Ross High School baseball coach Ben Toerner

Prep baseball preview: New Ross coach plans to maintain tradition

ROSS TWP. — The Ross High School baseball program has a new leader who isn’t looking for much change.

Ben Toerner is the new head coach after spending the last six seasons at the junior varsity and freshman levels. His goal is simple: Keep things going in the same direction.

“Keeping a lot of things similar around here was my biggest pitch because it’s been working,” said Toerner, a 2011 Ross graduate who played in the program. “It’s not broke, so I’m not coming to fix it. I want to continue what we’ve been doing from the youth program on up.”

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The Rams are coming off two straight Division II district and Southwest Ohio Conference championships. Jason Rettinger decided to step down after 14 seasons at the helm and Ross turned to Toerner, who directed the JV team the last two years.

Toerner is only 26, but RHS athletic director Jake Richards said age isn’t a concern to him.

“The No. 1 thing is he’s been under Coach Rettinger’s tutelage the last several years and he’s worked with all levels of our baseball program,” Richards said. “The baseball tradition here is strong, and he’s a product of it and has remained a part of it.

“He’s going to go through the normal growing pains that a person has taking over a program, but the great news is administratively we’re 100 percent behind him. We’re here to support him on a daily-grind level, but also on the setting of long-term goals for the program. I’m not the type who says he’s the next Jason Rettinger because I’d like him to be the first Ben Toerner.”

Toerner said the Rams will play aggressive, fundamental baseball on his watch.

“I played for Coach Rett, I coached under Coach Rett, I learned a lot of my baseball from Coach Rett, so as far as style of play, it’s not going to change much,” Toerner said. “We may not always have the most talent on the field, but we’ve got a lot of baseball knowledge and we go after it.

“We’re hard-nosed. We attack fastballs. We pitch. We field. We get the little things done right and take that extra-base mentality.”

Ross went 24-7 last year and will build around a pitching staff that includes six seniors — Eastern Michigan University commit Trevor House, Paul Schroeder, Cooper Shields, Michael Rivera, Nick Arno and Cody Geers.

House, Arno and Rivera are all left-handers, along with junior Logan Hollander. House was 3-1 with a 3.19 earned run average in 2018, while Schroeder was 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA. They are expected to top the rotation.

“Those two at their best are just really fun to watch compete,” Toerner said. “They both throw decently hard and have real good control over their offspeed. That’s something they have evolved into over the past couple years. They’ve become more pitchers than throwers.”

Shields should get a number of mound starts as well, and juniors Ethan Hall and Pat Schulten are also in the mix. Toerner said Rivera could end up filling a closer’s role.

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“He throws a lot of strikes,” the RHS coach said of Rivera. “He’s not overpowering … he’ll kind of shock you that he gets the outs that he does. But he’s got that mentality we trust.”

House will play center field when he’s not pitching. He hit .364 with 10 RBIs and 17 stolen bases last year.

Senior Keegan Nickoson, who will play at Danville (Ill.) Area Community College next season, is also one of the key returnees after posting a .333 average and driving in 15 runs as a junior. He played a lot of outfield last year, but has moved behind the plate.

“He looks like a real centerpiece of this team,” Toerner said. “He’s always had that quality as a leader. Now that he’s a senior, he’s stepping up. The pitchers trust him, and he’ll have a big bat in the middle of our lineup.”

Senior Eric Guckiean (.328, 14 RBIs) was mostly a designated hitter in 2018 — he’s now the first baseman. Hall (.366, 20 RBIs, 10 steals) and junior Ryan Merkle (.300, 10 RBIs) also played a lot last year, and they’re set to play second base and shortstop, respectively, in 2019.

Hall might also see some action at third base. Junior third baseman Tyler Hoover is a varsity newcomer and a former catcher.

In the outfield, House and Shields are expected to be regulars when they’re not pitching. Junior Zach Ungermann, a transfer from Redondo Beach, Calif., is among the top contenders in the outfield, along with juniors Mason Minges, Ethan Gerhardt, Ethan Mills and Schulten, and sophomore C.J. Boze.

Boze and infielder Joe Schottelkotte are the only 10th-graders on the roster.

Toerner said Ross probably won’t produce a lot of home runs. The Rams hit one last season.

“But we could throw out a lineup of guys that could hit doubles all day,” Toerner said. “It’s more approach for us. When these guys hunt their pitch, we’ve got a decently strong team that can drive some balls around.

“We’re very athletic, and that helps us a lot on the base paths. We may not have great team speed, but we run well, if that makes sense. We’ve got guys making the right decisions on the bases.”

Ross will open the season at Cincinnati Hills Christian Academy on Monday.

“It’s a real good team environment right now,” Toerner said. “We have a lot of competitive personalities. I just want to see them rally together into a unit.

“The way we talk about it, we’ve got a lot of guys around here who have brothers, dads and uncles who have their number on the wall. We always say, ‘Do you want to go to Thanksgiving dinner and not have your number on the wall?’ That’s something that motivates them. It’s a tradition, and we’re continuing right along with that.”

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