Pitching and defense could find Athens a way to OAA Blue title

By: Jonathan Szczepaniak | Troy Times | Published April 16, 2024

 Troy Athens senior Parker Ciurla pitches during a matchup against Southfield A&T April 9 at Athens High School.

Troy Athens senior Parker Ciurla pitches during a matchup against Southfield A&T April 9 at Athens High School.

Photo by Donna Dalziel

 Troy Athens sophomore Andrew Cermak stands at the plate, ready to hit.

Troy Athens sophomore Andrew Cermak stands at the plate, ready to hit.

Photo by Donna Dalziel


TROY — If you can count on anything from Troy Athens baseball, it’s that the rotation and the defensive unit will be at their best day in and day out.

Through their Michigan High School Athletic Association Division 1 state tournament run last year, Athens allowed three runs or fewer in four of its five matchups while the bats caught fire throughout districts.

Behind returning senior captains Parker Ciurla and Brody Fahnestock, Athens will lean on its arms once more as a slew of underclassmen will look to help fill the void of the eight graduated seniors.

“We’ve always been blessed with pitching since I’ve been here in 2005,” Athens head coach Mike Morris said. “You always say, at least I do as a baseball coach, that pitching and defense can win games, and you’ll find ways to scratch runs across. I think pitching will be our strength.”

Fahnestock is a flame-throwing right-hander who can touch the 90 mark when he needs to but possesses an efficient curveball to keep hitters honest.

Consider Fahnestock the “1A” in the rotation to Ciurla, who sits around mid-80 and has the off-speeds to utilize in pitcher-friendly counts.

“Those guys (Fahnestock and Ciurla) are two No. 1 guys,” Morris said. “Either one of those guys could be our ace. I won’t hesitate to throw either one of them out there.”

Juniors Nick Rossi and Joe Morelli will also contribute innings for a Red Hawks team that can call upon just about anybody on the roster to take the mound, if needed.

The real fun for Athens begins in the infield, where the freshman and the sophomore class are looking to make their mark on the varsity squad.

Sophomores Derek Smith (3B) and Andrew Cermak (1B) are expected to see some time at the corner spots, while Parker Ciurla’s younger brother, freshmen Macklin Ciurla (INF/P); and Cole Cosgrove (INF/P) will aid the Red Hawks middle infield.

The bats will come with time and innings at the varsity level, but Athens expects its underclassmen to provide on the defensive side, and they have not disappointed.

Going from a senior-heavy squad last season, Morris said it was a surprise early on in the season when he looked at his infield.

“We played one game, and at that point we had a sophomore at third, freshman at short, freshman at second base and a sophomore at first,” Morris said. “You look out there and the future is now.”

The veterans don’t want to hear about the future with only a season left under some of their belts, but they understand their roles in the leadership department.

Guys like Ciurla, Fahnestock, Rossi, Morelli, senior captain Joel Botardo (C), senior Marc Litt (INF/OF),  senior Ryan Walsh and senior Rylan Tennies know what Athens baseball looks like, and Fahnestock said it’s their job to show the underclassmen the ropes.

“It’s important we lead and teach them how to play on the varsity level and just how we play baseball at Athens,” Fahnestock said. “There’s a lot of talented guys, and the fact is, everyone has been up and positive. I’m pretty excited to see what the season will bring.”

Fahnestock and Botardo control the heart of the Athens batting order, but just about everyone has contributed in the offensive efforts as Athens has scored 14 or more runs in four straight games.

Athens blanked Southfield A&T a combined 53-0 in their three-game series and followed up with a 14-0 win over Warren Mott April 10.

Athens, currently 5-2, opened up the season with a 5-4 loss to Madison Heights Lamphere, but came back days later with a 6-2 win as they battled back to score four runs in the sixth inning.

Fahnestock said the win against Lamphere was just a sample size of the resilience the Red Hawks possess.

“This isn’t a team that’s going to back down,” Fahnestock said. “We know there’s a lot of young guys, and people are trying to make their day on their varsity team and figure out how we play, so we know this isn’t a team that is going to roll over easily.”

The Athens offense will be without juniors Sam Link and Matthew Schriber for the start of the season as they battle back from injuries, but Athens, currently 3-0 in the OAA Blue, is already on a hot start towards earning back the league title and making another trip to the regional finals.

The pitching and defense will always be there for Athens, but they’ll be a tough matchup for anyone this season if the bats continue to produce and the young Red Hawks progress throughout the season.

“Staying consistent and doing the little things right is what our team is best at,” Fahnestock said.