BY JEFF FALK
This spring will be a ‘program’ season for Cedar Crest baseball.
With the loss of a giant class of graduated seniors and the hiring of a new head coach, if the Falcons are to enjoy success during 2013 they will have to rely on the strength of their program. And there are few scholastic athletic programs in Lebanon County more qualified to do so.
Last season, a Chris Groff-coached and heavily senior-oriented group of Falcons won their second District Three Class AAAA championship in three years – a fact that some point to as proof that Cedar Crest is the top baseball program in the area. This season, former assistant coach Ryan White has taken over the reigns from the departed Groff and the Falcons are faced with the task of filling numerous holes.
“I look at it as a whole new start, even though the coaching staff has pretty much returned as the same,” sad White, a former Falcon himself who is only Cedar Crest’s fourth head coach ever. “No one’s going to take it easy on us because of what we did last year. In fact, we’re going to have a target on our back. Maybe it’ll help that we have a whole new group coming in. But I remind our guys that everyone starts 0-0.
“I’d say so far things have been the same as they’ve been the last few years,” White added. “There’s things I’ve kept that we’ve had the last few years. Things will change as far as the way I explain things or handle things. But the day-to-day operations should be the same.”
Cedar Crest enjoyed an amazing turnout of 60 hopefuls from grades nine through 12. While White was charged with task of trimming those numbers down to a manageable roster, that turn-out rivals what the Falcons get out for track and field and football.
“I definitely like where we’re at, where we’re headed,” said White. “While we lost ten (graduated seniors), it means a lot of guys are going to get opportunities. We had 60 guys come out. It’s not like we’re struggling for numbers.
“It was definitely a tough process to cut,” continued White. “There were some guys who love the game and wanted to be part of the program that we had to cut because of numbers.”
Included in those lost to graduation were guys who became household names over the years, players like Logan Fullmer, Dan Black, Galen Rader, Zach Smith, Zach Hostetter, Colin Miller and Brady Galbraith, just to mention a few.
“Going into last year, we had expectations with having that kind of senior group,” said White of a 21-5 campaign that came to rest in the opening round of states. “But with those expectations, the guys played their hearts out. From top to bottom, from the starting pitching to the starting nine, everybody had two or three years of varsity experience. And those guys were able to step up in key situations.”
The next generation of Falcon success will be built upon senior catcher Josh Hammaker, senior shortstop Garrett Getz, senior outfielder Mike Wealand and junior pitcher Connor Bawiec which isn’t a bad place to start. Bawiec is being counted on to head a Cedar Crest pitching staff which will be without southpaw closer Cameron Mathis due to an arm injury.
“I see the three returning starters needing to lead by example,” said White. “After that, the depth chart is wide open. We’re going to mix and match some different lineups. Compared to other years where we had players slotted into certain positions, it’s a wide open race as far as playing time goes.
“I’d say one of the things we need to improve on is just how we go about working hard,” White added. “But you see guys who want to improve. Guys are really competing hard.”
By name, the remaining pieces of the Falcon puzzle are senior pitcher Patrick McCabe, senior infielder/outfielder Efrain Velez, a transfer from Reading, junior first baseman/catcher Caleb Albright, junior pitcher Kyle Bogdonavich, junior first baseman Devin Elder and sophomore second baseman Nick Gonzalez.
“Our pitching is just going to lack experience,” said White. “It’s the unknown. We have guys who don’t have a lot of experience facing (Lancaster-Lebanon League) Section One lineups. But they’ll be getting some experience as we go through.
“And because of the unknown, we just want to get better each day,” White continued. “We haven’t been on the field too much. We’re going to try to get better as the year goes on. I don’t know if the coaching staff has put a number on the wins we should get or can get.”
Cedar Crest is slated to open its campaign on Friday, March 22nd at Hershey.