By Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner baseball team entered last year’s Class 4A-District 9 tournament poised to advance to the regional tournament, but something got in the way.
That something was an 8-0 loss to Jefferson in the district semifinals, ending the Warriors (15-7) season one game away from qualifying for the playoffs. The bitter taste from last year is driving Steinbrenner to perform at a higher level in 2011.
“We want to win districts,” said senior first baseman and pitcher Chad Witkowski. “We don’t want second place and definitely nothing lower than that.”
The motivation is there, but coach John Crumbley is looking for that victory to spark the team going into districts.
“The kids are definitely more talented, but we need to find a way to win a signature game,” Crumbley said. “We’re beating the people we’re supposed to and play just good enough to lose to the better teams. We need to get over that hump. They’re a year wiser and we have several more exhibition games before it really counts in the district tournament.”
The Warriors are also motivated by the 4A state championship won by the girls soccer program this year, the first for the second-year school.
“They give us a hard time about it,” said junior pitcher Chris Williams. “They let us know they were the first ones. We have to get something for ourselves.”
Senior catcher and pitcher Jason Wilton, who attended Sickles his sophomore season, says his goal is to make people fear playing the Warriors.
“We want to build respect for our team,” Wilton said. “People didn’t have a lot of respect for us last year. They took us very lightly. I don’t want anyone to take us lightly. We’re a good ball program.”
Witkowski, who has already signed his letter of intent to play at Eastern Michigan University, is of the biggest leaders for the fledgling program. He led the squad with nine home runs last year and has added five this season. He is currently batting.528 with 19 RBI and seven doubles.
“I try to keep everything to the opposite field and hit line drives,” Witkowski said. “If you do that you’ll get lucky sometimes and they’ll go out.”
Witkowski, who attended Wiregrass Ranch his freshman and sophomore years, said his passion is hitting, but he is also working to improve his fastball, curveball and changeup while working on the pitching mound. He is currently 3-2 while leading the Warriors with 30 strikeouts.
Williams has locked up the No. 1 spot in the Steinbrenner rotation.
“He’s been our main pitcher since we started the program,” Crumbley said. “He’s been successful. He’s been in some big games and he’ll continue to be in those games.”
Williams, who attended Sickles as a freshman, throws a fastball, sinker, cutter, curveball and changeup. Most high school pitchers have only two to three pitches to choose from.
“I didn’t through a curveball until I turned 15, and I just learned the sinker and cutter recently,” Williams said. “The cutter is the newest because I was looking for something else to add to my repertoire.”
While Williams is laid back off the field, his mentality changes when he toes the rubber.
“On the mound I’m really intense,” Williams said. “I’m only trying to get you out. I figure here is my stuff. If you can hit it then fine, but you probably won’t. That’s how I get the most out of myself.”
Williams has done that this year, posting a 6-1 record with a 2.81 ERA.
Sophomore Nick Ringo has been Steinbrenner’s main closer, recording one save in 10 appearances with a 3.17 ERA and 14 Ks.
Wilton (4-3) rounds out the Warriors pitching rotation. He is also batting .491 with 26 hits and a homer.
The Warriors strength has been with their hitting this season, posting a .408 team batting average, a .504 on-base percentage and a .584 slugging percentage.
“Last year our pitching was stronger from top to bottom, but out hitting is much better now,” Witkowski said. “Top to bottom in our lineup we have guys who get on and guys to drive them in.”
The 4A-9 tournament begins on Tuesday, April 26 at Jesuit. The championship game is three days later at 7 p.m.
“The first goal is reach regionals,” Crumbley said. “If you get out of districts everybody has a chance. It’s always my goal to play in the state final four and win a state championship. I think we have quality kids in our school and quality administration here. The kids are learning how to be successful athletically, but more importantly academically.”
–All stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches.