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Beverly Hills

Published April 2, 2013

After graduating six starters, Groves baseball looks to reload, repeat

» click to enlarge «
Coach Jim Crosby and Fred Ayres share a laugh during a March 27 practice. Groves has won division titles in each of the past two seasons.

BEVERLY HILLS — Jim Crosby has learned a thing or two in his many years with the Beverly Hills Groves baseball team.

In 2013, anything and everything regarding patience will likely be put to the test, especially early on.

But after a few weeks, the long-time skipper said with a smile, “Don’t count us out. This is going to be a very good team.”

The Falcons enter the spring as the defending Oakland Activities Association White Division champs, roaring to last season’s title with an 11-4 division mark.

But when the season ended in a district loss to Brother Rice, a team that finished 21-12 graduated six senior starters and nearly its entire pitching rotation.

“It’s time for some young guys to step up,” senior shortstop Chase Turner said with a smile.

Most notably gone for Groves is Jake Balicki, a flamethrower who’s now pitching at the University of Michigan. Ryan Williams (Michigan State) and Griffin Harms (Wayne State), have also moved on to the collegiate ranks, and all seven of Groves pitchers this season are juniors or younger.

“We won’t have the big guns on the mound that we’ve been used to,” Crosby said. “But that’s all right.”

“We haven’t really thought about it, or even worried about it,” senior outfielder Evan Ketai said of the team’s youth. “We know it’s the little things we’re going to have to focus on and rely on this year. We have to be a fundamentally sound baseball team.”

The guys spoke during a March 28 practice at the school.

They did so following the first actual infield session the team had taken, having only been outside three times.

“We, honestly, look really good,” Crosby said. “But with this youth, looking good in the gym doesn’t mean a ton. We’re playing some good teams all year, so well see how it goes.”

No matter how young, any returning division champ is usually going to enter the next season with something to prove.

For Groves, which also won the 2011 OAA Blue crown, that is certainly the case.

“We like having the target on us,” Turner said. “It adds to the expectations we have for ourselves.”

“We’re coming out as a two-time defending champ,” Ketai said. “You have to like that.”

Crosby stressed patience, did not hesitate to say that his guys will be a force to contend with — even, perhaps, become the team to beat.

“The goal is to get better one day at a time,” he said. “That’s where we’re at right now. If we do that, this is going to be a very good team.”

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