Niles gets ‘sort of new’ baseball coach

NILES — T.C. Guarnieri admits he is a different person than when he last coached the Niles High School baseball team.

Thing is, the baseball team isn’t much different.

Guarnieri, who led the Red Dragons’ program from 1997 to 2007, returns after his younger brother, Mike, stepped down following last season. T.C. was an assistant during Mike’s 10-year run, and Mike will be back as an assistant under his older brother.

“I think Muhammad Ali said it, ‘You’re not the same person at 50 that you were at 20, and if you are, then you didn’t learn anything,’ “ said T.C. of whether he expects to coach any differently than he did during his first stint as head coach. “When I ran my program back in the day, I built it off the coaches who were most influential on me. Guys like Dave Pappada (football) and Paul Ryan (baseball). These guys were disciplinarians, and at the same time, they were teachers. Watching Mike run the program for the last 10 years and going from head coach to assistant coach for 10 years, to watch what he did, he brought a more modern kind of deal to it. He’s five years younger than me, so he has a little different of an approach to a player. I’m a hardliner where he’s more of a modern (coach).”

A winning tradition has remained during both tenures.

The Red Dragons are coming off a 22-6 season in which they won the All-American Conference’s White Tier. In 20 years under the Guarnieri brothers, Niles has endured just three losing seasons, which is the main reason why the system and the style haven’t changed much. T.C. said he’s a bit more “old school” and a little tougher on players than his brother, but other than those personality differences, T.C. isn’t changing a thing.

“We run a full-year program,” he said. “We start up in October as far as conditioning. We have a strength guy that comes in and runs a Phase 1 program, where they’re building strength. We work through Christmas break and start the Phase 2 program, where we start working them a little more in speed drills and conditioning drills. Once we get the go-ahead to let our guys start throwing and hitting and everything, we move into Phase 3.”

The next step for a program that’s won multiple conference titles is winning a district title. The Red Dragons seem to have the pieces to contend for one this year.

They return several key players from 2016, including No. 1 starter Tyler Srbinovich, who had a 2.08 ERA and 49 strikeouts in 40.1 innings. Along with Srbinovich, who’s also one of the Red Dragons’ best hitters, is senior third baseman Damion Coleman. The 6-foot-1, 240-pound Coleman batted .341 and drove in a team-best 26 runs last year. Players like Joey Proper and Tre Martin, senior outfielders, and junior Marco DeFalco, who led Niles in hitting last year (.405), along with underclassmen Corbin Foye and Nick Guarnieri (T.C.’s son) help provide a core group that T.C. Guarnieri believes can take the Red Dragons a long way.

“We lost some really good kids last year,” T.C. Guarnieri said. “Do I think we have guys who can fill those gaps? Yes, but they have to do it. On paper, yes, it should happen, but will they do it? … I don’t know.

“That’s the question. The challenge is for our players to step up and do it.”