Eusebio to be pivotal for Columbiana

COLUMBIANA — The Columbiana Clippers baseball program has a long-storied history with a tradition of enjoying success on the diamond while producing some standout student-athletes. This season, the expectations are just as high as ever thanks in part to a strong pitching staff and a little bit of a family connection.

The Clippers will rely heavily on senior right-hander Alex Eusebio to carry them to another strong season with them returning a mix of experienced starters from a squad that won the EOAC title last year. The combination of Eusebio and a stable of quality pitchers on the team has the Clippers set up for what could be another long postseason run.

“We had just three seniors from last year that have graduated, and we are bringing back seven seniors this year. We have great numbers all around with 31 kids total in the program, and for a small school, I really pride myself on that,” Clippers head coach Bryce Franken said. “We hope to make a nice little run here this year with the seven seniors we have while also knowing we have guys coming up that are going to keep this program going for a long time.”

The Clippers pitching staff is in the capable hands of pitching coach Hank Schlueter who just happens to be Eusebio’s cousin and also coach Franken’s brother-in-law. Schlueter was the ace of the Clippers staff in 2010 when they advanced to the state semifinals while Eusebio helped as a four-year-old bat boy.

“It’s all in the family here,” Franken said with a chuckle. “I have also known Alex since he was a little kid here. So to watch him grow and mature, let alone as a baseball player, has been awesome to watch. They are very close, and for coach Schlueter to be his pitching coach is a pretty cool experience for Alex.”

“It has been neat to work with Alex,” Schlueter added. “I have been coaching this senior class since they were in seventh grade as this is my sixth year here.”

“I loved baseball, but I was four. I didn’t know,” Eusebio laughed about his memories of the Clippers 2010 season. “I’m sure I had a great time, but I was four, so who knows?”

That close relationship between Eusebio and Schlueter has paved dividends in Eusebio’s development as they have spent a lifetime of both casual and direct conversations about the art of pitching. It has also given Eusebio a comfort level to trust Schlueter with occasionally tweaking his pitching approach.

“We would have Sunday dinner at my grandparents, and we would just sit and talk baseball. It was great. His dad, with Alex growing up, would say if you see anything that he needs to change, tell him. So, we have always had an open and honest communication between us. He is a very coachable kid,” Schlueter described their relationship.

“It is an amazing privilege to have Hank as my pitching coach. Then Coach Franken is married to my cousin, so it is a whole family thing here at Columbiana, so it is great,” Eusebio enthusiastically added. “He has seen me for so long, he knows my tendencies and he is able to critique what I’m doing.”

Ironically, Schuster previously held, and Eusebio now dons the number seven jersey for the Clippers. That similarity turned out to be a bit more of a coincidence as Eusebio was given that jersey his freshman year as a junior varsity player.

“When I was a freshman, I got to occasionally play varsity and they would give me a random jersey, and you would give it back after the game,” Eusebio explained. “The jersey they always gave me was number seven. So, my sophomore year when it was time to pick out a jersey, I was familiar with number seven. So that was not intentional on my part, but it is really cool.”

Eusebio is also following his cousin’s college path as he has signed up to play baseball at Wooster after his high school days are over. Knowing that Schlueter played there has given Eusebio a sense of a family atmosphere after visiting the college and their coaching staff.

“I would be lying if I said that it wasn’t on my mind,” Eusebio admitted about following in Schlueter’s footsteps. “But I loved Wooster and the fact that they are giving me a chance to play baseball there is amazing. It’s a great school and I’m excited.”

In addition to Eusebio, who has accumulated a 12-9 career record, Devin Daugherty will be the other trusted hurler the Clippers will lean on. Daugherty has amassed a career mark of 14-4.

“Once you get into the tournaments, you need two big arms,” Franken remarked. “We really believe we have that in Alex and Devin. We also have some other guys to help us depth-wise.”

That depth that the Clippers will tap into comes from senior Ian Less (3-0 in 2023), junior Reese Roush (1-1, 1 save in 2023), senior Anthony Hall (3-2 in 2023), and sophomore Sam Inboden.

“We have a lot of guys here that I have confidence in that they can go in and throw strikes. I know they are going to get the job done regardless of the situation,” Schlueter praised the entire staff. “I’m very fortunate to have a lot of good pitchers.”

Offensively, the Clippers return senior catcher Colin Keleman who led the team with a .409 batting average last year. Eusebio led the team in RBIs with 33 while Daugherty was second in both batting average and RBIs and hit the only home run on the team last season.

When they are not pitching, Eusebio, Less, and Hall are consistent infielders, while Daugherty plays the outfield. They also return senior outfielder Dylan Hogan and infielder Cameron Clancy along with junior first baseman/DH Mac Conway. Roush will see action in the Clipper’s outfield while Inboden will provide depth on the infield.

Despite the season just getting started, Schlueter can see some similarities between this Clipper team and the one in 2010. The key will be playing their best at the right time.

“I got to pitch that game at Huntington Park in Columbus. That was a cool experience to play in a Triple-A stadium,” Schlueter recounted the memory. “At one point, we were only 8-8. We were not that good. But we turned it around and had a little bit of luck. We were playing our best baseball at the right time.”

He continued, “We have a solid lineup from one through nine that can put the ball in play on this team. At a small school you usually only have confidence in five or six guys, but we feel confident in all nine. And our pitching staff is strong with a lot of good arms.”

If the Clippers play their best at season end, along with depth in pitching, they have all the makings for a long tournament run. It also helps when you have a strong family bond.

Have an interesting story? Contact the Sports Department by email at sports@tribtoday.com. Follow us on X, formerly Twitter, @TribChronSports.


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