AYER — The Ayer baseball team must overcome significant graduation losses, which cost the services of John Shivo, Will Comerford, Jon Bollinger and Andrew Gambrell, and the Panthers will take a different approach entering the 2008 season.
“Shivo, Comerford and Bollinger had a familiarity that will be missed,” said fifth-year Panther coach Jim Welch. “I’m getting to learn what these kids can do, and this reminds me of my first season here when we had young pitching and I didn’t know a lot about the kids.”
A pair of strong returning starters will lead the way for the Panthers – senior captain Kenny Rollins, a shortstop, and junior first baseman/pitcher Jon Minnich.
“Kenny is an experienced player who provides consistency both offensively and defensively,” said Welch. “He makes all the routine plays defensively. Offensively, he is a line drive hitter from gap-to-gap and he will bat second.
“Jon is a run producer with power and he will hit third,” said Welch. “I am expecting big things from him this season. Defensively, he has good range and soft hands, and he is a hard-throwing left-hander on the mound.”
Another returning starter will be junior J.J. Thomas, a third baseman/pitcher.
“J.J. is a smart player who is solid defensively,” said Welch. “He is a good hitter with power and will probably hit fifth. On the mound he has decent velocity and a good off-speed pitch.”
Competing for the starting second base position are junior Trevor Elkins and sophomore Cody Januskiewicz.
“Trevor is smart and is a solid defensive player who makes the routine plays,” said Welch. “Cody is also a solid defensive player and a line drive hitter.”
Junior Brian Babcock will be the starting catcher.
“Brian has big shoes to fill but he has shown a willingness to work at it,” said Welch. “He is a versatile player. Offensively, he has an ability to get on base and good speed once he gets there. He will hit leadoff.”
The starting outfield will be senior Tim Riker in left, sophomore Ryan Carroll in center, and senior Ryan DeWolf in right.
“Tim played second base and some outfield last season,” said Welch. “He is a solid defensive player with good speed, range and a strong arm. He is a line drive hitter whose offense is improving. Ryan played on the junior varsity team last season and he has been an impressive newcomer. He is athletic and has good speed, and his offense is improving every day. Ryan came off the bench last season and provides an experienced player who hits the ball well.”
Making a push for playing time are sophomores Jake Seeley and Derek Shorey, and juniors Max Goodwin, Jason Lopez and Jacob Aponte. All five played on the junior varsity team last season.
“Jake is a catcher/third baseman with a good glove, quick hands and a strong arm,” said Welch. “He is a line drive hitter with some power. Derek is also a catcher/third baseman who has shown a lot of offensive improvement. He provides a strong backup catcher for us. Max is an outfielder who has a good arm, a good glove and shows power at the plate. Jason is a designated hitter/first baseman who is a good hitter with power. Jacob is versatile and will be a utility playerf. He has a good arm and bat and has decent speed.”
What are the strengths of the Panthers this season?
“I think we have some pitching depth, although it will be more by committee than last season when John Shivo won a lot of games,” said Welch. “Also, Kenny Rollins and Jon Minnich provide a pair of infielders with lots of experience.
“My concerns heading into the season are replacing a four year catcher and our ace pitcher,” said Welch. “Having Shivo last season eliminated any losing streaks.
“Our goal is to win the league for the third consecutive season,” said Welch. “We also want to go deep into the Districts. The key to the season will be getting consistent pitching and defense and showing the ability to win close games.”