Avon Eagles begin retooling after another title

MORNING JOURNAL/JIM BOBEL Avon’s Donny Kelly slides into third base in a game last season at All Pro Freight Stadium in Avon. Kelly, who hit .395 last season, returns to lead the Eagles.

Frank DeSmit has taken the Avon Eagles somewhere they have never been, winning back-to back conference championships for the first time in the history of the baseball program and going a combined 47-6 in the last two years.

This season presents a new challenge as the Eagles have to reload with elevated expectations as they go for their third-straight West Shore Conference championship.

“I think the last two years were really an indication of how far we’ve come,” DeSmit said. “But as a coach, you’re always wondering too how much of it is the program building and how much of it is the players that are coming through. I think this year is going to be an indicator year because we’re going to have a look at some of the guys we haven’t seen yet. Hopefully they’re able to step up and do some of the things that the guys that came before them were able to do as well.”

The Eagles have some holes to fill on the roster as they lose plenty of senior talent, including two starting pitchers. After winning two straight conference titles, DeSmit feels the expectation should stay the same regardless of who’s on the field.

“We knew we had some decent athletes at Avon,” he said. “But really, I think one of the biggest things was trying to push them to the point where we get away from just hoping we’ll win to the point where we expect to win. We’ve made strides in that department. But at the same time, you don’t really know what you’re going to have from one year to the next. You’ve just got to plug along, try to meet your goals and do the best you can.”

Avon has five seniors returning from last year’s team including first-team All-WSC pitcher Matt Wentz who was outstanding in 2012, going 8-0 with a 1.37 ERA. Fellow senior Austin Bevins will both pitch and play third base, but Wentz is expected to be the anchor of a young pitching staff after his big junior season.

“When all was said and done, Matt was probably our best pitcher last year,” DeSmit said. “At the end of the year, if you ask anybody, Matt was probably our best guy. It’s hugely important for him to come back. Hopefully he comes back strong.”

Donny Kelly, Brandon Linna and Bradford Dill all return for their senior season to lead the Eagles’ lineup which is expected to be a strength of the team. Kelly, who hit .395 and had a .500 on-base percentage, and Linna, who hit a staggering .455 last year, each earned all-conference honors.

“We’re leaning on those guys to pick up the slack because we have a lot of new faces,” DeSmit said. “It’s going to be interesting to see how they react. Not only do we have a lot of expectations now from what we’ve done the last couple of years, but we have a pretty tough schedule.”

Among those new faces that have made an impression on DeSmit and his staff are junior infielders Jonny Morales and Brian Baker, who have great defensive range, as well as Kevin Maloney who will move over to first base. Since Wentz is also the team’s top catcher, DeSmit also expects junior Shawn Traine to step up and have a good year behind the plate, especially on days when Wentz is on the hill.

“These juniors and sophomores have caught our eye for one thing or another,” DeSmit said. “The big question when they get to the varsity is can they put all of it together?”

@Bielik_Tim

Last Updated: 3/30/2013 9:23:44 PM EST

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