Buckeye Valley may have a new baseball coach in Drew Kirby this season, but that doesn’t mean Kirby is new to Buckeye Valley.
You see, he isn’t just coaching the Barons. As a 2005 BV grad, he is a Baron.
“It’s an exciting thing to be home and in the community I grew up,” Kirby said. “It truly is a 901 family in this community, and that’s a special thing to be a part of.
“When you’re in school you don’t necessarily realize it until you leave … that’s when you understand how important that really is. This is a very special community — a special place — and I’m honored to be back here and have the opportunity to be the head baseball coach.”
Kirby’s been coaching since, well, pretty much since his high school days. He started as an assistant for several years while in college, which included a three-year stint at Delaware Hayes with former Pacer coach and current Buckeye Valley Athletic Director Mike Yinger. After that, he spent what turned out to be four pretty solid seasons at Elgin. The first included a trip to a district title game and the second featured a team that made it all the way to a regional final.
Kirby took a step back last season, serving as an assistant at Jonathan Alder before jumping on the BV position as soon as he heard it opened up.
He’s had success everywhere he’s been and, after spending some time with the guys he’ll coach this spring, doesn’t see why BV will be any different.
Key Returners include seniors Landon Alexander, Travis Pennington, Zach Schneider and Kyler Lewis, junior Grant Owens and sophomore Evan Ulrich.
Alexander returns to anchor the outfield while Pennington will play a corner infield position, see some time on the mound and maybe even track down fly balls in the outfield. Ulrich, a George Washington commit, and Schneider will share time behind the plate and at the middle infield positions. Ulrich will also add depth on the mound.
“I look at this crew as a group of guys who are hungry for success,” Kirby said. They’re willing to learn, and these guys are soaking up knowledge left and right. You can see it in their eyes … they want to get better.”
Other guys Kirby said should contribute this season include seniors Andrew Coy (infield/pitcher), Justin Bacon (outfield/pitcher), Tate Rhodes (outfield/catcher/pitcher), Hunter Moffatt (pitcher/utility player) and Braeden Mills (outfield), juniors Zach Mitchell (pitcher/infield), Ben Atiyeh (pitcher/infield) and Jack McKean (infield/pitcher), sophomores Andy Anthony (outfield) and Andy Eurez (infield/pitcher) and freshmen Michael Franckhauser (outfield/pitcher), Fletcher Holquist (pitcher/utility player) and Carter Stried (infield/pitcher).
With the MOAC schedule going to a Tuesday-Wednesday format for league games, Kirby said pitching depth will be huge.
Fortunately for the Barons, depth on the mound shouldn’t be a problem.
”We have 16 guys on the roster capable of throwing for us,” Kirby said. “Lots of juniors will start in relief pitching roles, we have several sophomores who have shown a lot and a couple freshmen pulled up, too. We just have a lot of solid arms … not a bunch of guys who are going to overpower you, but a bunch of guys who work hard at hitting spots and doing the things we’ve asked them to do on the mound.
“This is the first year in a long time you can’t look at the league schedule and find an easily-winnable game. It’s going to be a battle week in and week out, so we gotta have arms capable of getting us through the back-to-back days. Having depth on the mound will be a big piece to scratching out a league title, which we have the ability to do. All of our goals are attainable, and that’s one of our goals.”
With the roster set and the roles outlined, there’s nothing left for the Barons to do but go out and compete.
“We talked since day one about competing at everything we do, whether it’s in the classroom, in the community or on the baseball field,” Kirby said. “Compete within an outline of Ohio is on the back of our hats as a daily reminder that that’s why we’re on the field … to compete.”
Buckeye Valley opens the season Saturday against visiting Fairfield Union. The teams will play a pair of games starting at 11 a.m.
With just three seniors on the roster, one a transfer from Cardington, Buckeye Valley doesn’t have the experience it’s had in the past.
BV coach Christine Crooks doesn’t think that will slow this year’s group down, though … as long as they master the mental side of things.
“Having a young team has its advantages and disadvantages, but I think it will work out for us,” she said. “This group has more drive than any team I’ve had at Buckeye Valley. They want to be here, they want to play and they want to win. Young or not, they want it and are like little sponges soaking up everything they can.”
The younger players will be looking to seniors Lisa Leienberger (outfield), Morgan Tigges (catcher) and Allie Etgen (outfield), the Cardington transfer, to lead the way.
Juniors Olivia Schick (pitcher/outfield) and Paige Milhon (first base/third base) are also back with plenty of varsity experience while sophomores and freshmen make up the rest of the roster.
Crooks said sophomores Cora Hollingsworth (shortstop/outfield), Ashlea Kehl (infield/outfield), Lane Graham (second base/outfield), Rylee George (pitcher/catcher/third base), Dairyen Best (outfield/first base) and Kylie Young (catcher) will contribute and freshmen Anika Craft (shortstop/pitcher) and Alexa Richardson (third base/pitcher) should see some time as well.
“We have a young team, so overcoming mental hurdles will be huge this season,” Crooks said. “We all recognize nobody is perfect. We will make mistakes, but a big thing for them will be learning to put the mistakes in the rear view mirror and move on.”
Crooks said pitching and defense will set the tone this season.
“I think we’re solid on the defensive side,” she said. “And, with Olivia and Rylee, we have two strong athletes in the circle.”