Respect the Northeast Ohio Conference.
The 18-team super conference grabbed five combined top seeds between the Hudson and Strongsville Division I Districts when meetings took place Sunday afternoon.
The Hudson District features top seed and defending champion Medina (13-2), No. 2 Hudson (12-4) and No. 3 Twinsburg (11-4). At Strongsville, the host Mustangs (12-0) were No. 1 and Brunswick (9-6) was No. 4.
Add it all up and the NOC — like most of the major sports — can say it’s as deep as anyone.
“It’s a tough conference,” Bees coach Nick Kaplack said. “In order to compete in the conference, you have to set the bar high right out of the gate.”
Medina has a relatively easy path to the district championship game. The Bees avoided two of the three other top seeds, which are in the other bracket, and received a first-round bye.
The winner of Copley (5-12) and Firestone (8-7) will come to Medina on May 11, with a May 17 date against Twinsburg (11-4) likely in the district semis.
The Tigers feature senior shortstop Mike Timm. They were recently swept by Hudson.
“We had our pick of the board and went with home-field advantage,” said Kaplack, whose team received 11 of the 13 first-place votes. “That was what we thought was the best fit for us.”
Hudson Division I
Defending champion: Medina.
Top seeds: 1. Medina (13-2);
2. Hudson (12-4); 3. Twinsburg
(11-4); 4. Brecksville (9-4).
Other county teams: 5. Wadsworth (10-6); 13. Cloverleaf (5-11).
The skinny: Medina is the clear-cut favorite on the top bracket. The bottom bracket is deeper, meaning a number of teams can reach the May 18 title game.
Fifth-seeded Wadsworth (10-6) is hot after winning eight of its last 10 games, and will battle 10th-seeded Stow on May 10. The catch is the Bulldogs (5-7) compete in the NOC’s elite division, the Valley, and are led by seniors Brian Clark (P, Kent State recruit), Ryan Yurkschatt (3B) and Jason McPeek (OF).
The winner gets second-seeded Hudson — another Valley Division member — on May 11 and likely will face ace and St. Bonaventure recruit Zac Edwards.
Proving the depth of the district, Cloverleaf (5-11) received the 13th and final seed despite playing competitively all spring. The Colts get fourth-seeded Brecksville and Georgia recruit Mike Mancuso (1B/P) in a May 10 sectional semifinal.
Strongsville Division I
Defending champion: Strongsville.
Top seeds: 1. Strongsville
(12-0); 2. North Olmsted (12-5); 3. Avon Lake (10-5); 4. Brunswick (9-6).
The skinny: With only 11 teams, Brunswick automatically advanced to the sectional finals, where it will host Lorain (10-6) on May 11.
The Blue Devils have received excellent pitching (3.03 ERA) and defense (.934). It’s the hitting (.285) that will need to come through if Brunswick wants to make a run. Zach Gresch and Brandon Kutrubs, who each have ERAs under 3.00, and the hitting combination of senior center fielder Justin Arthur and sophomore shortstop Kyle Wheeler will lead the way.
Second-seeded North Olmsted, which plays the Elyria-Midview winner the same day, is the likely district semifinal opponent on May 17.
Lorain Division II
Defending champion: Holy Name.
Top seeds, upper bracket: 1. Avon (15-1); 2. Highland (7-5). Lower bracket: 1. Holy Name (10-2); 2. Clearview (8-4).
Other county teams: Buckeye (7-7)
The skinny: Highland has advanced to the championship game in three of the last four seasons, including winning back-to-back titles in 2007 and ’08.
Obviously, the Hornets (7-5) received respect at Sunday’s seed meeting with the No. 2 seed in the top bracket. Coach Jeff Rollyson elected a first-round bye, but the road doesn’t get any easier from there.
Highland is slated to play the Norton-Padua winner in a May 12 sectional final. From there, the Hornets get a showdown with West Shore Conference power and No. 1 seed Avon, which entered this week 15-1 and ranked No. 5 in the state poll.
Meanwhile, Buckeye will travel to Revere on May 11 for a sectional semifinal. The Bucks can mash (6.3 runs per game) and will have a strong No. 1 starter in lefty Tyler Nichols. The Minutemen counter with tougher competition in the Suburban League and the fact they recently pushed state-ranked Tallmadge to the limit in back-to-back games.
The winner gets a shot at defending district champion Holy Name, which is 10th in the state poll.
Creston Division III
Defending champion: Canton Central Catholic
Top seeds: 1a. Triway; 1b. Tuslaw; 2a. Canton Central Catholic; 2b. Norwayne.
The skinny: It’s a strange setup in Wayne County, to say the least. With 14 teams in the tournament, the top bracket has eight teams with no byes. The bottom bracket has six teams with two byes, meaning top seeds Triway and Tuslaw jumped on the chance to skip a round.
That leaves Black River in a tough situation. The Pirates face .500 Hillsdale in May 10 sectional semifinal action, but top-seeded Triway and its senior duo of Kent State recruit Sawyer Polen and Derek Carmichael await the next day.
What Black River has working for it is a solid pitching duo of Jarrod Pierce and Todd Gentile.
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.