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As he enters his 30th year in charge of Twinsburg baseball, Don Jones might joke he's no longer able to beat his players home from third base.
Jones' enthusiasm for "the grind" hasn't waned, however. That enthusiasm throughout the program was a big reason why Twinsburg won the inaugural title in the Suburban League National Conference.
Twinsburg went 22-6 in 2016, including 11-3 in the National Conference, earning a share of the title with Wadsworth.
"That's what we wanted to do and we did it," Jones said. "This year, it's all about the journey. We're going to enjoy our time together. It's such a process with Northeast Ohio baseball."
Jones notes the 14 conference games are his primary focus as competing for the league title every year is a team goal. He noted repeating as champion, however, will require another big effort.
"This year it's even going to be tougher," Jones said. "Everybody got to look over everybody last season. It's just a well-coached conference. In this conference, every pitch is a grind. We're willing to grind and journey with everybody.
"The quality was just amazing last year," he added. "This year, I think we have a little bit of a bull's eye on our backs. However, we've got guys that are willing to show up everyday and work hard."
Twinsburg lost six seniors to graduation, including catcher DeVonte Washington (now playing at Ohio University), pitchers Brandon Vinas, Corey Donhue, Robert Lipnos and Cal Govang and outfielder Joe Liotta.
"There's a ton of quality that we lost," Jones aid. "Those are big holes to fill. The cupboard is not bare, but we need to find those guys to finish out a game. Last year, we had 13 or 14 guys who can play a role. It's our job as coaches to find those roles."
Jones' coaching staff includes Jeff Luca as varsity assistant, Al Hodakievic as junior varsity coach and Omar Santiago as freshman team coach. Jones paid tribute to former coach Don Springer, who did not return this spring after 20 years with Twinsburg baseball.
Jones' commitment to agressive baseball remains intact.
"We're not siting around and letting the paint dry. It's grip it and rip it," Jones said. "We want to steal 30 bases this year. We want to create havoc and put pressure on people."
While Washington is gone, Twinsburg has a veteran catcher back in senior Chad Szydlowski, who hit .354 last year while splitting time between catcher and third base. Jones noted the Szydlowski family has a long history with Twinsburg baseball.
Last year, Szydlowski and Washington were interchangeable at catcher and third base. Jones plans to use the same rotation this year, while senior Terrence Chambers and sophomore Dylan Jackson sliding in.
Twinsburg has a big glove and bat at first base in senior Jake Carinci, who hit .366 with 23 runs scored last year.
"He's one of our leaders," Jones said. "He has a chance to be the best first baseman in the league. He will pitch a little for us."
Senior Carson Leo was limited by injuries last year, but posted a 1.83 earned run average on the mound. He will pitch and play first base, while sophomore Max Brazie also will see time at first.
Junior Jason Stahlman had a huge sophomore season on the mound and as Twinsburg's starting second baseman. He hit .363 with 33 hits and 12 stolen bases, while going 3-1 with a 1.53 ERA. Stahlman has a chance to be Twinsburg's No. 1 pitcher as well as one the best all-around second basemen in school history, according to Jones.
Senior CarVonte Williams also will see time at second base.
Senior shortstop Cristian Tejada is a three-year starter who hit .444 with 36 hits last year. The second-team all-league selection recently signed to play at Miami University.
"We're very good up the middle," Jones said. "Our goal is to turn 25 double plays this year."
Senior Ryan Christy, who recently signed with Ohio University, will see more time at second and shortstop this spring, along with his usual time in the outfield and on the mound. Christy hit .333 with eight doubles, while going 2-1 with four saves as Twinsburg's closer last season.
Sophomore Jon Szydlowski could see time in the infield as well.
Twinsburg's outfield will be anchored by senior Tyler Gairing, who hit .361 last season.
"He's phenomenal," Jones said. "He had a great junior campaign. The ball absolutely jumps off his bat. If he stays short at the plate, look out."
The corner outfield spots are up for grabs, with juniors Sean Williams, Matt Mickovic, Ethan Burnhard and Bobby Delegram all in the mix, along with sophomore Justin Laley.
Twinsburg was set to open National Conference play by traveling to North Royalton March 28, but results were not available at press time.
The Tigers will host the return game with North Royalton March 29 at 4:30 p.m. at Dodge Field, before hosting a doubleheader with Woodridge April 1. First game starts at 11 a.m.