HARTVILLE   The season begins in South Carolina, but Lake Center Christian baseball hopes the campaign ends deep in the postseason.

The Tigers start out their slate at the Cal Ripken Experience tournament in South Carolina, playing three varsity games and one junior varsity game as part of an event featuring teams from across the United States.

The trip is a chance to get away during spring break and also to get games in at a time when many Ohio squads are struggling to get on the field due to weather.

“We’re heading down to Myrtle Beach for a weeklong high school showcase and our guys are really excited,” LCCS head coach Shane Byler said. “The Cal Ripken Experience is something I was able to compete in when I played and it’s one of the best experiences I had as a player.”

Since the preseason officially began on Feb. 20, Byler has seen a continuation of the intense focus and dedication his players have put in since last season ended.

While coaches often say that their players work hard during the offseason, the veteran coach believes that the level of focus LCCS players have exhibited over the past few months goes beyond the norm.

“Our guys have really been committed this year, not just since we started Feb. 20, but really looking back to the end of last season they’ve been putting in a lot of time,” Byler said. 

That time has included playing travel ball during the summer, fall workouts, time in the weight room and working on specific parts of their games. 

According to Byler, that work ethic dates back to the way the program has conducted business the past five or six years, with each class that has passed through adding to a culture of had work and connecting that hard work to growing success on the field. With that hard work, the coaching staff is able to hold players accountable on a higher level and see the Tigers make a fast rise in the Portage Trail Conference.

Last season, LCCS finished second in the PTC County Division and was undefeated in league play until a doubleheader against division champion Southeast in the final week of the season went to Pirates’ way, giving them the title. 

There is little question where LCCS’ strength lies as the new season gets underway; pitching is the Tigers’ biggest asset. The staff ace, senior James Kontur, is a Malone University recruit whose 8-1 record and sub-1.00 ERA last season meant that when he pitched, LCCS was almost sure bet to win. This offseason, Kontur focused on expanding his repertoire of pitches while also trying to build himself up physically with an eye on both his senior season and his college career.

“James really wanted to develop physically, so spent a lot of time in the weight room and committed to some nutritional things that will really help him out,” Byler said. “He wanted to develop another pitch. Last year he threw a fastball, curveball and changeup and this offseason he worked on developing a slider and he’s getting a better feel for it.”

Behind Kontur, the Tigers have fellow senior David Underation, who pitched well last season and showed an even-keeled demeanor on the mound that makes him a nice complementary piece in the rotation beside Kontur. Junior Zach Page and sophomore Will Caudle will both see time on the mound this season and Page, who became a clutch performer for the basketball team this winter by hitting two game-winning 3-pointers in a single week, will look to thrive under pressure on the diamond this spring.

Page has worked to improve his velocity since last season and if he and Caudle can develop into reliable arms behind the Tigers’ top two starters, the rotation should have plenty of depth to once again vie for a league title. The Tigers’ primary goal is to capture the first PTC title in program history and beyond that, to make it back to the Medina Division IV district final and reverse the result from last season, when they lost 3-1 to Cuyahoga Heights.

With much of that team back and a few promising newcomers on the roster, LCCS likes what it has on hand whatever geographic location it plays in.  

Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
or andy.harris@thesuburbanite.com.
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