HOLMES TOWNSHIP — Two years ago Wynford baseball was full of fresh faces.
After COVID wiped away the 2020 spring season, 2021 meant more first-time varsity players than ever. For the Royals, it was six freshmen and sophomores suiting up for the first time in high school, and a 15-13 season was the product.
But just having a season to adjust to the speed, power and mental aspect of varsity ball was all they needed, and this past spring it culminated in the program’s first league title since 2016 and a district semifinal appearance.
“We went in two years ago with a very young team, a lot of sophomores and freshmen, and had a decent season,” coach Tom Smith said. “Last year we had a really nice season, winning the league, but came up a little short against Edison, who went on to finish as state runner-up.
“Hopefully we take another step this year.”
Continuity with Smith helped lay the foundation
Prior to Smith taking over before the 2019 season, Wynford had some terrific coaches but only for a couple years at a time. Now entering his fifth year and fourth season in charge, Smith said he believes that has been one key to the team’s success.
“Any program if you can get the same coach in there for a while and learn their system, it puts a foundation behind it so you can continue to be successful year in and year out,” he said. “If you change systems a lot, it’s a learning curve every couple years. I think we had three or four two-year coaches before me, and I’ve been here four years, so hopefully we have a good base now.”
It certainly doesn’t hurt to have both starting pitchers back, either. Senior Sam Collene and junior Spencer Miller make up arguably the best one-two punch not only in Crawford County and the Northern 10 but in the greater area, stretching to the surrounding counties.
“Our pitchers are two totally different guys,” Smith said. “Sam can be that strikeout guy, throws a lot harder, mid-80s guy. We worked on getting his confidence up to not let errors bother him as much and he could be successful on the next pitch. That was the biggest thing between his sophomore and junior year — he was a little more mentally tough.
“Spencer was already that guy. He’s a smart pitcher that moves the ball around and changes speeds … doesn’t overpower anybody … so he gets away being [MLB Hall-of-Famer] Greg Maddux, nipping the corners and keeping you off balance.”
Collene was 9-0 with a 1.91 ERA and 64 strikeouts in 53⅓ innings, while Miller went 7-3 with a 1.64 ERA, 25 strikeouts and 12 walks in 64 innings. Both sported minuscule batting averages against at .176 and .222, respectively.
“This year we need to find a little more depth and some bullpen help to back those guys up,” Smith said. “As long as they keep movement on their ball and stay mentally tough, we’ll be good again this year.”
Recent success came as a bit of a surprise
Now that he has had a chance to look back on the 2022 season, Smith admitted he — and the players — didn’t realize how good the Royals were.
Wynford boasted the top offense, averaging 9.41 runs with Upper Sandusky in second at 6.72, while simultaneously having the second-best defense, allowing 4.04 runs to opposing teams — only bested by the Rams’ 3.60. And it’s worth noting Wynford played two more games and nine more innings than Upper Sandusky.
“It was a little bit of a surprise,” Smith said. “I don’t think they understood how good we were this year and I don’t think I realized how good we were this last year. I knew they were talented coming in — we saw them in the summer before freshman year but didn’t I don’t know exactly what to expect.
“But after a good freshman and sophomore year for some of the guys, I thought we had a good chance to make a jump last year. We were hoping to win 20 games, something like 20-9 or 20-10, but we still won 20 games and didn’t get that many games in.”
When you see what the Royals had on the mound and then take a look at the offensive firepower, it’s easy to see how they reached 20 wins in 27 games, one of which ended as a tie.
Three players batted above .400 with nine at .300 or better. Rising junior Grant McGuire earned first-team All-Ohio honors after leading the way with a .495 average, 45 hits, 38 runs, 50 RBIs and five home runs. He already has three league records and multiple more are within reach.
Classmates Dylon Robinson (.463., 38 hits, 27 runs, 36 RBIs) and Miller (.416, 37 hits, 35 runs, 18 RBIs) joined him with .400-plus averages, while Cainen Allen (.381), Collene (.366) and Kaiden Blair (.329) contribute to one lethal lineup.
As a team, Wynford batted .369 last spring with 283 hits, 253 runs and 211 RBIs.
“Maybe we practice hitting more than other teams but that’s something we work a lot on,” Smith said. “Our approach at the plate with different counts and what we’re looking for, then you have a guy like Grant that hits the ball 90 miles per hour — that helps when you have someone with that power. We have a lot of depth in our lineup and this year we have a couple new guys. We’ll figure out who those last few hitters are.
“I like where we’re at with Kaiden coming back. Cainen is a guy that can hit in the two hole with his speed, then Spencer, Grant and Dylon behind driving in runs, and Sam. I think we’re sitting good there at the top of the lineup. Drew Johnson can slide in and be a good hitter for us. We just need to find the last couple hitters in the lineup.”
Five seniors from last season are gone, with three of them starters. Rising sophomores Johnson and Wes Prenger are two obvious picks to likely slot into the lineup, leaving just one spot to be filled.
“I think last year we talked about being good and winning, which we hadn’t talked about in the past because I was trying to get them to deal with pressure,” Smith said. “We had that blow up against Edison, but overall we won some close games 3-2, 5-4, and had a big comeback against Mohawk.
“Learning how to win,[andnowtheconfidencehasgrownandIthinkthey’rereadytotakethenextstep”[andnowtheconfidencehasgrownandIthinkthey’rereadytotakethenextstep”
Crawford County’s No. 1 returning team won’t be satisfied with a good season, or even a great one. Wynford will have its eyes on another N10 title and adding some postseason hardware to the trophy case.
Baseball is a difficult, if not impossible, sport to predict what’ll happen. But these Royals will have seen what Edison just did a few months ago, going all the way to the state championship, and think – why not us?