Injury bug has bitten Athens baseball hard, but outlook remains bright

By: Mike Moore | Troy Times | Published May 13, 2015

 Matt Lerdahl missed significant time with a shoulder injury but has returned to strengthen Athens’ rotation and lineup.

Matt Lerdahl missed significant time with a shoulder injury but has returned to strengthen Athens’ rotation and lineup.

Photo by Donna Agusti


TROY — One injury led to another.

Mike Morris was convinced that if it weren’t for bad luck, there’d be no luck at all.

There was an expectation for a senior-laden team, but quickly this became a group dominated by youth and inexperience.

“We battled some injuries,” Morris, the Troy Athens baseball coach said last week. “It was like a domino effect. One guy got hurt, and then the next and then somebody else. You really feel for the guys. We’ve got players here who’ve been around for a few years building up to this season, and then this all happened.”

At one point earlier this spring, the Red Hawks had four pitchers on the shelf.

Nick Lafleur, one of the team’s top arms, is still out.

Steven Eng just returned to the rotation after missing time with a hamstring injury, while Austin Sultzbach has been hampered all year by a shoulder issue.

Matt Lerdahl, a pitcher and offensive force in the lineup, returned recently from a dislocated shoulder after it was expected he’d miss the whole season.

In the 10 games he had played in at press time, he has seven home runs.

“It was difficult, to be honest,” Lerdahl said of all the setbacks. “But it gave some other guys the chance to step up. We found out a lot about the guys on this team.”

The Red Hawks have treaded enough water to stay afloat, and now they have the confidence of a team seeking a claim at the district title — and beyond.

“It was tough at first, but I think in the long run, it’s something that’s helped us,” said senior John Van Hoef. “We’ve had so many younger guys — guys we weren’t counting on — that have come through. It’s helped our team depth. We now have guys with so much experience, guys in the bottom spots of the order who we can depend on to come through.”

Morris was also quick to point out how many younger guys have stepped into new roles and blossomed.

Junior Jeremiah Patrick is hitting over .500.

Freshman pitcher Conor Amesse recently tossed a two-hitter in a win against Bloomfield Hills High.

“The pitchers are coming around, and the defense has been very solid lately,” Morris added. “We’ve had a few games here and there where we’ve kicked it around, but we’ve also played four different shortstops. Joey Stark came into the year as our third-string catcher. He’s starting now, and he’s earned it.”

“This could be a very scary team,” Van Hoef said. “We’re not a group that has to do anything special, but when we play our game, we’re very tough to beat.”

With health slowly coming and the level of play on the upswing, Athens has plenty of confidence as the state tournament quickly approaches.

The Red Hawks won’t have an easy go of it, hosting a tough district with the likes of Troy High, Royal Oak High, Berkley High and Warren Mott, but the team is doing something every coach strives for.

“We’re playing our best at the right time of the year,” Morris said. “Even before the injuries started, that’s something we talked about, playing our best now. The injuries slowed us down, but the belief in this team remains.”