WEST LAFAYETTE -- Despite a change at the top, the Ridgewood High baseball program will pretty much make a seamless transition to their new head coach Chad Lahna, an RHS graduate who returns home to guide his alma mater.
Lahna takes over for veteran John Slusser, who enjoyed tremendous success during his 16 years as baseball coach for the Generals. Slusser guided the Orange and Black to seven Inter-Valley Conference championships, seven sectional titles and three district championships during his tenure. In fact, Lahna was a standout performer under Slusser for the Generals, earning All-Ohio honors his junior and senior season in 2000.
"John and Travis (Simmons) have done a great job of building a great program here at Ridgewood," Lahna said. "It's a real honor for me to take over a program where I learned to play this game myself and I'm very excited for the opportunity."
Lahna, who went on to play college baseball at Walsh University, hopes to continue the strong tradition already in place at Ridgewood.
"I just want to keep the success going here at Ridgewood," Lahna continued. "Baseball is a mental game. You need to stay focused on the task at hand. If you can do that, it goes a long way towards having success."
A total of six lettermen return for the Generals from last year's 20-7 team, including a pair of four-year veterans in seniors Zak Keesee and C.J. Grove, who will be counted on heavily to lead the way.
Keesee and Grove each earned all-IVC first team honors last season. Grove finished with a .382 batting average with a pair of home runs and 22 RBI last season, and on the mound was 2-1 with a 3.09 ERA. Keesee checked in at .288 with 21 RBI for the Generals and finished with a 3-2 pitching record with an ERA of 2.97.
"Both of those guys are hard workers," Lahna said. "They are real good leaders for the rest of the team and provide us with a potent one-two punch in the batting order and on the mound. I just hope we can put the pieces around them to have a great year. Having those two is a real plus in my first year."
Lahna has another proven letterman back in junior catcher Ryan Lowe, who is a two-year veteran that earned second team all-IVC honors last year. Lowe finished his sophomore season with a .286 average with two home runs and 16 RBI while on the mound, he turned in a 4-1 record with an ERA of 1.85
"Ryan is able to take control of the game from behind the plate," Lahna said. "He's a very good defensive player and not afraid to take control back there, which is what we need. He will also throw some innings on the mound for us this year as well. I'm looking for him to have a big year as well for us."
Rounding out the returning lettermen for the Generals are junior Seth Bergeron (INF/P), senior Kody Hains (OF) and sophomore Alex Croston (INF).
"Seth is a middle infielder that can move around and handle both spots," Lahna said. "He's got real good hands and gives us solid defense up the middle. He will also throw some innings for us this year."
"Kody is a real hard working kid, the type who will do whatever you ask. He'll be in the outfield for us," Lahna said. "Alex gives us real good speed. He's a very athletic kid who will see time in the infield."
Completing the Ridgewood varsity roster are senior Dillon McPherson (OF/C), sophomores Gabe Young (INF/C), Matt Leitz (INF/OF), Logan Slusser (OF), Seth Walters (INF/P), Kelly Barthalow (OF) and freshmen Austin Lowry (OF/P), Tristan Hahn (C/P), Brice Hammond (INF/P).
"We've got a young team with just the four seniors," Lahna continued, "so we need some of these freshman and sophomores to step it up. They are going to be pressed into duty early and I'm looking forward to helping them develop into solid players for us."
Lahna's coaching staff includes Travis Simmons, Dusty Shroyer, Troy Dolick and Ryan Gress, all Ridgewood alumni who played in the program.
"I think us having coaches who played here gives us real advantage," Lahna said. "They have been through the program and been a part of building our great tradition and the kids all know that and respect that.
"I just want our kids to come each day and put in the work necessary," Lahna said. "If we can do that, I'm pretty confident we will each our first goal which is an IVC championship, and then after that a state championship."
Ridgewood opens the season on Saturday, March 30 with a road game at Zanesville.