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West Branch off to solid start, whips Poland

BELOIT — The West Branch baseball team is clicking on all cylinders early in this 2021 season. It was on full display Saturday afternoon in a dominating 17-0 mercy-rule victory over Poland in non-conference action.

The victory improves the Warriors to 3-1 on the season while the Bulldogs drop to 2-2.

What started as a pitchers’ duel between the Bulldogs’ Dino Angelilli and the Warriors’ David Cunningham broke wide open in the third inning with the Warriors scoring 14 runs on just eight hits. The Warriors tacked on three more runs in the fourth to complete the scoring.

“We played Alliance Tuesday and Wednesday and we faced (Gavin) Bruni (Ohio State recruit) who throws 93 to 95,” West Branch coach Rick Mulinix said. “Then to go to almost a 15 to 20-mile-an-hour difference in fastball, it took a couple of innings to adjust. The kid from Poland had great control of his off-speed pitch and he was getting his curveball over for strike one every single time.

“We got the leadoff guy on in the third inning and that just kind of snowballed from there. If you told me yesterday that this was going to be the case (score), I would have said no way, because they have had our number over the past several years.”

The key to the Warriors’ team this year is not any single player who excels at baseball, but rather a roster full of multiple-sport athletes. Mulinix said he is excited about that.

“Our team is built with a lot of athletes that are football, basketball and baseball players. We have great team speed and we are hitting the ball extremely well,” he said. “Missing a whole year with kids that are not baseball players, you don’t know what you are going to get. It has been a pleasant surprise that we are swinging the bats the best we have in the last few years. It’s early and things can change, but we are swinging the bats extremely well.”

Mulinix identified his top five hitters.

“Nick Wilson is our leadoff guy who was first-team all-conference as a freshman, first time in West Branch program history as a freshman. We have senior Brock Smith, quarterback going to Marietta, and senior catcher Tanner Egli, going to play baseball at Marietta. Senior David Cunningham and senior Josh Meissner in right.”

The Warrior pitching staff also has been a bit of a pleasant surprise to Mulinix.

“Gradually, every single week, we have gotten better and better and better. We’re in a good place right now. If you had asked me if we would be strong offensively, defensively, or pitching, I would have said OK in all three, but I don’t think we have pitched the ball as well as we could and I don’t think we have hit the ball as well. We have a great outfield with athletes that can run.”

He went on to list his starting pitchers.

“Cunningham, Dru DeShields, and Donavin Conrad, who will be available next week. He was our number two as a freshman (last year). We also have Carter Holodnak, who was our number three two years ago.”

For the Bulldogs, they are trying to piece some things together after having a lost 2020 season. How soon Bulldogs coach Richard Murray can get everyone in rhythm will go a long way to their success.

“We’re learning on the run here,” Murray said. “We’re piecing things together, making some plays defensively, and we need to throw strikes. We’re just trying to find it right now.

“Anthony Perry is playing a nice shortstop for us, and Cole Corey is doing a nice job behind the plate. Anthony Koulianos, at first base, is doing a nice job, but we are not hitting a lot right now. Some of that is because the pitchers have been walking us, so our on-base percentage is good, but our batting average is low. We need to keep it to a low-scoring game and throw strikes.”

Murray identified the pitchers he is counting on this season.

“Dino (Angelilli), he did a nice job the first couple innings (today) then they got something going there. I wasn’t going to throw him much today anyway because I wanted to save him for our game Tuesday. Mason Planey had a nice game last time out when he pitched against Struthers and threw a one-hitter. And Anthony Perry does a nice job.”

The Bulldogs on Monday will host Northeast-8 Conference opponent Jefferson. The Warriors will be back in action Tuesday afternoon when they host the Ursuline Irish.

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