The Lake Erie Warhawks 17U Mizuno Team, coached by Todd Mezlak, proved it belonged on the field on Sunday, despite falling to Ohio Independence, 6-4, in a Worthington Wood Bat Tournament semifinal.
“This tournament is a battle and a grind,” Mezlak said.
“This is one of the top tournaments in the country. We had 84 teams and once you advance out, all the teams are good. Our team is set up for tournament runs. We have a 20-man roster and all the guys can come in and pitch, which allows us to be able to advance and stay fresh.
Most of the guys here are going to be playing college and going up against this competition at these venues is only going to help them get better for college.”
The 17U Warhawks were among the younger teams in the tournament, but Mezlak’s squad was ready for the stage because of their past experiences, both with the Warhawks program and in their high school careers.
“We set up our organization to where we will take guys when they’re 15 or 16 and play them up on 17U. So that way when you become 17, it sort of becomes second nature,” he said.
“A lot of these guys have been playing up against older guys since they were 15 or 16. We also have a lot of guys who were playing varsity at high school when they were freshmen and sophomores. Guys like Ryan Strittmather, Evan Shawver, Hunter Cassidy, Mark Mohnickey. When we set the team up, we knew we would take some bumps at 15 or 16, but now they’re used to playing at a high level.”
One of the stars of the day was Strittmather, who showed off his impressive range at second base and also was a home run shy of the cycle.
In a game where momentum was hard to come by at times for the Warhawks, he sparked a couple rallies.
The Warhawks fell short in the semi, but will use this tournament like any other on their rigorous schedule to continue to improve.
Their upcoming schedule includes visits to some of the top-ranked teams in the country, including the Midland Redskins (which have produced 76 MLB players in their history).
Mezlak and the Warhawks relish the opportunity to play the best of the best and this summer will be sure to feature some more heavyweight matchups down the road.