City League Roundup: Centennial Stars, Beechcroft Cougars baseball teams return to action

Jarrod Ulrey
ThisWeek group
Centennial senior catcher Noah Hatem makes a stop against Briggs during a scrimmage March 22. Coach Pat Nance said the goal for the Stars is to compete for the City League championship.

The last time the Centennial baseball team took the field before this season began, it came close to a program breakthrough. 

Whetstone has won eight consecutive City League-North Division titles, but the Stars lost to the Braves in one-game playoff tiebreakers in 2017 and 2019, with the latter of those contests being a 9-8 setback in nine innings after the teams split their regular-season matchups. 

“We’ve split with them every year I’ve been coach and (in 2018) we (also) lost a really bad game to Mifflin, so that gave them the (City-North),” coach Pat Nance said.  

Centennial, which went 13-11 overall and 11-1 in the City-North in 2019 before last season was canceled because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic, returns a pair of key players from two years ago in seniors C.J. Dean (P/CF) and Nate Dorinsky (P/LF). 

Dean is a Cincinnati commit who hit .480 and earned first-team all-league and all-district honors in 2019. He will be the team’s No. 1 pitcher, followed by Dorinsky, who has committed to Seton Hill. 

The other seniors are Jacob Barnes (1B) and Noah Hatem (C). 

Sophomores Stewart Leech (SS) and Cuthbert Mak (OF) and freshmen Nasir Baldwin (OF), Cameron Moran (2B/3B), Will Putnam (3B/C) and Owen Wolfenberger (2B/3B) are others looking to contribute. 

“I know everybody is struggling just to field a team this spring with numbers being significantly down across the City (League),” Nance said. “My hope is that we’re good enough to beat the people we’re supposed to, and with C.J. and Nate pitching, compete with Whetstone for the City championship.” 

While Centennial isn’t scheduled to continue City-North action until April 12 when it visits Mifflin, Beechcroft resumes league action at Mifflin on April 14. 

Brian Knisley coached the Cougars to a finish of 3-10 overall and 3-9 in the City-North in his first season in 2019. 

“It’s been great to be back outside,” said Knisley, who also coaches the Centennial wrestling team. “The field just got done a year ago so we’ve actually been able to be outside on the field. My first year we didn’t get out on the diamond until the first game. We have young guys back that are now upperclassmen.” 

Beechcroft also has been dealing with low participation numbers, with juniors Jayden Berry-Harris (3B) and Jalen Leavell (C/OF) expected to be among its top players. 

Others in the program include seniors Elijah Alexis Jr. (OF), Demetrius Haines (LF), Daniel Hernandez (CF) and Eathan Swartz (SS/P), juniors Elijah Cottel (1B/P) and Kenichi Taylor (INF), sophomores Amara Fornah (2B), Josh Goshay (1B) and Daejhaun Martin (OF) and freshman Cameron Swartz (INF). 

“Leavell plays on a travel team and is on his own level when it comes to baseball,” Knisley said. “I literally texted probably 20 people (to increase participation numbers) and had the players text their friends and ask their friends around school. I even went to other teachers and (asked if they) could put something on (their) Google classrooms, and that really helped us out.” 

Scots, Nubians name 

new football coaches 

By the end of his four-year tenure as Africentric’s football coach, Clarence Daniels had lifted a program that had lost 36 consecutive City-South games before he took over to winning two league contests during each of the last two seasons. 

Last fall, the Nubians competed in the postseason for the first time and posted the first winning record in program history despite being limited to just six games because of the pandemic. 

Daniels served as an assistant at Walnut Ridge for eight seasons before becoming Africentric’s coach, with the Scots going 54-27 and making one playoff appearance during that time. 

He recently left the Africentric position to become the coach of the Scots, with Jamell Davis recently being named the Nubians’ new coach. 

Byron Mattox guided Walnut Ridge to a 106-42 mark in 15 seasons with five playoff appearances. 

“When coach Mattox stepped down at the end of the season, he spoke to me about the opportunity and said he thought I’d be great for the position,” Daniels said. “It’s going to be a tremendous obstacle walking in the shoes of coach Mattox. He set the bar really high. I’m excited to reignite the culture and it’s going to be a great transition.” 

Daniels is a 1992 Mifflin graduate who went on to play for West Liberty State and then served as an assistant at his high school alma mater before joining Mattox’s program. 

Walnut Ridge beat Eastmoor Academy 14-6 to win last year’s City championship game following a three-game regular season. The Scots made it to the second round of the Division II, Region 7 playoffs and finished 6-3 after going 11-1 and advancing to a regional semifinal in 2019. 

The Scots also made playoff appearances in 2009, 2017 and 2019 under Mattox and finished ninth in their region – one spot out of the playoffs – two other times. 

Africentric’s only previous non-losing season before last fall came when it went 5-5 in 2008. 

The Nubians went 7-29 under Daniels, including improving from 0-10 in 2018 to 2-8 in 2019. 

After going 2-1 in the City-South last fall, Africentric won its first two playoff games in Division VI, Region 23 before falling 51-12 to Beverly Fort Frye in a regional quarterfinal to finish 4-2. 

Daniels was named the district’s Coach of the Year. 

Taking over for him is Davis, a 2007 Brookhaven graduate who served as an assistant with the Bearcats from 2009-13 before the school closed. 

Davis then was an assistant at Beechcroft in 2014 when the team went 11-1 and was a Division IV, Region 13 runner-up before serving as an assistant coach at Hocking College for two seasons. 

Davis was an assistant at East from 2017-19, with the team going 6-4 in his final season there, before serving as the tight ends coach at Gahanna last fall. 

“While I was at East, all three years there we did a joint practice with Africentric,” Davis said. “I was able to see their positive attitude and I thought in the back of my mind I’d want to be there someday. (Girls basketball) coach (Will) McKinney and (boys basketball) coach (Michael) Bates are there, so it would be a chance to build off their culture.  

“Africentric is Division VI in football and (the OHSAA) did announce that 12 teams (in each region) will be in the playoffs (beginning in 2021), so realistically if we can win five games, we can be in. Africentric has a lot of talent coming back.” 

julrey@thisweeknews.com 

@UlreyThisWeek