Center Line High pitcher Nick Chudo delivers during an April 12 game against Warren Lincoln. The Panthers have won four district titles in the last six years.

Center Line High pitcher Nick Chudo delivers during an April 12 game against Warren Lincoln. The Panthers have won four district titles in the last six years.

Photo by Erin Sanchez

Center Line High baseball coach, team prepping for postseason

By: Jason Carmel Davis | Warren Weekly | Published April 27, 2018

CENTER LINE — No matter how things go over the course of the regular season, the Center Line High baseball team will be ready for the playoffs.

The team has a track record, particularly in recent years, of using the regular season as a way to prep for the playoffs. The Panthers — 3-7 overall and 0-1 in the Macomb Area Conference Silver Division at press time — have won four Division 2 district championships in the last six seasons. Center Line came within one run of winning another in 2017. The Panthers won a regional title in 2013.

“It’s kind of amazing. We’re scuffling along a bit early on, and I immediately hear a guy say, ‘Don’t worry, fellas. We’re working on districts,’” said Center Line coach Rob Conti, who is in his 11th year leading the team.

“They have that mindset — we have to get ourselves ready to compete for a district title. We’ll do what we need to do over the next month and a half to get ready. I’m not saying we’ll get there, but we’re going to work toward (a district title).”

Things have been a bit rough early on for the Panthers. It’s been a rough spring for all programs, and Conti’s is no different. He said it’s been hard to get into a real groove.

“Not to make any excuses,” Conti said. “It’s been tough on every team. It’s been cold, rainy. You’re practicing inside and out. When you don’t get to work outside, there’s only so much you can do.”

That hasn’t stopped Conti from identifying strengths and weaknesses, though.

The Panthers coach said his battery and middle infield lead the way. Starting pitcher/shortstop Ryan Gaffke is the team’s best arm, Conti said, having struck out 40 with only three walks on his way to a 3-0 record. Gaffke is strong at the plate too, leading the team with a batting average over .400.

Adam Jones is behind the plate when Gaffke is on the mound and also plays second base. Jones is a stalwart behind the plate, Conti said, with a great ability to throw out runners. Jones is also the team’s No. 2 hitter behind Gaffke.

Conti said his team must do the basic things well — hit the cut-off man, lay down sacrifice hits — if it wants to be successful the rest of the way.

“We talk about that a lot, that the team is bigger than any individual,” Conti said. “A sacrifice hit or bunt can do just as much damage as a home run at times. We’re starting to put it together. I think it’s the opportunity to get outside and get live reps on a regular basis. If we can shore things up, we’ll be a tough out.”

Center Line will play in a district with Harper Woods Chandler Park Academy, Harper Woods High, Warren Lincoln and St. Clair Shores South Lake. South Lake has won four straight district titles.

“South Lake is always tough,” Conti said. “(South Lake coach Jose Jimenez) and I have been friends for a quarter-century. We’ve had a lot of fun battles. We can only control what we do on the field. Hopefully we’re there in the end.”

Center Line’s next game is against Roseville High at 4:30 p.m. May 2 on the road.