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Young Rootstown baseball looks to maintain high standards

Rootstown pitcher Austin Biggin, shown as a sophomore against Mogadore, looks to pick a runner off first base.
Rootstown pitcher Austin Biggin, shown as a sophomore against Mogadore, looks to pick a runner off first base.

KENT — Earlier this year, in a preseason interview with Tony Bogan of "Kee On Sports," Rootstown baseball coach Keith Waesch joked about shortening his post-scrimmage talk to not mess with any of his young players' bedtimes.

A week or so later, speaking with the Record-Courier, Waesch noted that most of his team is ineligible for a driver's license.

That's where the 2023 Rovers find themselves.

They are extremely young, with one senior, five juniors and a whopping 26 players either in the ninth or 10th grade. And, yes, they are talented in a program that has long set a high standard.

"I think that's going to be a big part of our game this year because we don't have a lot of big guys," Rootstown junior pitcher Austin Biggin said. "We're pretty young. We're gonna have to fight through a lot of stuff, get a little scrappy, but I think that's what's going to make it fun."

How high has the standard been set along State Route 44?

From 2017 to 2021, the Rovers captured four straight Portage Trail Conference championships. (If that math doesn't seem to make sense, remember to add the COVID year.)

Last season, after graduation took a hefty toll, Rootstown finally relinquished its hold on the PTC, but went on a nice postseason run, all the way to a Division III district championship game at Bob Cene Park.

Now, the Rovers are even younger.

Put it this way: six of the nine starters from those district games at Bob Cene Park have graduated.

"It's exciting," Waesch said. "It's a situation that we have not been in at Rootstown since I returned seven or so years ago to the head coaching position, but at the same time it's been fun and [I've been] pleasantly surprised thus far how quickly some of these kids have grasped onto some of the things that we're trying to teach and they've done a nice job."

The only returning starters for the Rovers ?

Biggin, who emerged as a pitcher on the rise for Rootstown in 2022 as a sophomore and now is its ace.

Tony Karp, who went from the junior varsity as a freshman to the heart of the Rovers order as a sophomore.

And Joe Weaver, who became a mainstay in the lineup toward the latter half of the 2022 season.

Three players, all juniors as it happens, can do a lot.

Indeed, Karp had three hits apiece in Rootstown's first two games, against Ravenna and Chalker; Weaver scored in both games and tossed a strong inning against the Ravens; and Biggin completed four innings in that same game, striking out nine while allowing a single unearned run.

Perhaps most eye-popping, Biggin did all that without having his usual fastball command.

"[My] change-up and cutter were working really well," Biggin said. "Those are usually my two slightly worse pitches, but I've been working on them a lot and it's starting to pay off."

But Monday (and Tuesday), it was far from just Biggin, Karp and Weaver.

And it has to be.

Indeed, after Biggin tossed four innings Monday and Weaver completed the fifth, the Rovers unleashed two talented freshmen.

After starting his high school career by walking two of the first three batters he faced, Bryce Harless coerced a pop, then rode his off-speed pitch to an inning-ending strikeout.

Up next, R.J. Soika struck out the first two batters he faced en route to a 1-2-3 seventh inning.

A combined one-hitter from Monday's four hurlers? Not bad.

Sophomore six-hitter Logan Uphold picking up hits in his first two at-bats? Not bad.

Sophomore seven-hitter Sean Boveington coming up with one of the game's biggest hits, a bases-loaded and bases-clearing double to the left-field gap in the third? Not bad, as Boveington showed masterful patience to turn an 0-1 count to 3-1, then demonstrated a pretty approach on a full-count pitch on the outer part of the plate, not trying to do too much and roping it to the gap.

"You just have to wait for your pitch," he said. "Like if the first one's a ball, then just you have to wait for yours. He has to come with it if he doesn't want to walk you on four straight."

On Tuesday it was sophomore Brady Kreitzburg picking up his first varsity win on the mound, and sophomore catcher Blake Postlethwait notching two hits after also recording a pair of hits in Rootstown's opener.

Waesch said it helps that some of his varsity newcomers aren't varsity newcomers overall.

For example, Boveington has bowled at state.

Postlethwait is a strong defender for Rootstown's soccer team and also garnered plenty of playing time for the varsity basketball team.

And Carson Flowers, the lone senior on the roster, has been a varsity bowler and golfer.

"Although they're lacking in baseball varsity experience, they do have varsity experience in other sports, some of them," Waesch said. "So I think a lot of people may not see that, but I think you do have to give some credibility to the fact. These kids have played in varsity pressurized situations and hopefully that will allow them to mature quicker in the sport of baseball."

With such a young group, four-run firsts and three-run thirds as happened Monday won't occur every night. Sure enough, Rootstown, fresh off two wins to start the season, was held in check Thursday in a 4-1 loss to Chippewa.

But the first week of the season also left no question that the talent is once again there for the Rovers.

"We're kind of trying to get confidence," Waesch said. "I think if they have the confidence, then they'll be able to do some things that maybe they didn't think they were capable of doing, especially as young as we are."

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Young Rootstown baseball looks to maintain high standards