Utica High baseball focusing on small things to create big results

By: Jacob Herbert | Shelby - Utica News | Published May 10, 2021

 Utica High’s Sam Elfakir tries to beat the tag in a game May 8 against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North at home. The Chieftains swept LCN in a doubleheader that day, winning 6-1 and 8-1.

Utica High’s Sam Elfakir tries to beat the tag in a game May 8 against Macomb L’Anse Creuse North at home. The Chieftains swept LCN in a doubleheader that day, winning 6-1 and 8-1.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

 Utica High catcher Anthony Buffa readies a throw in a recent home game. At press time, Utica was 16-7 overall and in first place in the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division with a 8-1 record.

Utica High catcher Anthony Buffa readies a throw in a recent home game. At press time, Utica was 16-7 overall and in first place in the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division with a 8-1 record.

Photo by Patricia O’Blenes

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UTICA — In order to have a successful season, Utica High baseball coach Mark Moehlig believes three things need to happen: good hitting, good pitching and a little bit of luck. As it currently stands, the Chieftains are getting all three. At press time, Utica was 14-7 overall and 8-1 in the Macomb Area Conference Blue Division, good for first place.

“When we first started the season I don’t think we were meshing,” said senior Dylan Pawenski. “As the season went on we started getting better and more comfortable with each other. As we started to get to know each other, we started to get better.”

Pawenski is part of a senior group who missed their entire junior season due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Moehlig said the team had four or five practices before everything shut down for the season. Even with the lost season, Moehlig said the team picked up right where it left off.

“Even though they missed a year, I feel like this group really lucked out because this group knew how everything ran so we didn’t miss a beat,” he said. “It’s been pretty seamless. We have a great group of kids with these seniors.”

A large chunk of the team’s performance this season has come from it’s hitting. The Chieftains have a .318 team batting average and a .433 on base percentage. Utica has also succeeded on the base paths this season, stealing 51 bases so far. The team is also sharp in the field with a .928 fielding percentage. Moehlig said this is the strongest team he’s ever had and it shows. The Chieftains have hit 10 home runs as a team so far this season.

“It’s not like we’re making any great coaching moves. We’ve got kids pitching complete games, we got guys hitting the baseball and we’re hitting home runs this year,” Moehlig said. “We’re picking up the ball well and we’re playing very fundamental baseball. We’re making people earn getting on base. I think our starting pitching in the league this year has maybe given out one or two walks.”

Utica did not select captains this season, but there are several seniors who have picked up the pace when it comes to leadership. Some of the players Moehlig mentioned include Darren Welch, Dylan Pawenski, Dylan Lelito, Gavin Zbytowski and Turner Tomatti.

“We’re all friends and we all connect on the field,” Lelito said. “I know that the guy next to me is always going to be there. We all have that trust with each other. We all bond together and we all have fun so that’s a big part of our strengths.”

Despite there being less than a month to go in the season, the Chieftains aren’t thinking about the playoffs. They aren’t even thinking about winning the division. Utica’s final regular season game is scheduled for 4 p.m. June 2 at home against New Baltimore Anchor Bay.

Until that day, and the days following, the Chieftains are focusing on what got them to where they currently stand — fundamentals. It is the hope of Moehlig that if the team continues to do the little things well, it will pay off in the end and result in big accomplishments.

“Obviously we want to win the league and obviously we want to have success in the playoffs. They wouldn’t be here and I wouldn’t be here if we didn’t want to do those things,” the coach said. “We just talk about winning inning, after inning, after inning. Then at the end of the season you sit back and look at all the things that happened. If we treat every rep as being meaningful then hopefully good things are going to come.”

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