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For the past two seasons, the Tallmadge baseball team has seen a youth movement overtake the program.
After shocking the local baseball scene by reaching regionals in 2015, the Blue Devils were still very young and didn't sneak up on anyone last season.
As a result, Tallmadge finished at 14-13 last season, including 8-4 in the inaugural season of the Suburban League American Conference, which was good for third place. Copley won the American Conference title.
Blue Devils head coach Kenny Linn was quick to note just how young his team still was last season.
"We had six sophomores that started last year," Linn noted. "Also, [then freshman] Richie Eyre was behind the plate. We definitely only had a few times where we weren't in a game. Even though they had some field experience, they were still young."
As Linn enters his 14th year in charge of program, he realizes his young team is growing up right before his eyes.
"Expectations of them, with both the coaching staff and themselves, I think its all the same as usual," Linn said. "We've had two successful years, given how much we've relied on young kids.
"The first goal always is to win the American [Conference] in the Suburban League," he added. "We haven't won the Suburban in five years I think. The second goal is to have a long run in the playoffs. We've won that district three times in five years."
Regarding the American Conference, Linn said last year's top three teams should again be in the running.
"Aurora and Copley has a lot back," Linn said. "[Copley] lost some key guys but should be strong. I think it will be be dogfight between us, them and Aurora."
Tallmadge will continue play its grip-it-and-rip-it style of baseball, though Linn notes pitching depth will be a key this spring.
"The one thing that we're not sure of is, we have six to eight guys who all can throw, but we lack experience," Linn said. "We're excited about the athletic ability, but we're unproven as far as the depth of it."
Linn's staff remains intact with Mike Barr serving as varsity assistant coach and Ben Shepherdserving as the program's pitching coach. Scott Campbell joins the Blue Devils as an assistant pitching coach.
While the bulk of the Blue Devils are back, Tallmadge lost a few quality players to graduation, including pitchers Tyler Duben and Will Howell, second baseman Ben Pratt and outfielder Kyle Paul.
After being thrown to the wolves as a freshman last season, Eyre returns as the Blue Devils' starting catcher this spring.
"We brought him up at the end of April last season," Linn said. "To have a full year with Shepherd is going to help him out a lot. He's a very good athlete. A three-sport guy like him doesn't have as much time to play, but he should be OK."
Junior Scott Seeker will serve as backup catcher, but his primary duties will be at first base and pitching for Tallmadge. Linn noted Seeker has made a verbal commitment to play baseball at the United States Military Academy (N.Y.), as he was the Blue Devils' biggest and most consistent hitter last season.
"Scotty was an all-around leader for us and he will be again this year," Linn said.
Junior Zach Boyd will rotate over to first base when he's not pitching, though Linn notes Boyd will likely be Tallmadge's No. 1 starter.
At second base, Linn expects a battle between juniors Jake Rensel and Garrett Sands, both of whom get the call up from junior varsity.
Things are more settled at shortstop, as junior Phil Glasser will start for the second straight year, as well as seeing time on the mound.
At third base, Josh Taylor is the lone senior on the roster for Tallmadge, as he hit .400 last season in limited at bats. Boyd also will see time at third.
In center field, junior Jared Burick returns after locking up the position last season. He also will see more time pitching this year.
In right field, junior Seth Gergely will get the starting nod, while junior Derek Lightel and sophomore Sam Seeker are battling to start in the left. The younger Seeker brother also saw time in center field last year.
While a combination of Boyd, Sam Seeker, Glasser and Burick is likely to get the bulk of the starting time on the mound, Linn also expects to get some innings from junior Cameron Knutty, who battled arm injuries last spring.
Junior pitcher Mikah McGlaughlin is back in the program after missing last spring, while Linn is very high on freshman pitcher Luke Thomas.
The Blue Devils were scheduled to open their season against Uniontown Lake and Akron Ellet March 25 at Dave Young Field. Results were not available at press time.
Tallmadge is set to take a trip to Myrtle Beach, S.C., where it is scheduled to play four games at the Cal Ripken Experience.
The Blue Devils are scheduled to play Elkhorn Area (Wisc.) March 29 at 3 p.m. They are set to play Sullivan (Ind.) March 30 at 9 a.m. and Germantown (Pa.) Academy March 30 at 3 p.m.
Tallmadge is scheduled to conclude play against Peters Township (Pa.) March 31 at noon.