Fenwick’s R.J. Clesceri just misses the tag on Franklin’s Austin Gilbert during the host Falcons’ 1-0 win in a Division II sectional game May 10, 2017. NICK GRAHAM/STAFF

Prep baseball preview: Fenwick optimistic with new batch of seniors

MIDDLETOWN — Fenwick High School baseball coach Chris Stratton is borrowing a tool from Tim and Brian Kight’s “Focus 3” leadership model to motivate his Falcons this season.

The team wears T-shirts that say “DMGB” and uses the #DMGB hashtag on social media to remind them it “Doesn’t Matter, Get Better.” That’s the Falcons’ mantra as they try to reload after losing 10 seniors from the 2018 squad that finished 21-9.

“We just have to remember that whatever happens, it doesn’t matter — we still need to get better,” said Stratton, who is in his third season as Fenwick head coach. Go 5-for-5? Doesn’t matter. Get better. Strike out and make two errors? Doesn’t matter. Get better. It’s the E (event)+ R (response) = O (outcome) model. We want to make sure we are responding in ways that produce the best outcomes down the road.”

Stratton has a group that he believes can achieve results right away too.

Despite losing such a large class of seniors that made for an especially prolific offense, Fenwick still remains experienced with another 10 seniors on the roster this year. The Falcons will be led by seniors R.J. Clesceri, Thomas Vogelsang and C.J. Napier, who have all been significant contributors the past two seasons.

“All but two of the 10 seniors played varsity last year, so I feel confident in the group,” Stratton said. “It’s strange to have so many seniors again and have that kind of leadership in back-to-back years, but that’s huge for us.”

Fenwick will have to replace some big holes in the offense, particularly after graduating Greater Catholic League Coed North Division Player of the Year Matt Fink, who led the league with 54 RBIs, four home runs and 16 doubles.

Stratton said the Falcons still have a lot of players who can hit, but they likely will be producing runs in different ways this year with more small ball. Napier batted .397 with 24 RBIs, Vogelsang hit .366 with two home runs and nine doubles, and Clesceri is looking to improve on a .277 average that included two homers.

“I don’t think we will be as prolific as last year, but 1-5 in the lineup I am very confident will hit well,” Stratton said. “Last year we could sit back and kind of wait for the big inning. This year, we’re going to be more scrappy in how we produce runs. But, R.J., C.J., Thomas, those guys can all swing pretty well.”

The Falcons also should be helped by pitching depth. Out of 19 on the roster, 14 players could be classified as pitchers. Nate Green, Napier and Anthony Crisci are expected to be among the top three, and the group is working well under new pitching coach Juan Espinosa, a former University of Northwestern Ohio player who was still playing Independent League ball when Stratton contacted him.

The defense behind the pitching has been a big focus during the offseason and throughout the preseason, and Stratton believes that will be an area of improvement.

“We’ve got most positions locked down pretty good, and I think we will be fundamentally sound on defense,” Stratton said. “That’s an area we’ve been working on, and I think that’s where our senior experience will come in handy. We will be pretty well-rounded.”

The Falcons will get a chance right away to see how strong they are going into the season. They open Saturday against Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy and will be looking for a little redemption as CHCA knocked Fenwick out of the Division II tournament last year.

The game, which Stratton expects to be “a dogfight,” is set for 7 p.m. at Foundation Field in Hamilton.

Beyond that, Fenwick will be keying in on the league schedule as the program seeks its first GCLC North title since 2015-16. Stratton knows it won’t be easy, but said the Falcons should be in the hunt. The GCLC has been represented in the state finals each of the past three years.

“I’m confident we can step right in ad fill those voids left by last year’s class and keep doing what we’re doing, but it’s a very competitive league, so we know we can’t sleep on anyone,” Stratton said. “We’ll treat all our GCL games with a lot of importance.”

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