When one thinks of baseball teams around the Cleveland area, one often thinks of the St. Ignatius' and Walsh Jesuit's of the world. Aurora reached the state final four last season, and Mentor is always a strong team year in and year out. They have earned the attention they get. There are also times where teams come out of nowhere, and it leaves you wondering "When did they get so good?". The problem is, people start paying attention to those teams too late.
The time to start paying attention to the Solon baseball team is now
Heading into today's match up with Stow, Solon currently sits with a 4-5 record, and is on a four game losing streak.
In our 4 victories, we stayed patient at the plate and made the opposing pitcher earn every out. In our current 4 game losing streak, we have just got away from doing those things. We started to get anxious at the plate, creating quick outs, which made us press even more. We began to make more physical errors, and unfortunately more mental ones as well. As long as we can get back to what made us successful in the past, we should be able to right the ship.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Why should anyone be paying attention to a 4-5 team?
If teams want to get their licks in against Solon, they better do it now, because the Comets are only going to get better. They have seven sophomores and three freshmen that see significant playing time. The seven sophomores are part of a loaded sophomore class:
John Alvarez.... Sophomore outfielder is part of a 4 to 5 player outfield rotation. Made the jump from the freshmen team last season to the varsity this season. Hits second in the lineup, and can pitch when necessary.
Brandon Dim.... Played JV last season as a freshmen. Also part of the outfield rotation. Big arm from right field. Also excels on the mound, throwing 5 and a third innings versus Olmsted Falls Monday.
Tim Harmody.... Started on the JV team as a freshmen before making the jump to varsity midway through the year. Can catch, play 3rd base, and pitch if necessary. Just returned this week from a broken thumb
Ryan McCann.... Missed half the freshmen season after having his appendix removed. Lead off hitter for the Comets, and second basemen. Also pitches in relief. Puts together great at bats
Johnny Mooney.... Also played JV last season as a freshmen before making the jump to the varsity midway through the season. Part of the outfield rotation, and also plays first base depending on the starting pitcher. Can also pitch when called upon.
Will Meyer.... Started on the freshmen team for the first seven games of the year, before skipping JV entirely and being plugged in as the varsity shortstop, where he has stayed since. Hits third in the Solon lineup. Possesses great range in the field
Nate Altstadt.... A varsity pitcher since Day One last year as a freshman. Solon's #1 starter, Altstadt is already being recruited by many Division I schools. Altstadt is a special talent, but according to Kopkas, there is much more to Altstadt then just ability:
His attitude and work ethic. Nate works harder between starts than anyone I have ever coached. He sticks to a strict schedule of conditioning and throwing, so that he is fully prepared for his next turn in the rotation. Once on the mound, he has the perfect demeanor. He never gets too high and never gets too low. He understands that a varsity game has ups and downs and he has to remain focused to ultimately be successful. Obviously, there is a lot of God-given talent as well, but he has used that to the fullest. He is a phenomenal leader and an outstanding role model for our team and its players. Even with all the attention surrounding him from other teams, colleges, etc, he has a team-first attitude and he is focused on doing his best in order for the team to be successful. Mechanically, he has pinpoint control, can throw multiple pitches for strikes, and he is an intelligent pitcher. He thinks through opposing at-bats. He doesn't just throw hard, he pitches. He tries to keep hitters off balance by throwing curve balls in fastball counts, change ups when the hitter is thinking fastball, etc.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
How loaded is this sophomore class? Think of this: Last season, the freshman team didn't have six of those seven sophomores listed above. They still went 17-7. This year's JV team, with 12 of the 15 players being sophomores, are off to an 8-1 start.
The Comets three freshmen that see playing time are Jeremy Friedman, Jake McCurry, and Joe Bubonics. Each bring talent and are holding their own at the varsity level this season (McCurry actually went deep in the game Monday versus Olmsted Falls).
I think all three of those guys are ready to compete at the varsity level because they have been well-coached as younger players. It is very evident that they know the game of baseball and have worked hard at their craft. They all seem to excel in different areas. McCurry is an above average hitter with exceptionally quick hands. Friedman is a tough pitcher with command of multiple pitches and location. Bubonics is strong behind the plate and defensively at second base. At various times already this season, each has been overmatched which is to be expected. However, each has shown the ability to recover and learn from their mistakes, which shows a tremendous amount of poise for freshmen. Huge things will be expected of each of these guys in the years to come, but much of their success in the future will stem from this current experience at the varsity level and how well they adapt and learn on the fly.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Any worries about being TOO young?
Every season there are always worries about the team being TOO anything. Too young, too-senior-laden, too inexperienced, too right-handed, etc. Youth can be a double-edged sword. I love watching the freshmen and sophomores play the game. They are usually hungry and willing to be coached. But, at the same time, the inexperience can drive you crazy. Things that you have begun to take for granted that they will be done correctly are not occurring. You tend to forget that the younger guys have not gone through much of what they are currently seeing. The game is faster than what they are used to, the curve balls are sharper, the ground balls at them are hit harder, the opponent is better. Now that we are nine games in, we hope that the “newness” has worn off and we are simply just playing baseball. As I see it, they are no longer freshmen and sophomores, we are simply just a varsity team.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
It isn't to say that the Comets are in a full fledged youth movement. They do have four seniors and two juniors that add that upper class experience that every team needs. So far this season, it is exactly what they have done.
It is always important to have strong leaders, whether seniors or not. Thankfully, we have that from our senior class.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Senior Chris Makaryk has handled the catching duties so far this season, and has also hit in the middle of the lineup:
Makaryk has gotten off to a fantastic start this season, as his extreme hard work in the off-season has paid off. He was not as successful as he wanted to be last year, both offensively and defensively. He worked tirelessly on both aspects to prepare for this year. His approach at the plate has significantly improved, and his ability behind the plate is outstanding. Most importantly, he has really relished his role of captain on the field. He is not afraid to take charge and push his teammates to be better.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Senior Mitch Sutyak is the Comets #2 starter, and also holds down first base:
Sutyak has gotten off to a slow start at the plate this season, but he will be looked at as a force in the middle of our lineup and a strong leader of our infield. He has been excellent thus far on the mound and we will continue to look to him to be strong there in pressure situations. Like Chris, he is viewed in the locker room as a leader and that has been extremely important to our early season success.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Senior Kevin Dobbins is part of the 4 and 5 man outfield rotation, and brings speed, and can disrupt a defense when he is on base:
He will play left field for us and likely bat in the 9th spot of our lineup. He is important to our success because of his ability to draw a walk and get on base. Once he is on base, he can use his speed to disrupt the opponent. When he is not in the starting lineup, he will generally see action as a pinch runner at some point in the game. If he can continue to use the whole field at the plate and hit line drives and ground balls, then he will be successful. Kevin gets into trouble when he hits the ball in the air (thereby not taking advantage of his speed). In the field, he just needs to be solid, not spectacular. Make the routine plays, occasionally make a nice catch, hit the cutoff man.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Senior Matt Bloom played JV last year as a junior, but has already contributed to this season's team by being available on the mound:
Bloom will be used as a spot-starter and in long relief this year. He had a shaky outing or two in scrimmages but came out against Aurora and threw really well, keeping them off balance. He’s not going to blow anyone away, but can be successful by hitting his spots and changing speeds. If he can miss opponents barrels, he can pick up a few wins this year. He tends to expect a lot out of himself and can be really hard on himself. If he is able to fight through that and remain consistent, he will be just fine.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Juniors Kevin Gersey and Gage Golic both brings versatility as Gersey will be called upon to pitch, and play second and third base. Golic also can pitch, and can be worked in at first and third base.
This Solon team is just following the trend of younger and younger players playing at the varsity level. Part of this early success by these freshmen and sophomores not only in Solon, but around the Cleveland area can be traced to the summer teams they play on. The competition these kids play against is vastly improved, and the need to play year around as a "specialized" sport has these kids more prepared than ever to contribute right away.
For example, Harmody, McCann, Friedman, Mooney, Meyer and Bubonics all play for the highly successful Solon Stampede summer team. Alvarez plays for the Northern Ohio Young Guns, and McCurry plays for the highly competitive Midwest Pelicans. Throw in Dim playing for Diamond Boys baseball club through the Strike Force Training Center, and you can see why this group of kids are playing at the varsity level.
The summer programs in our area has definitely led to some success at the high school level. These summer coaches are well-versed in the game and they prepare their players wonderfully to be ready for the high school game. As is the case in any sport, players develop at different speeds and some of those players are more ready than others to be successful once they get to high school, but it is not due to a lack of effort or coaching in most of the summer programs that lead to Solon baseball. With so many choices out there for these kids in the summer, it can get a little watered down and not every kid comes to our program ready for the speed of high school baseball. But, for the most part we have been extremely happy with the players we end up keeping in our program.... Head Coach Damien Kopkas
Is Solon going to be considered to be in the same room with the upper echelon teams in the Cleveland area this season? Probably not. However in the next few seasons, they may not only be knocking at the door, but ready to break the door down.
The Solon baseball team is one that should be followed..Starting now