth. “When George gave it up, he was just tired maybe. It’s extremely difficult to get the right person in there. It takes a tremendous commitment in time and energy.”
Adams was unavailable for comment.
Contact Pete Alpern at 329-7137 or palpern@chroniclet.com.

062607stephens.jpgJASON MILLER / CHRONICLE
Elyria’s Travis Stephens prepares to throw a pitch during the second inning of Post 12’s American Legion baseball game with Avon Lake last week at Midview High School.