High School | Rankings | 2/27/2013

'Tradition Never Graduates'

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

2013 Perfect Game High School Baseball Preview Index

Nine months after winning the 2012 Ohio High School Athletic Association (OHSAA) Division I state championship for the third time in eight years and the prestigious Greater Catholic League title for the 25
th time in school history, the Cincinnati Archbishop Moeller High School baseball team is back to business as usual.

The Crusaders rolled to a 26-5 record with a senior-dominated roster in 2012 and won the school’s sixth OHSAA state championship since 1972. Sixth-year head coach Tim Held boasts a sparkling 127-24 record over his first five seasons, with four state tournament final-four appearances and state titles in 2009 and last spring.

It is an elite baseball program at an elite all-boys school in Cincinnati that first rose to prominence under the 39-year reign of former head coach Mike Cameron, who remains on the staff as a junior varsity assistant.

It’s true: the more things change the more they definitely stay the same. Moeller will open its 2013 season on March 30 against Strongville High School at No. 35 in the Perfect Game National High School Team Rankings, the highest ranked team among schools included in PG’s Midwest Region (Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio and Kentucky).

Most of the country’s highest ranked and most highly regarded high school programs reside in the warm-weather and coastal states of Florida, California, Georgia and Texas. But Archbishop Moeller – which on its website claims the title of “The Nation’s Most Watched Catholic High School” – has established its own little baseball kingdom not far from the not-so-balmy banks of the Ohio River.

School officials have built a championship culture on campus, one that continues to perpetuate itself year after year. Another one of the school’s logos reads: “Tradition Never Graduates”.

“We’re lucky that the tradition that was built here through Coach Cameron and his 39 years as the head coach, good baseball players know that they come here and they’ll be developed over their four years and if they want to play collegiately, most of them will have a shot (at that),” Held said over the phone this week. “There are always good guys waiting in the wings … and a lot of our sophomores, if they were back at their home schools or in the public schools, they would be starters on the varsity.”

Held might have to shake up those wings a lot this season while the Crusaders use the early part of their season to build experience and consistency. He does have an ace in the hole, however, giving him an excellence place to start.

Junior right-hander/outfielder Zach Shannon arrives at spring camp after a terrific summer and fall playing for the famed Midland Redskins 18u travel ball team. Shannon (6-foot-2, 200-pounds) is ranked the country’s No. 18 overall prospect in the 2014 class (No. 1 in Ohio) and had his fastball gunned at 93 mph while playing for the Royals Scout Team/Midland at the PG WWBA Underclass World Championship in October.

Shannon, an Ohio State commit, mostly played in the field for Helm last season, and hit .319 (29-for-91), with three home runs, nine doubles, three triples and 15 RBI.

“Just the high level of summer ball that he’s played over the last few years really just put him in a position to be able to succeed at the high school level,” Held said. “He’s got a very strong arm and he can hit the ball a ton; he puts all that together and it’s more consistent. I think he was pressing a lot last year batting in the middle of our lineup as a sophomore, and as he gets more consistent he’s definitely going to be a guy that everybody has to watch out for.

“Zach is going to have to be that big guy on the mound this year and he’s going to have to throw the big games for us.”

A graduated senior started every one of the Crusaders’ 31 games in 2012 and recorded every decision. Shannon pitched four innings of no-hit ball, struck out six and picked up a save, and he readily embraces a heavier work load: “I’m comfortable with that,” he said. “I don’t have any problems with pitching.”

Junior left-hander Zach Logue, who pitched only junior varsity innings in 2012, will also be relied on heavily, Helm indicated.

The Crusaders’ other top returnees are senior catcher Cameron Whitehead; senior infielder Spencer Iacovone; and junior infielder Riley Mahan. Iacovone hit a team-high .403 (29-for-72) with five home runs, nine doubles and 26 RBI in 2012. He’s a ranked a “high follow” nationally and has signed with Marshall University.

Mahan hit .311 (23-for-74) with nine doubles and team-high 29 RBI; Whitehead hit .273 (15-for-55) with five doubles and 15 RBI.

“Those four, definitely – a lot of the leadership is going to fall on their shoulders,” Held said. “They got the bulk of the playing time (in 2012) of the guys that are returning … so those guys have a lot of the younger guys and inexperienced guys looking up at them.”

Helm feels like this year’s team can build off last year’s state championship.

“It definitely gives us some momentum,” he said. “The expectations are always high here and these players know that people are going to be aiming for them even more than in past years.”

“We lost so many kids from last year, we kind of lost some of that momentum from the state title,” Shannon countered. “But the players that we have this year are just as good if not better than last year’s team, so we’re looking pretty good so far.”

From a national point of view, Moeller will always play with the stigma of coming from a cold weather state. While teams in the warm-weather states have already started their outdoor seasons, the Crusaders aren’t likely to get outside for a couple more weeks.

School officials converted an old wrestling room into a baseball training area about 12 years, Held said. The room features four batting cages and a small bullpen which enables the team to get some work in while they wait for the outside temperature to warm up. Because of the limited year-around opportunities, Held thinks the schools from PG’s northern regions sometimes suffer in the national polls.

“If I’m going to worry about national rankings, I know that if we have a good first two weeks of the season, we’re going to heat up and be hot,” he said. “We look at the rankings at the end of the year and there have been a couple of teams that we’ve had the last few years, I have felt a little bit slighted. I would love to take on some of those other (southern) teams; just because they play where it’s warm doesn’t mean they should be ranked higher than we are.”

When the weather finally warms up in the summertime, Shannon and several of other Moeller prospects have sharpened their skills on the travel ball circuit. By playing with Midland, Shannon has hooked up with one of the country’s most storied organizations; he was named to the all-tournament team at last year’s prestigious PG WWBA World Championship in Jupiter, Fla., after going 3-for-7 (.429) with a triple, four RBI and three runs in three games with the Midland Redskins.

That team, which went 2-2 at the tournament, was loaded with highly ranked 2013 and 2014 prospects from all over the country, and Shannon fit right in.

“(Playing with) Midland is just a whole other world in itself; summer ball is just unreal,” he said. “This year I played with the 18u Redskins, and playing with kids from California, Florida, Texas, Arizona, New Mexico – I was seeing those kids every day and they’re the best players in the country – and it’s just awesome to come to the field every day and play with them.”

Shannon will slip back on the Moeller uniform in a couple of weeks, and the Crusaders blue-and-gold has been worn by some pretty notable players in the past. Moeller alumni include MLB Hall-of-Fame shortstop Barry Larkin, future Hall-of-Famer Ken Griffey Jr. and former MLB third baseman and manager Buddy Bell, just naming three. Close to a dozen Moeller graduates played professional baseball and about a dozen more played professional football, many in the NFL.

 “I just think it’s the whole community,” Held said. “The parents have bought into it, the coaches are always striving to be better – none of us in any of the sports are just sitting back wondering what’s going to happen. Everybody is still attending clinics … and everybody just wants to continue to move their sport forward and be better and stronger. A lot of us are modeling after collegiate programs because we want to have our kids ready for that.”

Speaking of college, Shannon made his decision to attend Ohio State after taking a visit and also after good friends Jordan McDonough (2014, St. Xavier HS, Liberty Township, OH) and Jacob Niggemeyer (2014, Olentangy Liberty HS, Powell, OH) also committed to the Buckeyes. Those three have played together on various Midland teams.

The 2013 season is now at hand and preparations for the defense of an Ohio state championship the Moeller boys won in 2012 will soon begin. Held will have as many as eight coaches working with the varsity, junior varsity and freshmen teams this spring, and each of those teams will have around 20 players.

“We just try to stay as organized as possible, letting the parents know what our goals are (and) letting the players know what our goals are,” he said. “Winning always makes things easier – if we win and we get far into the (state) tournament that just helps everybody understand that we are doing things the right way and getting the players ready.”

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