SPRING PREVIEW: Onekama looks to extend athletic success to baseball

Onekama’s 2018 varsity baseball team. Front row, from left: Jake Petrosky, Rylan Clarke, Jayden DeWitt, Johnny Neph, Lucas Mauntler and Anthony March. Back row, from left: Karl Waitner, Jonathan Adams, Ben Acton, Jacob Mauntler, Austin Harper, Jeremiah Torrey, Wade Sedlar, Ben Falk, head coach John Neph and coach Randy Teichman. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

Onekama’s 2018 varsity baseball team. Front row, from left: Jake Petrosky, Rylan Clarke, Jayden DeWitt, Johnny Neph, Lucas Mauntler and Anthony March. Back row, from left: Karl Waitner, Jonathan Adams, Ben Acton, Jacob Mauntler, Austin Harper, Jeremiah Torrey, Wade Sedlar, Ben Falk, head coach John Neph and coach Randy Teichman. (Scott Yoshonis/News Advocate)

ONEKAMA — Onekama baseball features a core of players who have enjoyed success this season in both football and basketball. The football team won nine games and advanced to the state quarterfinals, and the basketball team brought home its first district championship since 2003.

Portagers baseball coach John Neph said that he has every reason to believe his charges can duplicate that success on the baseball diamond.

“They’ve proven they’re athletic,” Neph said. “If we can get a little of that athletic skill to transition to baseball skill, we’ll be just fine.”

As usual, pitching will be the key to success, and Onekama returns two starters with experience on the mound from the 2017 team that went 18-7-1, seniors Jayden DeWitt and Jacob Mauntler. 

But Neph hopes more arms emerge among the younger players on the squad. 

“We’ve got to have pitching and we’ve got to have defense,” Neph said. “I think we can do that.”

Jonathan Adams is another key returner, a two-year starter at catcher, and Adams will likely see some time on the other end of the battery, on the mound.

Without a consistent home-run threat at the plate, Onekama will look to score runs in rallies. Mauntler is the team’s leading returning hitter, but the Portagers will require hitters who can put the ball in play from the top to the bottom of the batting order.

“I don’t know that one of our guys is going to hit Miguel Cabrera numbers, but we have to have every guy making a contribution,” Neph said. “We’ve got to improve in a few areas of hitting, hitting better pitches and laying off the ones that are not our best pitch (to hit).”

The team has some lofty goals in 2018, winning the Northwest Conference and bringing home a district trophy, neither of which will be easy.

Standing in the way of both is the top-ranked team in the state in the Division 4 pre-season coaches’ poll, defending league champion Frankfort, and 15th-ranked Maple City Glen Lake will also be a tough conference foe.

County rival Brethren will also play in Onekama’s district, which the Portagers will host this year. The Bobcats defeated Onekama in each of the last two district finals, and will be one of the teams to beat in this year’s tournament.

That district tournament will also have six teams, with Fife Lake Forest Area, Buckley and Mesick rounding out the field. Four of those teams will have to win three games to take the title, so developing some depth of pitching over the course of the season will be crucial to Onekama’s success.

“We’ve got to get better on a daily basis,” Neph said. “A championship in the Northwest Conference will be extremely difficult. And it’s a very, very tough district, so If we can accomplish a conference championship and a district championship, we’ll have a very, very fine year.”

Onekama’s first scheduled game is at home on April 4 against Big Rapids Crossroads.

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Posted by Scott Yoshonis

Scott is the sports editor of the Manistee News Advocate. You can reach him at (231) 398-3112 or syoshonis@pioneergroup.com.

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