Things are looking up for Steve Wright. First and foremost, he’s been married to Kaci for 10 years, welcomed his first child, Kadence, into the world on May 30 and lives in a cozy home just east of downtown Medina.
Oh, and the 36-year-old gets paid to be the baseball and softball administrator at Pinnacle Sports in Granger Township — a dream job for anyone who loves the game.
“(Life’s) pretty doggone good,” he said with a chuckle.
This spring, the Norton native with a sly sense of humor proved Buckeye’s baseball team wasn’t a fluke. The Bucks were coming off an 18-11 record in Wright’s first season, but graduated most of the starters who were previous coach Mike Davis’ holdovers.
Despite the question marks, Buckeye won the underrated Patriot Athletic Conference Stars Division — including sweeping Division III regional qualifier Keystone — and hung admirably with eventual state semifinalist Hoban in the D-II district semifinals.
The 19 wins were the Bucks’ most since 1975 and are tied with Bob Kramer’s 1971 and ’74 teams for second most in school history.
Sure, Wright had Kent State recruit Eli Kraus on the mound. A bonafide star who pitched two one-hitters, a no-no and allowed zero earned runs in PAC play didn’t hurt.
Wright also had four-year starter Scott Cloudy behind the plate and Tiffin recruit Joe Bruening at the hot corner.
The rest of the team was full of unproven players, but Wright knew what few outside of Litchfield, York and Liverpool townships knew: Vinnie Galizio, Nico Galizio, Robbie Nonamaker, Kyle Friel, Nick Duliba, Tyler Sozivral and Alex Green could play. Wright saw that firsthand as junior varsity coach two years ago.
When the dust settled, Buckeye had earned respect throughout Northeast Ohio. It also had earned Wright, who always jokes the players make it look like he knows what he’s doing, The Gazette’s Spring Coach of the Year award.
“We’re trying to build a program up to be consistent,” he said. “We want to be a contender every year. So far, we’re off to a good start, and we’re hoping to continue it.
“Knowing them for the four years, I knew what type of group this was. They could stay loose and know when the time is needed to get focused. … I like a team that’s loose and plays without fear and without restrictions.”
Throughout the season, Buckeye had a flair for domination or drama — fitting, perhaps, given its high-energy dugout.
It won via mercy rule eight times, including over eventual PAC Stripes Division champion Columbia (14-0) and runner-up Clearview (10-0), but played 10 other games decided by three runs or less.
The Bucks were in trouble following consecutive heartbreaking losses to Wellington (2-0) and Firelands (7-6) in early May. It was time to put up or shut up.
With Wright seemingly pulling every string with stunning accuracy — and encouraging the players’ never-quit attitude — things clicked in an instant.
Over a wild nine-day stretch, the Bucks won six straight with their backs against the wall. Different heroes came through each time.
Green, Bruening and Vinnie Galizio led a 13-3 win over Brookside, and Kraus no-hit Keystone the next day, putting the Bucks in control of their own destiny.
Nico Galizio’s walk-off single in the eighth inning capped a 4-3 win over Black River, and Tom Metheney’s walk-off home run stunned St. Vincent-St. Mary in the Akron D-II Sectional finals.
The run was far from done.
One day after the instant classic with the Fighting Irish, role players Jeff Susalla and Corey Scott were two of a handful of stars in an 18-11 slugfest over Oberlin that clinched a share of the PAC division title.
On May 17, the pitching of Green and the hitting of the Galizios and Nonamaker helped it become outright in another win over Black River.
“It was definitely a good time to get into that stretch,” Wright said. “The timing was definitely right, and that’s the beautiful thing about this team.
“I kept telling these guys all year one through 16, it could be anybody at any point that could help win it. The tournament game proved that with Tom Metheny coming up with that home run.”
Buckeye’s season ended with a 4-1 loss to Hoban in the district semifinals. Though the Bucks played nearly mistake-free and Kraus pitched admirably, the better team won that day — and eventually reached the state semifinals — but only after the Bucks brought the tying run to the plate in the seventh.
“I really did feel pretty confident going into that game, and I felt confident knowing this team could have made a deep run, but unfortunately Hoban was a good team and they got us,” Wright said.
Though the pitching of Kraus (7-1, 1.33 ERA), Friel (5-3, 2.05) and Green (6-1, 2.88) received most of the attention, Buckeye still ended the year averaging 7.1 runs.
That was due in large part to Vinnie Galizio (.413), Friel (.404), Bruening (.370), Nonamaker (.364), Cloudy (.354), Nico Galizio (.319) and Sovizral (.311).
It was a team effort from start to finish for a bunch that never felt it was out of a game.
Wright pushing all the right buttons — realizing Vinnie Galizio had to play full-time, calling up Susalla from the junior varsity and subbing Metheney into the game against St. Vincent-St. Mary, to name a few — was a part of that, too.
“I felt pretty confident that this team could match or exceed what last year’s team did,” he said. “I knew what was coming up through the ranks, but those kids could step up and replace those jobs.
“They did exactly what I thought they could do.”
Contact Albert Grindle at (330) 721-4043 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Other coaches of the year
Jessica Toocheck — Medina softball
Personal: Toocheck is single and resides in Medina. She turned 27 on June 3.
Education: Toocheck graduated from Medina High School in 2004. The three-sport standout — volleyball, basketball and softball — earned Gazette MVP honors in softball and went on to be named Gazette Senior Female Athlete of the Year. She earned a scholarship to play softball at Kent State University, where she didn’t miss a game in four years and was named Mid-American Conference Player of the Year as a senior. Toocheck, who went on to play professionally for the Akron Racers, earned a bachelor’s degree in special education from Kent State in 2008. She spent a semester teaching online at ECOT (Electronic Classroom of Tomorrow) and just finished her fourth year teaching special education at Edwards Middle School in Brunswick.
Coaching: Toocheck just finished her third season in charge of the Medina softball program. The Bees went 10-15 in her first year, 24-5 last year and 23-8 in 2013, giving her a career record of 57-28. In 2012, Medina captured the University of Akron Division I Regional championship and made its first appearance in the state tournament.
Season records: In addition to finishing 23-8 overall and 7-3 in the Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division, which was good for second place behind Elyria, Medina once again advanced to the regional championship game, losing 5-2 to Mentor. The top-seeded Bees won Barberton Sectional and Barberton District titles along the way. Five Medina players — senior Jen Sansonette, juniors Madi Tata, Vanessa Scoarste and Megan Paradise and freshman Jessie Holzman — earned first-team All-Gazette honors. Two other seniors, Maria Vanadia and Lauren Peak, received honorable mention.
The best part of the season was: “The best part was being able to get back to the regional final, especially with this group of girls. All of them worked really hard. This senior group (which included Abby Knechtel and Megan Lawrence) was a great bunch of leaders. I will be sad to see them go, but I’m looking forward to the juniors and underclassmen carrying on the tradition the seniors built.”
Scott VanFleet — Medina girls track
Personal: VanFleet, 53, resides in Wadsworth with his wife of 32 years, Eileen, and their three children: Hillary, 22, Claire, 19, and Connor, 18.
Educational background: VanFleet graduated from South-Young High School in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1977. He competed in football and track. He placed third in the state meet in the 120-yard high hurdles and the decathlon. He went on to attend Muskingum University and graduated in 1981 with degrees in biology and secondary education. He was a two-year captain of the track team and a member of the football program. VanFleet got his master’s in secondary administration from the University of Akron and has spent the last 32 years teaching biology at Medina High.
Coaching background: VanFleet has coached track, softball, football and cross country. He has piloted the track program since 1994 after serving as an assistant the previous eight years. In his time as head coach, the Bees have won six league titles. They were in the top five at the Division I state meet from 2010-12. This past fall was VanFleet’s ninth on the cross country coaching staff and he’s also spent 20 years (1981-2001) coaching football and three seasons with the softball program (1982-84).
Season records: With a group of mainly newcomers, VanFleet found a way for the Bees to go 4-1 in the rugged Northeast Ohio Conference Valley Division, finish second at the NOC Meet, second at the Amherst D-I District and second at the Amherst D-I Regional for the second year in a row. Medina sent nine athletes to the state meet, which tied for third-most in D-I. The 4×800-meter relay made its eighth straight trip to Columbus.
The best part of the season was: “After the last few years with the big three (Taylor Burke, Anna Boyert and Alex Wasik), it was great how everybody stepped up and took ownership of the team and made their own mark on the track tradition here at Medina. To match the regional runner-up finish of last year was a remarkable accomplishment.”
D.J. Schrock — Wadsworth boys track
Personal: Schrock, 28, resides in Wadsworth Township with his wife Caitlin and their 3-month old son Jackson.
Educational background: Schrock graduated from Wadsworth in 2003. He played football, basketball and ran track. He was a multiple-time All-Suburban League selection in basketball and track, where he held the school record in the 300-meter hurdles and as a leg on the 4×100-meter relay. He attended Muskingum University and graduated in 2007 with a degree in history and education. He also played basketball for the Muskies. Over the last five years, Schrock has taught social studies at Wadsworth High.
Coaching background: Schrock took over the Grizzlies boys track program three years ago and has guided a young group back to the upper half of the SL. Schrock was a member of the coaching staff of Wadsworth’s girls basketball program from 2008-12, before this past season joining the boys basketball staff.
Season records: Thanks to a balanced lineup, the Grizzlies went 6-1 in the dual meet season and went on to finish runner-up at the SL Championships. The likes of returnees Nick Winkler and Nick Seme, along with newcomers Hunter Williams and Ryan Looser, played key roles in the team’s success, which included wins at the Salem Invitational and Avon Relays and a second-place trophy at the Willoughby Invitational.
The best part of the season was: “Watching the guys get better and better every meet was enjoyable to see. I have guys that love to compete and hate to lose, which is exactly the same way I am. It was fun to see Nick Seme break the discus record and make it to state. Seeing Hunter Williams break the 200 record was great. It was exciting to see some new guys come out and run and have amazing years.”
Lisa Reynolds — Highland boys tennis
Personal: Reynolds, 45, resides in Wadsworth with her husband Michael. They have three children — Mike, Amelia and Kaitlyn — and are raising their great niece Madisyn and great nephew Hayden.
Education: Reynolds graduated from Highland High (1986) and the University of Akron (2002), earning summa cum laude honors and a number of academic awards in college. She teaches sixth-grade language arts at Highland Middle School.
Coaching: Reynolds has spent 10 seasons as Highland’s boys tennis coach and has been named the Medina County Coach of the Year four times in the last eight years. She also pilots the Hornets’ girls tennis team and has a 4.0 rating as a player from the United States Tennis Association.
Season records: The Hornets compiled a 14-4 record, including 6-1 in finishing second in the Suburban League. Senior Steve Smykal and junior Michael Hutchings advanced to the Oberlin College Division I District in doubles. At the SL Tournament, Hutchings finished second (second singles), while Smykal (first singles) and sophomore Joshua Hadler (third singles) placed fourth. Smykal and Hutchings were chosen for the All-Gazette team, while Hadler was an All-Gazette honorable mention pick.
The best part of the season was: “The guys on the team have the ability to play with the intensity that it takes to win matches, but they also know tennis is supposed to be fun. We have a second-year tradition — Retro Night — where the guys wear retro tennis clothes and warm up with wood racquets. They call themselves the Highland Gentlemen’s Tennis Coalition and have a great time.”
— Brian Dulik