It is now Max Gertz’s job to maintain that level of excellence as the new Raiders coach.
Gertz replaces Mike Santoro, who coached the team for 15 years before stepping down to concentrate on his duties as the school’s athletic director.
Riverwood’s new coach is a familiar face in the school’s baseball program, having played for the Raiders from 2003 to ’06 and serving under Santoro as an assistant coach last year. Gertz played at Rhodes College in Memphis and was an assistant coach at the University School in Nashville for two years before returning to Riverwood.
“It’s exciting,” Gertz said. “Coming back and contributing to a community that I came out of, all that has been an exciting opportunity and I think that the perennial state playoff team is a responsibility to keep going.”
Gertz inherits a Riverwood team that lost 13 seniors from last year’s squad that went 18-12 and advanced to the second round of the Class AAAAA state playoffs.
Among the departed players are outfielder Terry McClure, who is now playing in the Colorado Rockies’ minor league system after being selected in the eighth round of last year’s Major League Baseball draft, and first baseman Randolph Gassaway, now playing in the Baltimore Orioles’ system after being picked in the 16th round a year ago.
While the Raiders are much younger, Gertz said there is no drop-off in talent.
“[Losing so many players to graduation] hurts a little bit,” he said. “But, the talent that is coming up is promising. So, we’re a young team and the team that’s coming up has a lot of potential.”
Going into the week, Riverwood was 5-5 overall and 3-2 in Region 7AAAAA.
“I think it’s getting better and I think that we’re starting to click and there’s a lot of upside to the team,” Gertz said. “The juniors are coming along and they are where they’re supposed to be. I think as the season progresses, they will progress even further. Our record doesn’t indicate how good we are, because talent-wise, we are pretty deep and we’re much better than that.”
Pitching is the biggest strength for the Raiders, with juniors David Peljovich and Travis Block and senior Adam Hornstra leading the rotation.
Riverwood has also gotten a boost on the mound from freshman Mikey O’Connell, who has provided strong relief from the bullpen.
Junior center fielder Khai Anderson has been a valuable addition to the Riverwood lineup, with the Carver of Atlanta transfer leading the team with a .640 batting average from the leadoff position.
Junior shortstop Jalen Miller and junior third baseman Tyler Diamond have also provided a boost at the plate for the Raiders.
A younger Riverwood team faces a big challenge in its quest for a 10th consecutive state playoff berth as it deals with a 7AAAAA schedule that features teams like defending AAAAA champion Pope as well as perennial postseason qualifiers Creekview and Sequoyah.
However, Gertz said he believes all the pieces are in place for the Raiders to make it to the postseason once again.
“We should qualify for a state playoff spot,” Gertz said. “There’s no doubt in my mind with the pitching that we have that we should. We’re a little bit limited offensively. But as the season goes on, our hitting should catch up to speed.”