Swank on Sports
Lexington Wins “OCC”
As many good teams as there are in the Ohio Cardinal Conference it seems fitting that the baseball title would be determined on the final week of the regular season.
Lexington (21-4,12-2), #2 in theSwankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, beat Ashland (6-1) on Monday to claim the championship by a game over Wooster.
Coach Jeff Strickler says this has been a very consistent ball club this year. “They have come out to play just about every night. The way this season has gone it is kind of like we have a target on our back so they have to come out ready to play. They have been doing that and I am very proud of them with how they have handled things thins year. It has been good effort by everybody,” he said.
Senior Zach Temple turned in another strong effort on the mound for the Minutemen and he was helped out by some fine defensive wok too, according to Strickler. “Zach Temple really did a nice job pitching (Monday). He didn’t have his best, best stuff, but he scattered 10 hits and he only walked two guys. They weren’t able to put anything solid together. We did have two innings where they had the bases loaded and we got inning ending double plays to get out of it. Zach kept us in the game,” said Strickler.
This is a very good team, but it is it the best coach Strickler has ever had at Lexington? “I would say they are one of the best. You know, if they get to the regionals then I think we can say they are the best team I have had. On paper going into the season I thought they could possibly be the best team I have ever had. We are really deep in pitching and we are really good as far as hitting goes. The defense has been really solid all year,” said Strickler.
On Thursday, the Minutemen face Lima Shawnee in the division two district semi-finals at Bluffton University. Strickler knows they will be playing a team with a strong reputation. “They are a pretty good ball team. Their record is only like 14-8 or something, but they play a lot of really good teams like Wapakoneta, Defiance, Bryan and just a lot of good teams over that way. There is a lot of good competition. When I saw them play Celina last week they hit the ball well. They put it in play pretty good. The pitching was solid. I have heard a lot of things about their pitching and maybe they were off a little bit that day,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I could see when they are on they could be very, very tough. Their ace pitcher can bring the fastball and mix in his breaking stuff. It’s going to be a game where we are going in expecting a tough game and expect to play our best to keep moving on.”
Brody Basilone is expected to get the ball for Lexington in the district match-up. Strickler says he has earned it. “Brody is going to be pitching Thursday. The statistics that he has put together through the course of year. His ERA is 0.59 and teams are batting only .195 off of him. He is the best we’ve got statistically and that is why we are going to go that route. Zach is very, very good too, but he is a little bit higher statistically in some areas then Brody is. With our schedule they both see the same teams. That is why I made the decision that I did,” said Strickler.
Fredericktown Lives to Play Another Day
Fredericktown didn’t get out their big sticks like they normally do, but they took advantage of a little luck to edge West Jefferson and advance to the division three district final on Wednesday.
Freddies coach Tom Craze says everything came down to the seventh inning, just like it did in 2012. “(Monday) was a mirror image of last year’s district semi-final where we had to pull it out in the end. It was a very, very tough West Jefferson team. They came in there with a real good purpose. We jumped on them early and scored two runs in the first and then we kind of settled in a little bit. We didn’t hit very well. We had six hits. We didn’t put the ball in play much, but we got the timely hits we needed in the seventh to pull it out. It was a great finish. I think the experience that we got last year paid off. The kids kept their composure and kept fighting,” said Craze.
Fredericktown advanced to the state semi-finals last year before losing to Wheelersburg.
Monday night, Fredericktown got the benefit of a crazy bunt play and Craze says they were able to capitalize and win the game. “We get to the seventh and we are going nine, one, two in the inning. Our number nine hitter walks. Next was maybe the craziest play I have every seen in a baseball game. Our number hitter was going to bunt. I had the bunt on and a steal. Our number one hitter is freshmen in Austin Hathaway. He bunts it over the third basemen’s head and it lands in fair territory and scoots foul to the fence,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “Our kid on first advances all the way to third and Hathaway got to second. They intentionally walk our number two hitter to get to Matt Smith, the district player of the year. Matt hits one to the fence to win the ballgame. It was an exciting finish. A great moment for our kids and our program.”
Craze thinks they have success in these tight games because they have the will to never stop fighting. “I am sitting there on the bus ride home (Monday) and I am thinking boy we had a little bit of luck, but then I look back at our kids and they are good kids. They are a bunch of kids that are going to go out and battle and they won’t surrender to anybody and (Monday) they did that. We made plays in the field that were incredible. We made some routine plays and then we made some plays I didn’t think we were going to make. I am so proud of our kids,” said Craze.
Fredericktown plays the top seed in the central district in division three, Bloom-Carroll, in the district final on Wednesday. Craze says they won’t back down. “These kids kind of have the attitude of been there and done that. We know what it is like to play in big games. You can’t teach that. It’s all about experience. Our kids have been there and hopefully that will pay off for us come Wednesday,” he said.
Madison Brimming with Confidence
Madison secured the outright Ohio Cardinal Conference girls’ softball title on Monday night with a 4-3 win over arch rival Lexington in the final regular season game of the season.
Two weeks ago, Madison trailed by a game and hoped to earn a share at best with a win over Lexington, but last week Ashland beat Lady Lex twice and gave Madison the advantage. Coach Tim Niswander says they were not about to let that go. “It’s a great feeling. That is probably the goal of everybody to win their league and see what happens when tournament time comes. Our kids set the goal to win the “OCC.” We told them Wednesday that they had a share of it after we beat Senior High and I was actually a little surprised that they weren’t as excited as I thought they would be. I think part of that was they knew they still had another game left against a rival and they didn’t want to share the league with anybody. They came out (Monday) and played really, really well for the most part. They got done what they wanted to get done. (Monday) I saw the excitement I thought I was going to see a week ago. The kids were really, really excited,” said Niswander.
This game was supposed to be played about a month ago and despite the length of time they have waited to play it, Niswander says the players had the right attitude. “Last week when we played Senior High some of the kids and I went down and watch Lexington play Clear Fork in the tournament. We had our own tournament game on Thursday. We have kind of gone into tournament mode. It was a little of a concern (Monday) because our tournament game is Tuesday as to what we were going to do and how we were going to approach it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday after the win, “The one thing that I told the kids was make sure that (Monday) every single game that you do prepares you for (Tuesday) and if you do that, and you take care of your business you will be happy with both outcomes. They did a great job (Monday) of keeping their noses to the grindstone and doing what we do and luckily things went our way.”
Paige Carper, the Lady Rams outstanding pitcher has gotten a lot of the attention, but Niswander says they have been able to hit the ball consistently too. “We are hitting the ball extremely well throughout the order. The biggest thing with us is I think we need to do is as long as we hit together up and down the order we are okay. We have gotten contributions from everybody. In our tournament game Thursday our eight hitter Katie Mullins hit a three-run homer. (Monday) our number nine hitter Katie Clever comes up with two outs and hits a two strike double off the fence to plate the last two runs of the game that put us up 4-3. Out top six kids in our order are all hitting better than .400 and all of them have a little bit of power, they can all bunt and they can all run. The biggest thing is to be able to group hits together to score runs. Good pitching beats good hitting and when we run into a good pitcher we have a pretty good one ourselves and we play pretty good defense behind her and that combination gives us a chance against pretty much anybody,” said Niswander.
Madison (20-4), #2 in the new Swankonsports.com softball coach’s poll, meets Sandusky Perkins (19-7), #3 in the same poll, in the division two district semi finals on Tuesday at Buckeye Central High School. Niswander says they need to keep the Lady Pirates off the bases. “They don’t have a lot of power. They do have some speed, especially at the top of the order. They try to generate runs from those kids. Offensively I think they are little bit like Clear Fork. I’m not so sure they have the Anna Myers in the lineup that Clear Fork does, but I think the rest of their kids are very similar. On the mound their pitcher throws probably in the mid 50’s. She is a fastball, curveball kid. She is very similar to the kid we faced from Tiffin Columbian, maybe a little bit better, but a similar type kid. We know what we are dealing with. We did see them last week. We have gotten our kids prepared and hopefully we go up there and take care of business,” said Niswander.
Lady Colts on Familiar Path
Clear Fork has been as consistently successful in the postseason softball tournament as any school around North Central Ohio over the last half decade.
They made it to the state final four in 2009 and 2011, the district final in 2010 and the regional semi-final in 2012. They have now advanced to the district tournament in division two this spring after a 5-2 win over arch rival Lexington on Friday at Lexington. Taylor Kline had three hits and scored three runs for the Lady Colts. Ericka Farst had two RBI and Anna Myers added another with a double in the third.
Clear Fork (20-9) plays Clyde (21-5) in the division two district semi-finals on Wednesday at Buckeye Central High School outside of New Washington. Coach Jeff Gottfried says there is no question they are playing their best softball of the season. “Well at this time of year you are hoping your team is peaking and playing well and I would have to say we are at that point. We have won eight in a row. The kids really have a belief in their mind it doesn’t matter what the opponent is on the other side of the field we are going to come play and give it our best shot and hopefully we have enough runs to be head at the end,” said Gottfried.
This year is not out of character when it comes to Clear Fork. They always seem to be peaking at the right time. Gottfried says it is a matter of belief. “It takes all year long to build that confidence. It’s kids buying to and understanding their roles. Sometimes you have some loses early on that open your eyes a little bit. They are things to talk about and say okay these are things we need to get better at. They understand what it is we need to go. There are teams we have played over the years that maybe have better talent than we do, but you would be hard pressed to find a team that is more cohesive than our program is. It is just kids believing and sticking to it for three months of five months of practice in whatever they do. They have confidence and no matter who we play we are going to be ready to play,” said Gottfried.
There was a point this season when Clear Fork was winning one and losing one and it seemed they couldn’t get out of that rut, but now they have won eight straight. Gottfried says it’s about understanding roles. “You try to play with things all year long to find the right mix of kids in your batting order and position players and things. I think you will find over the last 10, 12 ballgames we haven’t changes a whole lot. The kids understand our philosophy when it comes to pitching. Who is going to be throwing and what roles they are going to have there. On defense, my teammate has this strength and I have this weakness, so we kind of cover for each other for that kind of thing. Also at the plate, our kids know when we get on base, which kids are going to be doing the stealing and which ones aren’t,” he said.
Of course, Clear Fork had to win in the sectional final in enemy territory. Gottfried says it doesn’t bother him or the players, in fact, it felt like a home game in some ways. “I wouldn’t disagree, no its not fair, but we try and preach to them that life isn’t fair and their isn’t a darn thing we can change about it, so we can do one of two things, we can make executes about it and pout about it or we can just go up there and do are our best and just go beat them,” he told Swamkonsports.com, “That what we told them in the circle after the ballgame there is nothing better than going up there and knocking off a number one seed. It was their home game. It was on their home field, but you look at the fans and we had them outnumbered four to one in support. It felt like a home game to us even though it was on their field. It is better than driving an hour and a half to play a sectional game.”
With two quality pitchers in Ellen Jones and Morgan Arnett, who got the win against Lady Lex, Gottfried says they were able to slow down a potentially explosive Lexington offense. “The two runs that they had they had two runners on with two outs and we were doing a little bit of a junk defense because they had a slapper up, so we had the second basemen in and the first basemen was back. The batter actually hit a routine pop up where our second basemen normally stands. If I don’t have our kids in a different position they don’t score those two runs. Our success the last eight, nine, 10 ballgames has been about pitching. Our pitching has gotten better. Their location has been a lot better and our defense is starting to play well too. We might have to play for four of five hours, but it the other team doesn’t score they aren’t going to win,” said Gottfried.
Lexington pitcher Abbey Sgro was very good for them. Gottfried says they were just able to scratch out some runs. “It was a 1-0 ballgame for a while. We scored two runs with two outs in the fifth. I tried to preach to our kids that this next half inning was critical for us. They came back with two runs, so it’s a 3-2 ballgame, so it’s like okay here we go. We were able to tack on two runs in the top pf the seventh and that was huge to have a three run lead with only three outs left in the game,” he said.
Taylor Kline this season has broken the state single season record for steals in a season. She is an igniter for the team. “You are probably asking the wrong person, you should probably ask the coaches that we play against. They know how much of a weapon she is for us. She did it (Friday). She got on several times. Her first time up to bat leading off the game she got out. He next three times up to bat she was up with two outs and got things rolling and Erika Farst followed with base hits to score her. If she gets on base she is going to score. It is not like a home run, but it almost is because even with two outs she is going to make it around the bases,” Gottfried said.
Colts Have Something to Prove
It was a tough loss in the sectional tournament, but Clear Fork baseball has a bright future.
Bellevue (19-5) beat Clear Fork (14-4) in the division two sectional finals on Thursday in game played at Clyde High School. Coach Rusty Staab says they just made too many mistakes. “We were hanging with them, that’s a really good team. Their pitcher, Alex Manner, got district player of the year. It’s was tied one to one and then our defensive struggles came back a little bit. We weren’t able to field bunts and when you play a very good team like Bellevue you can’t give them five of six outs and we did that. We got down 6-1 and we made a great comeback. Nick (Schoonyan) had a big hit for us and we got it to 6-4. Trevor (Carr) started to settle down. That bottom of the sixth just killed us. We walked a batter, they got a base hit and the next hit a 550-foot bomb and it was kind of all over after that,” said Staab.
On Friday, Clear Fork swatted Crestview (13-0) of the Firelands Conference and Staab says they were able to feel good about themselves again. “We played Crestview, and this is one of (Crestview coach) Rob’s (Gross) best year and we kind of took it out on them. We beat them 13-0 and kind of got that out of our system. That is the good thing about baseball, you can always come back the next day,” he said.
Staab says they were able to move on from the loss to Bellevue pretty quickly and think about things they need to do. “About a half hour after the game, on our hour and 45 minute bus trip home, I got to thinking it was kind of a good thing because the kids worked really hard the year, but we just have to work harder. If we want to try and get to the district and beyond at the division two level, with the teams that we play in district, we just have to do everything better,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, “We have to rethink how we are going to play our infield next year. We just can’t make costly errors like we did this year. I am trying to be positive with it. We are losing Ryan (South) and Trevor (Carr), which were two key players for us, but we are just going to be better this year.”
Clear Fork will return most of its team next year, but Staab says they are certainly going to miss Ryan South and Trevor Carr, their seniors. “They have been a very good defensive back bone for us in the infield. They both have had lapses like any kid would. Trevor played a great defensive first base for us. He has had a good year for us. That nice home run he had for us at Marion Harding a couple of Saturdays ago. That is a tough place to hit one out in leftfield. That was a big pick me up for us in that game. He has done a solid job on the mound. He is very athletic at first. Ryan has been really regular for us. He has made the plays he is suppose to make. We are definitely going to miss them. We are just going to have to step up and show great leadership,” he said.
On Monday, Clear Fork plays host to Ontario (24-2), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll, in non-conference game and then warps up the season with an “OCC” contest against West Holmes, at home, on Wednesday. Staab says these are important games. “Ontario has gotten a lot ink this year and deservedly so. They are 24-2 or whatever they are and it’s going to be nice to play them just for a measuring stick for next year. We play West Holmes and we would like to .500. Right now we are 6-7 and West Holmes is 7-6. It would be nice to end the season on two good notes. We are going to be fortunate to have good weather and even more fortunate to play at home. We have always side we don’t want to lose in our own ballpark. It’s going to be a great measuring stick for the sophomores we have on the varsity and my juniors to really take it from there. Especially our younger kids have to hit the weight room because we have to get stronger. The work ethic that these juniors have shown from December on hopefully we pay off with the younger kids,” said Staab.
With Ontario, already the black division champion in the North Central Conference and a division three sectional champ, Staab says this is a game that will show them where they are. “Two weeks ago Ontario played Lexington and coach Gorbett called me and said well who do you hate more Lexington or Ontario because I am going to ask for a scouting report. I said, you know we hate Lexington, but you are right up there Dan. We definitely want to beat Ontario. They are always good and for some reason they have gotten a lot of ink this year. They have a good group of boys and hopefully they get through the districts and they go far in the tournament, but that will make us look good if we can beat them because we can say we knocked off Fredericktown, we knocked off Hillsdale and they were both state ranked teams. If we can knock off a good Ontario team (Monday) that would be great,” said Staab.
Ontario Claims Another Title
For the second time this week, Ontario has claimed a title. Tuesday it was a sectional championship and Thursday the outright black division title in the North Central Conference.
Thursday they beat Galion (8-2) to finish off the conference. The Tigers had beaten them (4-2) on Monday.
Coach Dan Gorbett says they were able to get some quality pitching and then their bats came around. “We were down 2-0 in the fourth inning and we got one run and then we got three and went up on them 4-2 in the fifth. We got three in the sixth and one in the seventh. It was a lot closer game than 8-2. There was a walk and a hit and Wyatt Clemens hit a triple and that was a key hit,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “We had a couple of back to back doubles. We did some good situational baseball, moving runners over and getting a ground ball to score them and sac flies. It was a real close game for four innings and then we came alive at the plate and made it happen.”
Ontario has some pitching depth too. Coming off a sectional win over Bucyrus on Tuesday and another “NCC” game against Lucas on Friday, Gorbett says they had to go to a variety of arms against Galion. “Monday the Galion pitcher kept us off balance. I don’t know if we were trying too hard or if it was just one those games that happens in baseball. We found it and played well (Thursday) and got good pitching. Wyatt Clemens went two, Paul Holman went three and we brought in McCrystall to close it. That was kind of our game plan was to switch pitchers every two innings to try and keep them off balance with different looks. We have a league game (Friday) too. There have been a lot of big games this week, so we pieced together several good pitchers and they did a nice job,” said Gorbett.
Next week Ontario (24-2), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, meets Oak Harbor (12-11) in the division three district tournament at Heidelberg College. Ontario was upset by Edison in the districts last year. Gorbett knows they have play very well to avoid that from happening again. “We went up and watched Oak Harbor beat Western Reserve 5-4 (Wednesday). They are a solid Sandusky Bay Conference team. At this level you always have to play your best game and not make errors, get clutch hits and get good pitching. Over in the other bracket you have Wynford versus Edison. We are going to have to play well. If we don’t we will go home early. If we do we have a chance of advancing. There are some pretty good teams up there,” he said.
What a Week For Madison
The last time Madison won a girls’ softball conference title Cleveland Indians were winning the first American League title in 41 years and the criminal trial of O.J. Simpson opened in Los Angeles, it was 1995.
Well, they have a least a share of it this year, plus they have a division two sectional title in their hands. They beat Tiffin Columbian (14-1) in the sectional title game at Lexington on Thursday. Coach Tim Niswander says they were on their game on Thursday. “When you keep other teams form scoring, you are going to be pretty successful. Once again Paige Carper pitched very well and defensively we played very well behind her. That has been a recipe for success for a lot of different teams for a lot of years. We are not reinventing the wheel here. As long as we get good pitching and we can make plays things will be okay,” he said.
Ashland beat Lexington twice (3-2 & 4-2) and that gave Madison the lead in the “OCC” standings after they beat Mansfield Senior twice. Niswander says things well into place for them. “We were big Ashland Arrow fans this week. We waned to have that opportunity to win the league outright or actually we just wanted to play for the right to play for the league. We took care of business, but the second Senior High game didn’t go quite as well as we scripted, but it was a win and secured at least a share of the conference title for us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “It is our first title in 18 years at Madison in softball. The kids were very excited and they were excited after (Thursday) night’s tournament win. We are going to come in Sunday and practice and try and get ready for Lexington. We would really like to get that league stuff and try and get that league title outright.”
Niswander says his players have put in outstanding effort, every day. “They have had a couple of different coaches and a couple of different philosophies. Those guys have worked hard to get the kids ready to play. I think they were pretty disappointed last year that things didn’t go as well as they thought they would. They came in this year and they worked really hard. They wanted to make sure, especially for the three seniors that we have, that they gave everything that they have and left it all out on the field and see what happened. They want to be successful and they have done all of the little things that you have to do to be successful. Right now, things are going really well, but I have told them that this tournament is a funny thing sometimes and sometimes the breaks don’t go your way and you have to be able to play through that and make your own luck on the tournament trail. We have to keep our nose to the grindstone. Nothing is going to be given to us and every single step is going to get tougher,” said Niswander,
Madison (20-4,10-3) now leads the “OCC” by a half game over Lady Lex and Niswander says Madison want to put it away in Friday. “I don’t think there is any question at least in softball that they are our number one rival, if it’s not, it’s Clear Fork. I think those three teams battle each other every year. That is the only team this year that we have not yet beaten. Our kids want to make sure that they do that. That they finish well and get an outright title against one of their rivals. I am friends with Mike Hamman down there. He is a great coach and I like him. I have family down in Lex. It’s a good game. There are certainly no ill feelings are something like that,” said Niswander.
Colonel Crawford Faces Must Win
Crawford trails Crestline by a game in the North Central Conference silver
division softball standings and they play at Crestline on Friday night.
The Lady Eagles certainly have their backs against the wall. Huggins says there is no room for error. “They already have a share that because they beat Galion (Thursday) night. They have a one game lead with one to go, but we are one behind them with three to go. The bottom line is we have to win out. We have to make sure that this is the most important game on the schedule because without it the other games, while important, won’t matter when it comes to outcome of the “NCC,” he said.
The first thought is all the Lady Eagles need a copy of Tuesday night performance, but Huggins says that is easier said than done. “Especially in high school baseball and softball when you think of just the angle of the bat. When the kids make connection with the ball if it is just a couple of inches this way or that way it’s a matter of a couple of feet one way or another it is the difference between a base hit or a line drive that gets caught,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “There are just so many different things that can happen during a softball game you never really know. It would be nice to put a carbon copy together. We have some ideas on improving what we did and I’m sure Crestline has been working their strategy too. It’s just a fine line and when you get two good programs together between victory and defeat.”
Huggins says one thing is clear, the game will feature two of the better pitchers in the area and they need a solid effort from Nickyla Gaverick. “We got one (Wednesday) night from Nickayla. She had 11 strikeouts and 3 walks. Natalie Sayer had a nice night for Crestline. Those are two of the premier pitchers in the Mansfield area, in the Crawford County area. It’s just fun to watch those two go after each other. Sayer had a couple hits against Gaverick and Gaverick had a couple hits against Sayer. As far as Colonel Crawford is concerned that is exactly the key to our success right now. We have Nickyla back, and I don’t want to say she is 100 percent, but maybe 90 percent and her 90 percent is certainly good quality pitching. We are looking for another top quality pitching performance from her,” said Huggins.
Madison Continues to Have Potential
Madison is a dangerous team for anybody they play, but they are also a team that some have more wins that they do.
Doug Rickert has taken the Rams to at least the district level 12 times in his 14 years as coach. He gets that chance against Thursday when Madison (10-16) faces Sandusky (8-10) in the division one sectional final at home.
Wednesday night, the Rams punished cross town rival Mansfield Senior (12-0) in an Ohio Cardinal Conference game. Rickert they have been a little bit of a hard luck team, but they have been survivors too. “We lost three tough ones in a row by one run and we lead in all of those games. We did come back and beat Wooster in the second game. This was the first time we have had a whole week off with playing this year. I was pleased how we came out against Senior High (Wednesday) and hopefully we will see the same thing against a good Sandusky team on Thursday,” he said.
By hosting the division one tournament that means they can’t get as much done on their own field as they may want too. Rickert says they have found ways around that. “It has been a little rough, but we went down to Fredericktown to use their facility on Monday. Tuesday we were able to do a lot of our infield stuff before the tournament game about 2:45, watched the tournament, and them we came in there and swung after it was over and got some more stuff done until about eight o’clock. It hasn’t been too bad for us,” he said.
With the season beginning to wind down, Rickert says they have accomplished a lot of things that they set out to do this year. “I think we are a better baseball team. We look at lot better, but we still make some mistakes that we can’t make in the tournament. I think we swing the bats better. I think our pitching has been pretty good all year. You look at our record and we have 10 wins. We well we should have 15 or 16. We have lost a lot of close ballgames. Our goal was to beat everybody in the league and we didn’t beat Lex, we beat everybody in league. We have a chance to finish third in the league. Going last to third would be pretty good for us. We want to win a sectional championship. Those goals are obtainable. If we get a sectional championship I think we would be happy with that and see where we go from there,” said Rickert.
The Rams beat Sandusky (5-0) in a regular season game. However, Rickert says that score is a little misleading and they need to play a solid game to advance to the districts. “They had some injuries to their pitching staff and they have both of those kids back and that made a difference there. Their one and two pitchers weren’t available for a couple of weeks there and that hurts anybody. They threw their number two (Tuesday) night and they will throw their number one against us. It’s a kid we have already seen. Our game was 5-0 nothing, but it 1-0 in the sixth and we put up four runs. It is going to be a heck of game. They swing the bats well. They have a lot of seniors on their team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “They beat us in the tournament last year. Their pitcher is good. He is going to Findlay. It’s not going to be an easy game for us. He is as good as about anybody we have seen this year. He pitched against us the last time, He is a gamer, He is about 84 or 85 on the gun and we don’t see a lot of guys like that.”
Rickert plans to start junior Bo Curvin against the Blue Streaks. He says he Curvin has been consistent in his efforts this year on the mound. “Bo has done well this year. He has beaten Wes Holmes, he has beaten Ashland, and he has beaten Clear Fork. Against Lexington hs only gave up five hits and got beat. He threw against Norwalk and went seven innings and gave up two runs and we lost that game in extra innings. He is a gamer. We has been pitching since he was a freshmen. He is going to have to keep them off balance. They have some kids that swing it well and they run really well. We don’t need them on the bases because they have great speed,” said Rickert.
Top Seed Gets Sectional Title
Norwalk is headed to the division one district tournament for the second year in a row after they beat Ashland on Wednesday in the sectional final at Mansfield Madison High School.
The Truckers (24-4), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, scored twice in the first inning and went on to get past Ashland (7-2) in the final.
Veteran coach Wes Douglas says they got a big hit in the first inning from Joe Hinkley. “I’m extremely happy with the sectional title over an Ashland team that had me a little bit worried, especially their pitcher Tyson Vogel. We got a big two-run home run in the first from Joe Hinkley and that let us relax a little bit and do what we have been doing all year in playing with the lead,” he said.
Starting out with those two runs in the first inning was a big boost. Douglas says it really helps the confidence. “I think it huge maybe more with high school kids than with other levels. It shows the rest of your team that the guy is hittable. With a little bit of a lead there at the beginning it does allow you to relax a little in the field and at the plate. As a coach it opens up our running game and our small ball game a little bit,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Wednesday, “It almost takes that part away from the other team if you can keep adding onto that lead. It limits what they can do and opens up what we can do. It has been a great formula for us this year. We have played a lot with the lead.”
With two very good pitchers, and the Northern Ohio League schedule already completed, Douglas was free to use both of his star pitchers against Ashland. “They put the ball in play. I think they struck out six times and we struck out six times. To start the game their lead off hitter hit a shot to right field and Joe Hinkley made a great catch out there. When they did make a rally against out starting pitcher Colin Suter with the bases loaded and nobody out we went to Michael Finch. He got a double play ground ball 4-6-3. Our defense was very good (Wednesday) along with both of our pitchers,” said Douglas.
The Truckers will plat either Anthony Wayne or Findlay in the district tournament next week. Douglas says he will get a look at them. “The pitching should be a little bit better. We are going to run into an Anthony Wayne, a Findlay, a Perrysburg, somebody along those lines that have traditionally owned that district for a long time. We will get a chance to watch Anthony Wayne and Findlay on (Thursday) and watch Anthony Wayne and Perrysburg on Friday. We don’t get up that way very often, but I know their reputation. We will definitely have our hands full. They will be similar to the Maumee team we saw last year,” said Douglas.
Ontario Takes the Sectional
Ontario did what most expected on Tuesday. The grabbed the division three sectional title with a win over Bucyrus at Bucyrus.
They had beaten the Redmen twice this year. They beat them (15-1) in their regular season game at Bucyrus. Tuesday night’s contest was similar in that the Warriors needed only six innings to polish off the Redmen (10-0) in the tournament game.
Ontario coach Dan Gorbett says they did everything well, beginning with their pitching. “Mitch McCrystall pitched an outstanding game. He walked two and struck out ten in six innings. The balls he threw that were not strikes were like on purpose. He was throwing it out of the zone. He was really sharp (Tuesday). He pitched very, very well,” said Gorbett.
Putting 10 runs up, Ontario hit the ball well, but Gorbett says they took advantage of some things too. “We hit the ball well. They had a couple of miscues and we took advantage of it. They made some mistakes and we took advantage of it along with some good hitting on our part,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win.
Earlier in the season on a couple occasions Gorbett had made clear his concern about their mental focus as a team. He says he did not see any of that on Tuesday. “I was pleased with our mental preparation coming in (Tuesday) and I think they realize at this point and time there is no tomorrow. You can’t get caught sleeping. Hopefully we build on this and come back and beat Galion on Thursday,” he said.
Ontario (23-2,9-1), #1 in Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, can seal up an undisputed North Central Conference black division title with a win Galion on Thursday. The Tigers (20-5,10-2), #3 in that poll, beat Ontario (4-2) on Monday giving the Warriors their first conference loss in more than two years. Gorbett says they need to play almost error free ball. “We have to play well. We made some mistakes that we normally don’t do. Their pitcher kept us off balance and pitched a very good game. They took advantage of our mistakes Monday and we ended up on the short end of the stick. They are a very good team,” he said.
Plymouth and Seneca East Play in Tournament
Plymouth has been enjoying another good baseball season this year and they have a chance to finish as high as second in the Firelands Conference standings.
New London has already claimed the title.
The Big Red (20-5) faces Midland Athletic League co-leader Seneca East (19-3), #4 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, in the division four sectional final Wednesday at Plymouth in a battle between two very good teams.
On Saturday, Plymouth crushed Monroeville (12-7) in their tournament opener. Coach Andrew McFarland says they finally got their offense going again. “Over the last couple of weeks our bats have slowed down a little bit. We were really swinging it well early on, really up to just a couple of weeks ago we averaging about 10 runs and then we hit a wall. That is easy to do. We were having some bad approaches at the plate and really not playing our game. It was nice to come back Saturday and start swinging the bats and having a better approach every time we step up to the plate. We carried that over and had another good day swinging the bats against South Central. Hopefully we can carry that over another day when we face a very good pitcher from Seneca East,” said McFarland.
McFarland explains what it means in the Plymouth playbook to have a good approach at the plate. “The other day I was getting frustrated and finally I asked my team, do you understand what I am saying when we tell you to have a good approach at the plate? Our approach is we want to take away the fastball. We want to go up and look for a fastball that we can hit. We really encourage them to be selfish at the plate and don’t swing at anything unless they can drive it until they get two strikes, to lay off breaking pitches or off speed pitches early in the count. We would go up and take good fastballs for strikes or we would swing at a first pitch breaking ball. We were kind of getting away from our game of making the pitcher throw something other than a fastball for a strikes,” said McFarland.
Coming into this game on Wednesday, Seneca East has thrown four consecutive shutouts. McFarland knows what they are up against. “I would assume we will see Mason McWilliams (Wednesday). He is a very tough talented lefty. We saw him last year in a regular season game. I have kind of talked to some people about him. I have seen some film on him that is out there. He is going to be very good. They have depth behind him. We have a great pitcher too in Zach Butler that I think can compete with anybody when he is on his game,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “It should be a very interesting game. I assume the team that wins (Wednesday) will not put up a lot of runs. I think it will be a battle to see who can scratch a couple across, who can get the bunts down, who can be about the little things.”
It should be a tight contest and McFarland thinks an early run could be crucial. “We are going to be the away team playing in our own stadium. I said to my assistant coach (Tuesday) that I love to go in there in the first inning and get one or a couple of runs across. I know McWilliams is going to be tough and it would be huge to come out and scratch one across to really set the tone for the rest of the game,” he said.
Fredericktown Earns Piece of Title
Although last season was a very good one Tuesday night the Fredericktown Freddies accomplished something they didn’t during last year’s state tournament run. They earned a share of the Mid-Buckeye Conference championship.
They finish standing tied with Johnstown Northridge, both finished league play at 12-2.
Tuesday night Fredericktown beat Danville (13-1) and coach Tom Craze they played well in a big game. “That was one of our goals at the beginning of the season to win a conference championship. (Tuesday) night we came out and really played well from pitching to hitting. The kids were really focused and had a good mindset and got things done. Anytime you win a conference championship it is special because it is hard to do. It was a big moment for our kids and I’m and really proud of how they played,” he said.
Tournament play beings on Thursday for the Freddies (21-6), #5 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, and Craze understands they must be at the top of their game. “You have to have all facets of the game. You have to be able to hit. You have to be able to play solid defense and you have to have great pitching. You have to sprinkle in a little bit of luck too. You have to have all three phases of the game. We talk about that everyday, getting solid play in the field. Timely hitting I think is critical in baseball. It really doesn’t matter if you have 10 hits or eight hits as long as they are timely hits. Now, to be successful in the postseason you really have to have all three of those going for you,” said Craze.
Milford Center Fairbanks, who beat Cardington (12-8) on Tuesday, will be the Freddies first opponent in the division three tournament on Thursday, in a game that will be played at Fredericktown. Craze says this team that is aggressive and will try to play small ball against them. “They are a solid baseball team. We know that they are going to come out and put the ball in play. Once we knew where things were in the tournament draw we immediately started gathering information. We did get someone to see them play. It is a baseball team that is going to come here Thursday and play hard. We are going to have to be ready for small ball,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “They are going to bunt a lot. They will try to manufacturer runs anyway they can, so we really are going to have to on our toes defensively. They have some decent pitching and pitching that we are used to seeing in our conference. I think it is a good, solid baseball team and if we come out and play well and fortunate things happen hopefully we will have a chance to move on.”
Fredericktown advanced to the division three state semi-finals last year before losing to Wheelersburg. Many of this year’s key figures had significant roles last year and Craze hopes that experience is a plus. “I think it is huge and that is not experience that every team gets, getting all of those extra practices in and the extra games carries over into this year. The players that we have have been there and they know what it takes. We were thinking about this (Tuesday) the sectional final we played last year winning 3-2 and getting a couple of timely hits, so they know what it is all about. That experience is going to pay dividends we hope,” he said.
Lexington Wins Sectional
It wasn’t easy, but the Lexington won a division two sectional championship on Monday night.
They rallied to beat the Shelby Whippets (4-3) in a sectional final at Clyde High School.
The Minutemen tailed twice in the game, but coach Jeff Strickler says they had the confidence to battle back. “We gave up the two runs in the first inning, both of them unearned. We have not been in that position very much this year, but the kids battled back. They have been playing with a lot confidence. We are very confident we can make up a two run deficit. We tied the score up and they went up again and then we came up by two and held on to the end. It was a very well played baseball game on both sides,” said Strickler.
The Lexington offense averages over 10 runs a game, but Strickler says this time it was pitching and defense that tuned the trick. “The only error we had all night was in the first inning and after that we played pretty much flawless defense. Brody (Basilone) settled in after the first inning and did a real nice job. He pretty shut then down. They only had one base runner in the last two innings,” he said.
Lexington (20-4,10-2), #2 in he new Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, has a one game lead in the Ohio Cardinal Conference over Wooster. They play at Ashland (9-13,5-7) in a league game on Tuesday. A win gives them no less than a share of the conference title. “That was one of our three goals that we had. It’s going to be a battle. Anytime you go play Ashland it is always a really hard fought baseball game between the two schools. We are over there, so we have that obstacle a little bit. The kids are confident, we are playing well. Hopefully, that goes over to (Tuesday.),” he said.
The Minutemen are blessed with a deep pitching staff. Strickler will give the ball to Zach Temple on Tuesday. “We have been fortunate that my top two pitchers you really can’t say this one is number one and this one is number two between (Zach) Temple and Basilone. Those two have pitched very, very well. This week we decided we were going to go with Brody in the tournament game and then pitch Zach in the first game against Ashland. Some of that is due to some of the circumstances that we have as far as health and that type of stuff. We just thought this was the way to go,” said Strickler.
Galion Beats Ontario
Galion did something Monday night that has not been done in more than two years. They beat Ontario in a North Central Conference baseball game.
They topped the Warriors (4-2) to hand them only their second loss this year. The other came to Fredericktown in non-league play.
Galion know trails Ontario by one game with two to play.
Coach Phil Jackson could be more excited. “I was so proud of my staff and my players. They came to play and they knew what was on the line. They new they had to take both from Ontario is we wanted any kind share of the “NCC” championship and they knew they needed to peak at the right time. All of those things came together,” he said.
It takes certain kind of confidence to beat a team like Ontario and as the game developed Jackson began to see that in his players. “Midway through the game I see them really start to believe it. They were a little skeptical at first. You really don’t know what to expect. You could see it in their eyes. When you see a team like us with a chance you start to develop the confidence that you could do this and you should be going this. We have enough talent to get this done. I have been telling them that all year and it finally cam true,” said Jackson.
Senior Adam Stats turned in an outstanding effort on the mound on Monday night. Jackson says that has been something he has been waiting for. “I have been waiting for Adam Stats, a senior, and the one I looked at being my number one at the beginning of the year to really have the kind of outing that he is capable of having where he throws his breaking stuff at any point in the count for a strike to keep the hitters off balance,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday night, “I was so proud of him (Monday). I think I have been harder on him than any of my other pitchers, but it is with good reason because I know he is capable of doing just what he did (Monday.)”
The rematch with Ontario is Thursday and the Tigers face Wynford (14-8), a team that beat them a couple of weeks ago in league play in the division three sectional final at Bucyrus on Wednesday. Jackson says this is a great time of year. “This is what you do all of the practicing in the winter time in the gyms for. It makes it interesting when you have so much to play for. It is all squeezed together. It could be over this week of we could try to extend this. I am having great time my first year in Galion. The players are really buying in enjoying it. This is what baseball is all about,” he said.
Ashland Gets Tournament Win
Ashland got only its second win in May on Monday night, bu it cam in the division one sectional tournament at Madison where they beat Mansfield Senior.
The Arrows (9-13) cruised past the Tygeres (11-1) in five innings. Coach Rob Lavengood says they did some good things on the mound and at the plate. “It was really good effort. It was probably our most compete baseball game that we have played in two or three weeks. We got a really good pitching performance from Nick Zurcher. He only game up three hits in five innings and one run. We played pretty solid defense behind him and we swung the bats well. So, those were good signs. It was nice to see us maybe turn the corner a little bit (Monday) night and get a win and play as well as we did. Hopefully that carries over to some big games later this week against Lexington and then Norwalk,” said Lavengood.
The Ashland coach hopes this turns the momentum around in right direction for them because they have some tough games this week. “We have had a couple of different momentum swings that we have had throughout this year. We started the season of playing pretty well at 7-3 and then before (Monday) night we lost 10 of 11 games to drop to 8-13. We have lost some tough games along the way, but regardless they are still losses,” he told Swankonsports.com o after Monday night’s victory. “It was nice to get a win (Monday) and hopefully turn things around and hopefully get things headed back in he right direction. We need to get our kids just playing with some confidence and gong into the game feeling good about our chances to win a baseball game.”
Ashland is the defending “OCC” champion and this spring they have a chance to play spoiler as they host first place Lexington on Tuesday. The Minutemen lead Wooster by a game. Lavengood hopes they play inspired baseball. “(Tuesday) night they come to our place. I am sure they are going to be focused and locked in to play well because if they beat us twice they can win an outright conference championship. Hopefully we can give them a battle and make them play their best baseball if they are going to win a conference championship. I think our kids are going to ready to go against Lexington and hopefully we have a good performance,” said Lavengood.
The Arrows biggest game of the week comes Thursday in the sectional final against Norwalk (23-4), the outright Northern Ohio League champion. Lavengood says that will a huge challenge. “They have a really nice team. We played them right at the beginning of the season. We had a three way doubleheader at their place with them and Sandusky Perkins. They beat us pretty good. We are hoping with our ace on the mound Wednesday night we play baseball they way we are capable of playing. Hopefully, we can give them a good game and give ourselves a chance to win a sectional championship,” he said.
Wooster Still Has a Chance
They need some help, but the Wooster Generals can still win part of the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball title.
They started the week with the requirement of wining two games over arch rival Orrville and Monday night they accomplished step one in that process with a win (9-2) over the Red Riders and Tuesday they play at Orrville where they will need another win.
Last week, the Generals (17-5,10-3), #4 in the Swankonspots.com baseball coach’s poll in he large school division, lost to Mansfield Madison (7-2), dropping from a share of first place with Lexington, and coach Derek Boyd says that left them with only one thing to do… win. “Unfortunately we stubbed our toe last week playing a good Madison team at their place who played very well, but we kind of put ourselves in a situation that we have to win out if we are going to have a chance at this. We are playing an Orrville team that is coming off the regionals last year. They are a good club and we really had our work cut out for us, but fortunately we came out on the right side (Monday),” said Boyd.
Nick Buckingham went the distance for the Generals Monday night to get the win. Boyd says they also played great defense. “We sent Nick Buckingham, back to the mound (Monday) and Nick was able to go the distance. He threw 75 pitches. We was the beneficiary of three double plays and that really helps out. We are trying to get him some work before we go into the tournament. We had a little bit of a rough start. We gave up both runs in the first inning. From there we got better defensively and really helped Nick out and kind of shortened some of their innings down a little bit,” he said.
On Tuesday, Boyd is going to give the ball to Ben Murphy to pitch likely the biggest game of the year for the Generals. Boyd says he has confidence in Murphy. “We are feeling really good about some of our guys that are our starters. We will send Ben Murphy to the mound (Tuesday). He beat a very good Lexington team a couple of weeks ago that kind of got us back into the race. Ben has been solid for us all year. We feel really comfortable giving him the baseball. He is excited about his opportunity (Tuesday) to go to the mound,” he said.
Wooster and Orrville have a long time rivalry in all sports and Boyd says they really don’t need extra incentive to beat the Riders. “That is one the things that the kids talk about. They are always well aware of when we are going to play them. I think they both like to keep an eye on each other and track their progress. It has been a long time rivalry for longer than I can remember. It was a great way to get it started (Monday),” he said.
Colts are Smoking
After struggling a bit at the beginning of the season, the Clear Fork Colts are as hot as any team in North Central Ohio.
They have won eight straight including a (12-7) win over Clyde at Clyde on Saturday. They play Bellevue in a sectional final game on Thursday at Clyde. Bellevue beat Northern Ohio League foe Willard (8-0) on Saturday.
Coach Rusty Staab says they have a great mix this year and he thinks they can get even better. “The kids are starting to figure out the system. The group has a great chemistry. I never hear any bashing. There is no drama. There are no distractions. These kids just want to get better. We have hard workers, just like we have been saying all winter and all spring. They are really starting to peak at the right time. You see teams that three weeks ago were dominating and now they are not playing up to their potential. We are still not playing the best games that we can play,” said Staab.
On Saturday, the Colts got their first two runners on and Travis Born unloaded a three run homer and Clear Fork never trailed. Staab says their pitching wasn’t that great, but their defense picked them up. “We did a great job Saturday offensively, but our defense went to sleep for two innings. Our pitching has been carrying us, but Saturday Trevor (Carr) struggled. He walked a lot of guys. He threw a lot of pitches that were behind in the count and they hit the ball. We did get out of a couple of innings. Austin Baker played a great game at third. It was fun and we hope it continues,” he said.
At 6-6 on the season, Staab looks back at a win over Ashland on April 25 as the point in which their season turned. “I think that after we got beat by Ashland at Ashland where we had 10 walks and we had nine errors. We met in the locker room and we had a nice 40 minute talk. We went down to “Hittsville” because we couldn’t do anything outside or inside, they had cheerleading tryouts or something. We went down to the barn and had a great “BP” and a great throwing session. We just kind of laid it out there and did some soul searching. Thursday we come out and Travis (Born) throws a shutout. We play Orrville and we throw back to back shutouts. We throw a no hitter against Marion Harding. Then we cleaned up on a pretty good Mansfield Senior team. That team isn’t bad, but our offense showed up. I think our batting averages all went up about 30 points,” said Staab.
Staab says over the last three weeks they have played with confidence and that is what was missing earlier in the season. “Austin Baker had an unbelievable game. He was like Brooks Robinson. Of course, when I said that the kids said who is that? Is he a rapper? He was one of the best third basemen I ever saw. It was funny after he made an unbelievable play we all came in for a meeting and I said remember when Austin never even dreamed of making that play? The kids all laughed. Ryan South didn’t have the greatest game at short, but Austin picked him up. There were just some simple things we did wrong that we practiced this week. These kids just pick each other up. They are getting this unbelievable confidence. Before that was what they were lacking. We told them after the Fredericktown game, you guys don’t know how good you can be? The we fell apart because they looked at an “OCC” game and said, well we are going to get beat, it is just a matter of how much. Now they are winning,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday morning, “At one time we were 0-6 and now we are 6-6. Granted Wooster is out of the way and Lexington is out of the way. We spilt with Madison. We split with Ashland. We have West Holmes left. We would love to finish above .500 in the “OCC,” which was a goal we set back in February. We were a call away from winning the Wooster game. That is a game that would have gotten then some confidence, but it didn’t happen. It took these guys a while to get the confidence that they need to have to get to the districts and beyond.”
Bellevue (18-5) was state ranked for much of the season in division two. Staab looks for it to be a low scoring game which means they must have outstanding pitching no matter who they throw. “We saw them a little bit before our game. They played Willard, who really wasn’t that strong. Their ace’s brother plays at Heidelberg with my son and he is great kid. I have met the guy we are going to face, Manner. He is just a little guy, but he is a bulldog. Everything he throws is hard. His off speed is still fairly hard. He is great pitcher. He is going to Heidelberg too. We definitely have a challenge. I can’t imagine this game being an offensive, powerhouse like game because if it is we are probably going to be on the other side of the stick. I can see this game being a 3-2 or 2-1. We need Trevor and Travis to throw strikes and to work on their off speed stuff to keep them off balance. If not we are probably not going to be playing much more in the tournament,” said Staab.
Lady Colts Getting it Together
It took a while, but the Clear Fork Lady Colts have established some rhythm to their season.
Last week, they beat Mansfield Senior twice (15-3) last Tuesday and (15-1) on Wednesday, then beat a pretty Plymouth team (6-0) on Saturday.
Coach Jeff Gottfried says they have finally gotten on a roll, something he has been waiting for all year. “It’s nice to get on a roll an win a couple of games in roll here, like we did, no matter what the competition is. It is good for confidence. It is good for future seasons in things like that. We feel like we are playing our rest ball of the season right now and that is what you want to be at the end of the season. We are peaking and hopefully going to have some success at the end of the season here,” he said.
Junior Taylor Kline is one of the top hitters in the area at .600 and she has stolen 51 bases, which is one the top totals in Ohio. Junior catcher Anna Myers tops the area in RBI with 30. Gottfried says they have led the team, but they have some other kids that are doing some things too. “I think we have had a couple of kids that have had real nice seasons offensively. Number one is Taylor Kline, our lead of hitter, a junior second basemen. She has just been phenomenal all year. Her biggest strength is her speed. She can just put so much pressure on the defense just slapping bunts. She has also had six triples on the year or eight triples, I’m not sure. She has some power too. Another junior at the plate for us is our catcher Anna Myers. She has just been solid as well. It just seems when Taylor is on base she is the one knocking her in. She has had not only had an outstanding year at the plate, but also defensively for us,” said Gottfried. He says some younger kids have stepped up. “We have had some other kids step up and kind of have some quiet good years. Freshman Montana Walker, she is now hitting over .350. Erika Farst, hitting in the two spot, hitting .300. We have had some kids that have had good seasons. They know what their role is and they have been able to move some runners. And have come up with some clutch hits as of late. Senior Ellen Jones, doesn’t have the greatest averages on the season. She has some big two outs hits here in the last week and half and have sparked us. There are times you think we won’t be able to get anything now until we get back around to the top. At this time of the year they are doing as well as they possibly can,” he said.
On Monday, the Lady Colts (15-9) meet Willard in the division two sectional semi-finals at Lexington. Gottfried says they have to be focused. “I know this year has not been the most successful year for their program. We played Plymouth on Saturday and they had played them during the season and they had handled them. I think they are young and they have a young freshmen pitcher. Through the season, she has gotten better for them. Come tournament time you throw all of that stuff out the window. Everybody understands that you one done. There have been some upsets along the way,” he told Swankonsportson.com on Sunday evening, “Hopefully we don’t experience one of those things. On any given day if you have to bring your best you can have a defeat. If that happens your season is pretty much done. Our kids understand that. They are tournament ready. Tournament experience has been there for us in the past. Hopefully we can rely on that. I think our kids are really on a roll. They are ready to get the season starterd.”
This week, Clear Fork has two Ohio Cardinal Conference games against West Holmes, home on Tuesday and on the road on Wednesday. Gottfried says he wants to keep playing. “Anytime you can keep playing some games. During the tournament stretch, you don’t to set idle. You don’t want to play a game and have to wait eight or 10 days for your next contest. What do you do for those three days in between if you don’t have games? I’d rather be seeing competition. As far as the conference is concerned we are pretty much out of it as far as trying to win it. There are some kids that can get some personal accolades for what they have done during the season. There is a lot of pride involved. We finished 9-5 in the conference a year ago and we have that opportunity to finish with that same record. Anytime you have chance to make yourself better. We are standing about seven wins in a row. Our take that going to a sectional final on Friday,” said Gottfried,
Ontario Rallies Past Lex
Ontario scored seven runs in the last two innings and they rallied to beat non-conference rival Lexington on Thursday in a battle between two of the best teams in the state.
Ontario (22-1), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, outlasted Lexington, #2 in the large school division, (10-9) in pick up a key win.
Warriors coach Dan Gorbett says it was a very intense game between the two conference leaders. “It was just a really fun game. Last year was a great game for a non-league game for two years in a row it has been a pretty intense game. Both sides playing hard with a lot of great players on both sides,” he said.
There was a large crowd in attendance for a high school baseball game and Gorbett says it made the game even more exciting. “It was “OYS” night, Ontario Youth Sports, and they had hot dogs for the kids and we probably had more than 200 people at the game. We probably had about fifty students come to the game to cheer us on. Both teams had good records with the crowd we had there everybody was pretty excited,” he said.
It was a never give up attitude for the Warriors. Gorbett says in the sixth inning some things began t happen for them. “I kept telling the kids that there is no clock. A couple the kids kept saying let’s just keep chipping away at it and we did. We scored five runs in the sixth inning. The bottom of the order came through. We got three consecutive hits and I think we had a walk in there. Then our number nine hitter, Aaron Baker, hit a triple and that made it 9-6 with no outs,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Thursday, “We got two more runs and then brought Mitch McCyrstall to pitch an inning. He struck two of the four kids out. The bottom of the order was up again. They had a couple of errors. Tyler Beal had a fielder’s choice and that got us the tying run. Kyle Pasheilich with two out and a man on third took the ball to the opposite field for a base hit and we won.”
Yes, it was a big win for the program, but Gorbett says they can’t stay on cloud nine forever they have a league game against Lucas to play on Friday. “I would say it would have to give us some confidence. The last thing I said to them is I am going to have to put a damper on this one. We have to get refocused (Friday). We can clinch a tie for the league (Friday) with a win over Lucas. That is the good and bad thing about baseball. If you have a bad day you can come back tomorrow. If you have a big emotional win you have to come back and play strong the next day,” said Gorbett.
With another win over Lucas (4-20,1-9) the Warriors win no less than a share of the “NCC” black division title. “That is what I told the kids. Our number one goal is to win the league and that is (Friday). This was a fun game. All of the kids know each other with neighboring schools. Even though we are not in the same league in every sport we play each other it is pretty intense game for anon-league game,” he said.
Northmor Earns Outright Title
Northmor earned its first outright blue division title in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference in more than a decade when they downed Marion Pleasant on Thursday night.
Zach Carroll got the shutout as the Golden Knights beat Pleasant (3-0) at their place to secure the outright title. They finish the “MOAC” portion of their schedule at 10-3. Everyone else in the division has at least four losses, including Pleasant, who has been the dominate power in the division. The Spartans have won the title in six of the last seven years, although they shared it was Northmor and Cardington last year.
Northmor coach Buck Workman says the win was pretty special. “It feels great. I am just happy for the boys because they rose to the occasion. All of last year and all of this year in real tight games they just rise to the occasion. I am just proud of the effort they put out each night out,” he said.
The Golden Knights (16-8,10-3) have won a large number of tightly contested games over the last two seasons. Workman says they just have the ability to turn in the big play when they need it most. “It just separates the good teams from the average teams is being able to win those close games. Being able to make that big play on defense or make that big pitch or get that big hit when you need it. The groups that I have had both this year and last year they just always seem to come through when we need it the most,” he said.
Northmor’s starting pitching has been outstanding this spring. Workman says that is their biggest key. “That has kind of been our bread and butter with Wiseman and Carroll at the top of our rotation. They have been phenomenal. Carroll is 5-2 after the win (Thursday) and Wiseman is 7-1, so we are 12-3 between them. Our threes and fours have done a tremendous job too,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “Their ERA’s hover around 2.00. It all starts and ends with pitching. If you can play some defense behind your good pitching you have a chance and we give ourselves a chance and it has worked out nicely.”
It is not just their pitching, Workman says their defense has been tremendous this year. “In 24 games now we have 31 errors. I’ll tell you what I can remember years at Northmor when have had 30 errors in a week. It has just been phenomenal how these boys just make the plays, the routine and the tough plays, that always gets the team up when you can do that,” said Workman.
New London Takes Firelands
New London claimed its 11th baseball title in the last 22 years when they downed Western Reserve in extra innings on Thursday night.
The Wildcats (19-3,12-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, got past Western Reserve (4-3) when they scored on an error in the top of the eighth inning.
Veteran coach Glen Morse, who won his 400th game on Monday night, is excepted to retire at the end of the season. He says the conference title is a fitting prize. “Like I have said from the beginning, you know 25 years ago, my first goal every year is to win the conference. This gives us number 11 or 12 in my 22 years, I can’t remember right off the top of my head. These kids that are seniors where freshmen when we won it and then we finished second the last two years. That was important for them too. We were pretty excited (Thursday) night after the game. It was a tough game going eight innings, we scored the run on error by other team, but we will take them however we can get them,” said Morse.
He believes not winning the conference title the two years, Plymouth won it last year and Crestview the year before, was a motivating factor in the play of the Wildcats this year. “The six seniors I have and the couple of juniors that actually played varsity when they were freshmen and last year as sophomores. I think that helped us work a little but harder on some things and concentrate a little bit more and do some of the small things you need to do to get where we are,” said Morse.
Expect for a weekend and one other game, Morse says this has been a very consistent team for him this season. “The second day of the season we lost to Edison, who we possibly might face here in the tournament here. We lost our focus a little bit in a doubleheader a couple of weeks ago against Seneca East, who is a pretty good team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday night, “For the most part the kids have come out every day, all 13 of them, ready to play. We have gotten some different kids some time. It doesn’t fall off no matter who we have out there. They all work hard and they do what they need to do to win some one run games.”
One of the reasons for the consistent play is this Wildcats have some pretty good depth on the diamond. Morse says everybody he has on the varsity can play. “One through nine in the order everyday, plus we have two or three kids that we rotate in and out off the bench that are pretty good hitters and are solid on defense and stuff. Sometimes that is a challenge as a coach that you have that many kids that deserve playing time. I think we have juggled them pretty good. We put the kids out there when they need to be. Everybody has contributed this year. It is really good to see them succeed,” said Morse.
Norwalk Finishes “NOL” Unbeaten
The Norwalk Truckers have achieved a measure of perfection. They finished the ten game Northern Ohio League schedule with an extra innings win over Tiffin Columbian on Thursday night.
The Truckers (23-4,10-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, defeated Tiffin Columbian (8-4) in ten innings.
Coach Wes Douglas says this is just a team that knows how to win. “It has been a special season for this group of seniors and these coaches and other players. We finished the regular season 23-4 and running the table in the “NOL” and being the number one seed. We are looking forward to a good tournament run. It’s been a special group that keeps finding ways to win,” he said.
Extra inning games are not new to the Truckers. Douglas says they are unbeaten in four tries in games that have gone more than seven. “In close games they just keep finding ways to win. In between that Sandusky game and (Thursday) night we also had an extra inning game with Willard at our place and at Mansfield Madison. We went 4-0 in extra inning games. That is just a credit to our kids. They have played a lot of baseball and finding ways to win, or more importantly finding ways not to lose, which happens a lot in high school baseball,” he said.
When asked what was that special element his team has that allows it to play well in these clutch games, Douglas settled on experience. “I think like most good high school programs these kids have been coached the right way since they were younger. Not just with us, but down in their travel teams and their local little league teams. They have been in competitive tournaments over the summers,” he told Swankonsports.com, “They don’t play quite as much in the summers as in some places. A lot of these kids have been basketball and football players at Norwalk too and all of that translates into knowing how to win close games and least giving yourself a chance.”
For Norwalk, the postseason tournament begins on Monday when they play either Ashland (7-13) or Mansfield Senior (3-16) in the division one sectional final at Mansfield Madison. Douglas expects a challenge. “We are happy to be the number one seed. I got a chance to go down and watch Ashland (Wednesday) night and was very impressed with how they are playing right now. Their pitcher (Tyson) Vogel I thought threw the ball pretty well. I think that is who we are going to see on Monday, assuming they win on Saturday morning. They are well coached, obviously they were very successful last year. We are feeling confident and good, but we’ve got a ball game on our hands. I expect it be a nice tight ballgame. Hopefully we will find a way to win that one,” said Douglas.
Lexington Back in First
Lexington’s share of first place in the Ohio Cardinal Conference lasted just one day as they have now returned to the top spot in the standings with a win over Orrville and a Wooster loss to Mansfield Madison.
The Minutemen (19-3,10-2), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, lost in Orrville (3-2) on Tuesday, but they responded to beat the Red Riders (7-0) on Wednesday. Meanwhile, Madison downed Wooster (6-5) also on Wednesday.
Lexington coach Jeff Strickler was impressed with his club’s focus, especially after Tuesday. “The kids really came in (Wednesday) and they were relaxed, they were focused, they played with a lot of intensity and they just had fun. That s what high school baseball is about having fun and winning some games along the way. It was a big win for us,” said Strickler.
The players knew what they had to do on Wednesday and Strickler says they went about their business. “I thought the last couple of weeks we might have gotten a little complacent, but (Wednesday) they went out and there was no complacency at all. The kids just played well. We didn’t have a tremendous amount of hits, but we were able to put some hits together. Some people got on base with some walks and stuff and did the things they had to do to win. After some disappointment (Tuesday) night it was very good to get a win,” said Strickler.
A key to the win was the performance of Lexington’s starting pitcher Brody Basilone. Strickler says he was outstanding. “Brody Basilone did a very nice job. He had seven strikeouts and only walked one. He hit a couple of guys. They got four hits off him and they were all just singles. He did a nice job moving the ball around and changing the eye level on hitters. He was very strong the whole game. He was in control the whole way. He did a great job,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win. Considering the loss on Tuesday, Strickler says the start of the game and getting out with no damage was huge. “Their leadoff hitter, the Johnston kid got a hit. After that Brody settled down and he got a couple of strikeouts in that first inning. He got a big groundout to Mason (Willeke) at short. We got through the first inning. In the second inning he started to cruise a little bit. The one time they did get the bases loaded, the third inning I think, he got out of it with some good pitches and got the last two outs to get out of the inning with no damage,” he said.
Now with their destiny in their own hands, Strickler says they know what they have to do. “It was great that Madison beat Wooster (Wednesday) and put us back in first by ourselves. Now we control what we do. We have to come out next week against Ashland and play well. We also have tournament next week. It is a very busy week. We have to play some good baseball to get through it,” said Strickler.
Northmor Gets a piece and Wants More
Northmor doesn’t want this to be like last season.
They were successful in 2012 in winning a blue division baseball title, but they had to share it with both Marion Pleasant and Cardington. They don’t want to do that again.
A win (7-2) over Mt. Gilead on Wednesday night gave the Golden Knights no less than a share again, but they want to be greedy and have it all to themselves. They have that chance on Thursday when they host Pleasant.
They put themselves in position with the win over Mt. Gilead and coach Buck Workman says did it with one of their best offensive nights of the season. “We got to see Mt. Gilead’s best pitcher again (Wednesday). By no means did I think this was going to be an easy game because Xavier Harris can really bring it. For whatever reason our bats were hot (Wednesday). We had 11 hits in six innings,” he told Swankonsports.com after the key victory, “Our defense was great behind Wiseman. Wiseman did his normal routine. We are able to get the win and we got some help from Elgin as they knocked off Pleasant (Wednesday) night. That sets us up for at least a share and hopefully we can put it away (Thursday).”
The win came on the heels of a (9-2) loss to Buckeye Central of the North Central Conference on Tuesday in a non-league game and Workman believes that loss was kind of a good thing. “We went to Buckeye Central (Tuesday) night and they threw their number one pitcher getting him ready for their tournament game. To be honest with you it was probably the best thing for us. If they had thrown their seven, eight, nine guy, whatever, because it was non-league, we may not have been prepared for this. They threw their best kid out there and we continued to see good pitching. So, we were able to stay on Xavier. We haven’t been singing the bat well all year, but lately we have started to grow,” said Workman.
Zach Wiseman did his usually tremendous job on the hill for Northmor and Workman says he would expect nothing less. “It was typical a typical Wiseman performance, seven strikeouts and no walks. I think he gave up five hits. He just goes out there and he competes,” he says.
Northmor beat Marion Pleasant (4-0) on April 29 and Workman says they are focused on doing it again. “We want to be stingy (Thursday) night and we have Zach Carroll on the mound and he has had a phenomenal year so far. We are pretty confident in want he can do. We are going to be facing Peasant’s best pitcher, there is no doubt. We were in a dogfight with them last time and we were able to knock them off. We are at home with nothing to lose and hopefully our boys cone out there and play nice and relaxed and we get us the “W,” said Workman.
Galion Wins Big One
Galion beat Upper Sandusky on Wednesday night in a game the Tigers just had to have if they are to challenge Ontario for the black division championship of the North Central Conference.
The Tigers lost a tough game last week to Wynford (3-2) and then dropped the first game of the series with Upper (7-4) to fall two games behind the Warriors in the loss column. So, a win Wednesday night was critical.
Coach Phil Jackson they were able to put some good at bats together against a hard throwing Upper pitcher. “The kids really responded. I thought we came out flat a little bit the first night. The pitching wasn’t there from our ace like it has been all year. We just didn’t respond well to the adversity. (Wednesday) it was totally different. We faced a gem of a pitcher in the Upper kid, a freshmen, a hard throwing lefty. He throws with great velocity. I was just tickled with the at bats we had. We did all of the little things you need to do to win a ball game,” said Jackson.
Upper (12-7,5-5) is a team that has played it best baseball lately and Jackson says they were able to make things tougher on the Rams the farther they got into the game. “Upper started slow. They had a tough schedule, but that is not a team that you wand to be facing too many times. They have a lot of good young pitching. They put the ball in play. We struggled to throw strikes against them and once we settled down and really started to get ahead of the hitters things started turning our way,” he said.
When you are facing a pitcher like Galion was Wednesday night, Jackson says he have to get into the batter’s box with a plan in mind. “Especially when you have a kid that is going to blow it by you. You have to be on your game. He you have to have a good approach at the plate. You have to put the ball in play and foul some off that maybe you are wanting to see a better pitch,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night after the win over Upper, “We did that (Wednesday) consistency throughout the lineup. Some of our kids that collected a couple of hits were down in the middle or the bottom of the lineup. That was huge for us to get people on base and move runners and score some runs when we needed too.”
Galion (17-5,8-2), #2 in the Swankonsonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, meets Crestview (12-10) in a first round game in the division three tournament on Saturday at Bucyrus. They play Ontario next Monday and Tuesday. Jackson says it is exciting play big games. “It is an exciting part of the season. It has been a busy last couple of weeks. I am really actively working to get arms healthy. We have been playing five of six games a week for the last couple of weeks. The kids are getting tired and sore and it’s a hard thing to do to keep them healthy and fresh and keep them motivated. We are looking forward to the Ontario series as well as tournament game on Saturday and the following Wednesday if we win. If is going to be an exciting next couple of weeks,” said Jackson.
Madison Has a Chance
Madison got a game closer to the top spot in the Ohio Cardinal Conference softball standings with a win over Wooster coupled with a Lexington loss to Orrville.
The Lady Rams beat Wooster (10-1) while Orrville pulled the upset in beating conference leader Lexington (4-1). Right now, Lexington is 9-2 in league play and Madison is 9-3. They meet each other at Madison on May 20 in a makeup game.
Coach Tim Niswander says the win over Wooster was one they had to have no matter what Lexington was doing. “(Tuesday) night and (Wednesday) night were both most wins for us. We knew we needed a little bit of help in order to control our own destiny and we got that (Wednesday) as Lexington got beat. We have now put it back into our hands as far as at least being able to play Lexington for a chance at the title as long as we take care of business against Senior High next week. I guess that is really all you can ask for at this point of the season,” he said.
Madison (16-4,9-3), #3 in the Swankonsports.com softball coach’s poll, has been one of the area’s bets all season. Niswander says they have been able to find a way on most nights. “When you look back on the season unless you win every single game and win a state championship you always have ifs and buts and that sort of thing. Legitimately we are five runs away from being undefeated right now. One night we didn’t play defense very well for an inning and it costs us. One night we didn’t hit very much. The other two nights we hit, we just didn’t get a timely hit. Those are our four losses. Other than that we have won some close games, we have blown some games open. We have gotten good pitching. We have gotten good, solid, consistent defense. We are hitting pretty well up and down the order. It is just a matter for getting those kids to all hit together. At this point in the season you are 20 games in and you are 16-4. You can look at you kids at this point and say you have done a great job and I am proud of you and there is not much more I can ask from you other than to just keep doing what you are doing and hopefully things will fall our way,” said Niswander.
One of the big reasons that Madison is in the position they are in is the play of pitcher Paige Carper. Niswander says the Lady Rams pitcher is just a bulldog. “Paige is a horse. She threw 11 innings (Tuesday) night and cam out and threw seven again (Wednesday). We have conditioned her to be able to throw every night. We looked at her (Tuesday) night and again (Wednesday) morning and said how are you feeling? Do you have any stiffness, soreness, tightness, any of that kind of thing and she said nope I am ready to go. It is great to have a kid like that. She is not the kid that goes out there and strikes out nine or ten kids a night, but she doesn’t give up many hard hit balls,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night, “A lot of the stuff she gives up are weak ground balls. A lot of them are right back to her. (Wednesday) after an 11 inning performance she had only thrown 13 pitches through the first two innings. She can spot the ball. She moves it around and changes speeds. When she is on it makes the defense easier. When the defense plays well behind her it makes her job easier. It is important to have great pitching and we certainly have that and our kids are feeding off each other right now.”
Madison good, but Needs to Get Better
Madison is a much improved baseball team, but they just can’t get over the top sometimes.
Monday night was a good example when they held the lead for most of the game only to give up two runs in the seventh and lose at Clear Fork (5-4) in Ohio Cardinal Conference play.
Coach Doug Rickert says they just have to learn how to close things out. “We played six innings of terrific baseball. That’s what we told the kids, but that is about our sixth or seventh one run loss. We lost three of them by a run in extra innings. We lost to Norwalk the other day 3-2 in eight innings. We lost to Perkins 3-2 in eight innings. We lost to New Albany after having a two run lead 13-12 in the last inning. I don’t know if it’s a combination of us not knowing how to win yet because we lost so many games last year,” said Rickert.
With the bases loaded and one out on Monday, Madison second baseman, sophomore Alec Keen, made a tremendous play to catch a line drive hit by Clear Fork’s Hunter Evans, but then threw the ball away trying to pick Rich Winand off third base. Rickert says it was just a mistake of youth. “Blake (Lampert) just threw a tremendous baseball game. We played fantastic defensively. We walked the leadoff guy on four pitches and he was the nine hitter. We said just go out and get him, but he just couldn’t find the strike zone. We walk Ridge (Winand) and all of the sudden there is an error and a hit batter. We make a terrific play to catch the ball and we throw to the wrong base,” he told Swankonsports.com on the field after the game, “They guy is out at first, but he is a sophomore. We have a sophomore there, a sophomore behind the plate, a junior on the mound, a freshman at first base, a sophomore in right field. It will get better. We are a good team we just have to learn how to finish it off.”
Madison (8-15,5-5) has played its best baseball over the last couple of weeks. Rickert is confident in the team he has this year. “We are a thousand times better than we were last year, that’s the thing. Our goal is to at least finish third in the league. We have our work cut out for us now, that was a tough loss. We were last in the league last year. We have beaten every team in the league at least once this year except for Lex. We get Wooster (Tuesday) night and still have Senior High. We would like to get to 10, 11 wins after getting just four last year. We would like to win a sectional championship. We have won 12 of them in my 14 years. That’s our goal to get to Bowling Green as see what happens,” said Rickert.
Madison plays at Wooster (15-4,8-2) in “OCC” play on Tuesday. Rickert looks forward to the opportunity. “They are a good team. It’s good to get good teams right now because you want to get good teams and good pitching before you get into the tournament. We have to get better before next Tuesday,” he said.
Madison will play either Marion Harding or Sandusky in the division one sectional tournament next week at Madison. Rickert says they will have to play well. “I thought we deserved the two seed and that’s what we got. We’ve got the winner of Sandusky and Marion. We beat both of them during the year, but they were both good ball games. It’s going to take everything we have. We’ll have Bo Curvin throw that game and we will have Blake (Lampert) in relief and we feel pretty good about that,” he said.
Highland Takes Title
With a win on Monday night over Buckeye Valley the Highland Scots have claimed their second straight red division in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
The Scots downed Buckeye Valley (9-3) to remain unbeaten in league play this spring. Coach Travis Church says their pitchers have led the charge this year. “We have been very successful on the mound. I would definitely say our pitching has been at the forefront of our success. We have been playing better defensively and we have been getting some timely hitting. We have been getting some great leadership out of our seniors. Some young guys that got experience last year as freshmen have been playing well for us as sophomores this year,” said Church.
Highland also swept a doubleheader this season from Mid-Buckeye Conference leader Fredericktown. Church says when there have been errors they have kept their heads up. “We have been trying to talk to them about even when there are mistakes to have a next play mentality and you are only as good as your last game mentality and the boys have really bought into it,” he told Swankonsports.com after their win on Monday, “Team chemistry has really been good for us as well and the boys just enjoy being around each other. They have done a really nice job of buying in to what we have been selling to them. It has been a nice season for us for sure.”
Despite not losing any games in the league this year, and winning the title last season, Church knows they have to be at the top of their game to win in the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference. “This my ninth year coaching in the “MOAC” and I also played in the “MOAC” when I was in high school. You have to be ready every night you have league play. Any given team can beat you on any given night. We played Buckeye Valley (Monday). Even though their record doesn’t entail it they have played a very competitive schedule. We knew going into (Monday) it was going to be a tough ballgame and we were fortunate enough to come out on top,” said Church.
There are still four more league games to play and, of course, the postseason tournament. Church believes they will continue to play with great effort. “Each year we pick a quote to center our season around. This year our quote is no reserves, no regrets, no retreat. I think that is what we are going to continue to strive at. With each game we are going to continue to strive at doing. With each game we are going to walk away knowing we left everything out on the field and we are going to be able to look at each other in the eye at the end of the day and say I gave you everything I’ve got. We are going to continue to strive for that and hopefully we can win us another league championship and make us a nice tournament run,” he said.
It has not been a season that Ashland High School baseball fans are used to, but things are starting to turn around for the Arrows… maybe.
They lost (5-2) to the second place team in the Ohio Cardinal Conference, the Wooster Generals, on Saturday.
Coach Rob Lavengood saw some good things from his team. “Well, I saw signs of a turnaround. Now we just have to put it together and get a “W” and I think that will go a long ways in gaining that confidence that we need as we get ready for tournament. Defensively, we didn’t have an error Saturday, so that was a good sign. Tyson (Vogel) threw the game for us. He struggled a little bit the first few innings, but he settled in and threw a really good fourth and fifth inning. It was probably the best two innings he has pitched in two weeks,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “There were definitely some sings Saturday that were good for us as we head into this week and we hope it carries over and gives a chance to get some “W’s” this week.”
Ashland (7-11,5-5) plays at West Holmes (12-7,5-5) in “OCC” action on Tuesday. This has not been the season the Knights expected either, but Lavengood says that has been due to injuries. “I think they have kind of righted the ship a little bit and started to play some pretty good baseball here these last couple of weeks. They have struggled through with some injuries the first part of the season to their pitching. They are trying to get things straightened out for tournament. I think they are in position to make a nice little run because it sounds like the Baird kid is getting healthy, their number one. The Snyder kid, who has hardly pitched at all has finally started to throw a little bit these last couple of weeks. If those two guys are healthy they are as good as anybody in the area. I would hate to have to face them come tournament time, that’s for sure,” said Lavengood.
With the West Holmes pitching staff back in tack Lavengood says that means they have to have a good approach at the plate to have any success. “We have been talking to our kids here the last couple of weeks about making sure we have a good at bat every time we step into the batter’s box. We need to know our zone and not expand our strike zone, swinging at strikes and laying off balls and making the starting pitcher for the other team make some pitches. These are some things we have struggled with the last couple of weeks. Saturday even though we only scored a couple of runs off a very good pitcher, the Buckingham kid from Wooster, their number one, I thought we had some pretty decent at bats, so I’m hoping that will finally show up in he box scores this week as we face West Holmes,” said Lavengood.
Bucyrus Gets a Boost in Momentum
Bucyrus has been trying this season to become a better team and in many ways they have done that and it was illustrated by a big win over Wynford on Monday night.
The Redmen (7-11,4-6) downed the Royals (7-2) in a black division game in the North Central Conference. Coach Jeff Fisher says it started with a pretty good pitching performance. “Wynford has been on a roll here of late. They beat Galion last week and beat Crawford handily at their place. The odds were stacked against us, but we got a fantastic pitching outing from Trent Neidacor, a junior. It was his second start of the year. He went six innings, despite not striking out a soul. He put the ball across the plate. Our guys played about as clean a ball game defensively as they have all season. What I mean by that they hit all of the cuts, we had a couple of double plays mixed in there and made the routine plays. Overall I’m happy with our execution (Monday) night,” said Fisher.
The defense was pretty good for the Redmen on Monday night, but Fisher says that’s because they did the routine things well. “It starts on the mound. If you guy doesn’t consistently get ahead and change speeds and do it in and around the plate, it kind of handcuffs you. Our guy did that. With these new bats the ball just doesn’t jump off the bat like it used too, so by golly you better be able to catch the ball and make accurate throws or you are going to lose the games that you expect to win,” he said.
Consistency in the lineup has been an issue for the Redmen, but Fisher says that seems to be coming around. “Offensively, despite our abysmal batting average we are not striking out as much. We are executing our bunts much better. We are just getting more clutch hitting. Our three and four hole hitters, Wes Williams and Andy Korner, and actually our five hole hitter (Monday) Cole Holis got a key hit that put us over the hump,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win. “The middle of our order is starting to drive runs in while the other guys are scratching out ways to get on base. I am hopeful that we have turned the corner here, but time will tell, especially leading up to our sectional tournament here.”
Bucyrus plays Saturday at home in a division three tournament game against Carey (4-12) of the Midland Athletic League, the winner plays once beaten Ontario. Fisher thinks it was good draw for them. “I felt the sectional here at Bucyrus ended up as I expected. I was hopeful we would end up with Carey, a team we played early in the season that I feel we match up well with. Ontario is a team hat is just so tough. This is a young team that we have here at Bucyrus that needs games, we need the opportunity to get better. We need to take care of business against Carey and let the chips fall where they may,” he said.
Baseball Tournament Pairings Determined
Although the baseball regular season isn’t over the tournament is about to begin, in fact it starts on Saturday,
Seeds were determined on Sunday at meetings held across the Northwest district.
In division one, to no surprise as Norwalk (21-3), was given the fist seed in the sectional at Mansfield Madison High School. The Truckers have already earned at least a share of the Northern Ohio League title. Coach Wes Douglas feels they earned that seed. “We are really satisfied with the number one seed, very deserving. It is probably going to be Ashland coming out of that and we would consider that a huge challenge. They are solid and very well coached. They have played a very strong schedule. We expect a good game. Hopefully, we will beat them and make it to Bowling Green,” said Douglas.
They play either Ashland (7-12) or Mansfield Senior (3-14) in a sectional final game. In the other half of the bracket the semi-final has Sandusky (9-13) and Marion Harding. The winner gets red hot Mansfield Madison (8-14), who has played its best baseball over the last 10 days, including an extra innings loss (3-2) to Norwalk on Saturday.
Lexington (17-2), the leader of the Ohio Cardinal Conference got the first seed in a division two sectional at Clyde. “I’m happy with it. We were able to get the bye,” said coach Jeff Strickler. They will play May 13 against either Shelby (12-8) or Tiffin Columbian (8-12), who play in a semi-final on Saturday. In the bottom half of the bracket Bellevue (13-5) faces Willard (2-13) and Clear Fork (11-6) takes on Clyde (13-4) and in second place in the Sandusky Bay Conference, both games are Saturday. Clear Fork has won it’s last five. “They are staring to pitch with some confidence. We are getting ahead in counts. We are getting a lot of 0-2, 1-2 ground outs and pop ups. That is the way they are suppose to pitch,” said Clear Fork coach Rusty Staab.
In another division two sectional at Mercy Field at Lordes College, Sandusky Perkins (21-0) and in first place in the “SBC” is the top seed. They chose a bye and will play May 16th against either Port Clinton (9-7) or Rossford. They play Saturday. Two other semis in that sectional are May 13 with Toledo Central Catholic meeting Toledo Start and Pemberville Eastwood challenging Toledo Woodward.
Ontario (19-1), the leader of the black division of the North Central Conference, took the top seed in a division three sectional at Bucyrus High School. They play either Bucyrus (6-11) of Carey (4-11) in a second round game on May 14. Warriors coach Dan Gorbett says he will need a lot of pitchers. “Getting the number one seed got us a bye in the first round that helps with all of the league games we have this week. We do have to come back and play tournament Tuesday and we have two Galion games that week. That is going to be a tough week, like it was last year with the league championship on the line and both of us trying to win sectional championships. We have to be deep in pitching next week,” said Gorbett. In the bottom of the Bucyrus bracket it’s Galion (16-4) against Crestview (9-10) and Wynford (11-6) against Upper Sandusky (11-6) in games that will be played on Saturday.
Meanwhile New London (15-3), the Firelands Conference leader, has the first seed in sectional to be played at Bellevue High School. They will play either Edison or Margaretta. Coach Glen Morse says his players will be ready. “I was pleased to see we got the number one seed. Edison is one of the threes losses we have this year. We played them the second day of the season, so I’m sure out kids will be excited with the chance of playing them again,” said Morse. In the lower bracket Western Reserve meets Huron with the winner getting Oak Harbor.
There are five division four sectionals in the region covered by Swankonsports.com beginning with a grouping at Shelby High School. Colonel Crawford (11-10) is the top seed and Mansfield St. Peter’s (8-9) is the second. Mansfield Christian (4-11) plays Lucas (3-19) on Saturday. The winner plays Crawford on May 13. In the other bracket Buckeye Central (8-14) plays Crestline (5-13) for the right to play St. Pete’s. The Spartans had only won seven games over the previous three years. They have had six come from behind wins this year and coach Tim Failor says that has led to some late inning confidence. “The kids know that and feel that,” he said.
At Plymouth High School, the upper bracket semi-final has the home Big Red (16-5) against Monroeville (3-17) on Saturday with the winner meeting the top seed Seneca East (15-3) on May 15. Plymouth coach Andrew McFarland with the third seed had a chance to place his team in either bracket. “In our maids it pretty much played out like we thought it would. We are 16-5 and in most sectionals that is good for a first round bye, but as tough as ours is with a very good Seneca East team and a very good St. Mary’s team we thought we might get a three and we did. It was kind of a flip of the coin about what bracket to go in. Both Seneca East and St. Mary’s both have good pitchers and beat some good teams. Which ever on we played we would have to get a great start out of Zach Butler and find a way to scratch a couple runs across. That is the way it’s going to be,” said McFarland. In the lower bracket the semi final has South Central (5-15) to meet Norwalk St. Paul (6-11) Saturday for the right to play Sandusky St. Mary’s (13-4) May 16.
At Hopewell-Loudon High School it’s Fremont St. Joseph (10-10) against Old Fort (4-10) on Saturday with the winner facing Hopewell-Loudon (9-8) on May 14. The lower bracket semis it’s Kansas Lakota (5-10) and Tiffin Calvert (6-12) on Saturday with the winner talking Gibsonburg on May 13.
On the other side of Seneca County at New Riegel High School Saturday’s semi-finals have Mohawk (4-13) and Arcadia with the winner getting McComb on May 14 and Riverdale (1-12) and Fostoria St. Wendelin (0-12) with the winner meeting New Riegel (10-9) on May 15.
At Findlay, North Baltimore (10-7), out of the Midland Athletic League, faces Hardin-Northern (2-15) in a semi-final on Saturday. The winner advances to face Arlington (11-5) on May 15. The lower bracket semi-final has Ridgeway Ridgemont (3-14) and Ada (2-12) on Saturday. Vanlue gets the winner on May 15.
Clear Fork Still Looking For Consistency
This season has been like one step forward and one step back for the Clear Fork Lady Colts softball team. They just can’t put a good streak together.
Last week, is a good example. They beat Orrville (11-1) in Ohio Cardinal Conference game on Tuesday and then lost to the same team (8-6) the next day. On Saturday in a doubleheader against Fredericktown they lost the first game (12-2) and won the second (13-3) to split the twin bill.
Coach Jeff Gottfried says it is just hard to figure out. “I would hate to be scouting us. We can’t tell within our own program what we are going to get. I don’t think it is ever a fault of effort. The effort is always there. Some of the kids that are making mistakes will play great one day and the next day they won’t. I am not sure what it is. I wish somebody would tell me so I knew what to do to fix our team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday, “We are competitive, we are right there. A lot of times it’s a matter of focus and understanding the situation of who we are up against. You know, blocking out some distractions at times. Sometimes you just have a bad day. One thing for sure you are going to get from us is you are going to get every effort, every time out. Sometimes you just don’t make plays or other teams force mistakes on you and you come out on the short end of the stick.”
The Lady Colts (12-9,5-5) have drawn a first round game against Willard (2-13) in the division two sectional tournament on May 13. If they win the will meet arch rival Lexington (15-4) on May 17. Gottfried says the tournament is their focus now. “Hopefully we right the ship a little bit this week. We do know the tournament draw is done. With five losses in the conference it has pretty much put us out of it, so basically we are preparing for that second season. Hopefully we can get some things going here in the next week to ten days, so we are ready to go for the opening round tournament game,” he said.
Has there ever been a year like this for Clear Fork at least in Gottfried’s tenure? He says no, not really. “The worst year we probably had was starting out last year. We started out 5-10 and the schedule kind of turned for us and we played some teams that maybe weren’t as good as the beginning part of the schedule was. We got hot and we got on a roll. People figured things out. Some of the people that preformed well last year are having a tough year this year. Sometimes that just happens, people just have bad years. With our Lady Colts teams we have never gone back and forth like this. One thing that is good is we haven’t gotten on a losing streak and you get real negative and it snowballs that way. That was the one positive I told the girls after Saturday that we haven’t had losses three, four, five games in row like we did year ago, but we haven’t gotten on a winning streak either,” said Gottfried.
Clear Fork plays a two game series against Mansfield Senior (1-16,0-10) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Gottfried says the Lady Tygers will not be a push over. “We have to have it to get the momentum going. They are a conference foe. Is it possible for Mansfield Senior to beat us? Absolutely it is. We have to come out and play well and basically take care of ourselves. I think as long as we do that we will be fine. Coach Townley up there has done a great job in his two years of getting his girls to play better and play harder and play throughout the entire game. Teams may be beating them, but I don’t think they are beating them near as bad as they were before. They are not really a laughing stock like they were before. I think they are very completive in their games. I know our games with them last year weren’t really close, but it wasn’t one of those situations where in the second inning we were wondering if the game is ever going to get done. Our focus is more on us and making sure we are starting to play better,” said Gottfried.
Clear Fork Pitchers Outstanding
Clear Fork pitchers went four straight games without allowing an earned run and have put together a five game winning streak as the post season is about to begin.
Trevor Carr made two first inning runs stand as the Colts beat Orrville (2-0) on April 30 and Travis Born got the win as Clear Fork won at Orrville (4-0) the next day. The Colts then swept a doubleheader from Marion Harding on Saturday. Austin Baker threw a no-hitter in game with Colts winning (5-1) and four players had two hits in the nightcap a (10-7) win over the Presidents.
The Colts will play Clyde (13-4) at Clyde on a division two sectional game on Saturday. The Fliers are in second place in the Sandusky Bay Conference.
Coach Rusty Staab says their recent hot streak all begins with their pitching staff. “We thought that was going to be our strength this year at the start of the season and it didn’t look like that, but I think the pitchers are now proving their worth. We are getting a lead for them with Ryan (South) and Ridge (Winand) and Travis (Born) producing and Hunter (Evans) and Mason (Swank) have been kind of a carrying us. The pitchers are starting to pitch with some confidence. They are getting ahead in the count. We are getting a lot of 0-2 and 1-2 ground outs and pop ups. That is the way they are supposed to pitch. When you are constantly walking guys and pitching 2-1, 3-0 it is just always going to be a negative thing. That has just been the opposite the last five games,” he told Swankonsports.com on Sunday night, “Our pitchers are throwing strikes and our defense is involved more. When you walk batters they go from their toes to their heels. They are typical guys, so their mind wonders and they are just not in the game. Strikeouts and walks is a very boring baseball game. When you start getting kids off balance and they are hitting ground balls and you are turning double plays. Our last four games have been under and hour and a half. It is one of those things were our pitching has brought us back to life.”
Ridge Winand (.444) and Ryan South (.424) have been leading the offense, but Staab says everybody has been doing the job. “There have been some guys that have been very steady. Ridge has just been phenomenal this year. Travis finally got his first home run this past weekend. We have actually moved Mason up into the four spot to take a little pressure off Hunter and it has really worked. Maybe we are like the Indians, when the weather warms up, we warm up to. We haven’t been striking out,” said Staab.
The Clear Fork coach says down and hard is their hitting philosophy. “We are hoping when we get the ball hit to us we make the play defensively. When they you hit the ball on the ground three things have to happen, they have to field it, they have to throw it, and another person has to catch it. We have played some teams that have made some errors and have hopped all over it. We have had some big innings because of it because we have put the ball in play,” he said.
Clear Fork (11-6,3-6) plays a home Ohio Cardinal Conference game against Mansfield Madison (8-12,5-4) on Monday afternoon. Staab says this is always a good match-up. “It’s always fun. Me and Doug (Rickert) are good friends, but when we get on the field we want to beat the snot out of each other. The kids all know each other. It’s always been a good match-up. You can throw the records out the window. It has always been a good game to help both teams out. Sometimes we have played them when they are a little down and we beat them and it kind of wakes them up and they start playing good ball and the same with us. Right now, we are both playing pretty good. We hope it continues. You know they are going to come out and hit. Madison kids are born to hit. They are going to hit the ball, let’s hope this time it is at people, actually it was through people, last time we played we made about seven errors,” said Staab
Then on Tuesday and Wednesday, Clear Fork plays a two game series against Mansfield Senior (3-14,1-9). Staab thinks the Tygers are much improved. “They lost to West Holmes 1-0 in eight innings. They beat Ashland. I think they have a group of young kids. When you are playing baseball in warm weather anything can happen. Baseball is a funny sport you can out hit someone, you can out field, out pitch and still lose. We can never take a Mansfield Senior team lightly,” he said.
Norwalk Earns a Piece of “NOL”
It’s a three peat for the Norwalk Truckers in the Northern Ohio League.
A win over rival Bellevue (5-2) on Thursday night gave the Truckers (20-2,8-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, no less than a share of the “NOL” title. It was their second win over the Redmen in just over a week. Coach Wes Douglas says this was one of their better efforts of the season. “We have only played them twice, but the first game got suspended because of rain and we had to finish that up and it made seem like two games. We were in the driver’s seat going into to (Thursday), but they were right behind us. We got an outstanding performance from everybody on our team to win our 16th straight game and lock up at least a share of our third straight “NOL” title, so we are feeling pretty good,” said.
Winning three straight titles isn’t easy, but Douglas says they have dedicated and talented players. “We have a veteran team this year with nine seniors and nine lettermen. We knew coming in that we had some quality players and some good experience. Things have really gone our way. Our two losses are to a 16-2 Lexington team and a 20-0 Perkins team. The first loss coming the first day of the season,” he told Swankonsports.com, “This group has been outstanding lead my our two four year lettermen in Isaac Perry and Michael Finch and three year lettermen Colin Suter and Ethan Rhodes. It has just been a fun group to be around and they are experiencing a lot of success.”
Before the season began most people knew Norwalk would be pretty good. Douglas says their initial goal was to win the league. “I think everybody’s first goal is to win their league title and work out from there. This a pretty solid league with the top three, four teams this year. We didn’t back into it. We beat Bellevue twice, we beat Sandusky twice, and we beat Shelby twice. We played probably our most complete game of the year (Thursday),” he said.
Norwalk will be part of the division one sectional tournament at Madison High School and Douglas thinks the top seed is theirs. “I would be very surprised if we weren’t the number one seed. We are sitting at 20-2 right now. After that it is probably Ashland, Sandusky, and Mansfield Madison fighting for that two seed with probably Mansfield Senior and Marion Harding coming in after that. We like where we are sitting and hopefully things line up in our favor and we can make a run in the tournament before we head to the districts up at Bowling Green where there is Perrysburg, Anthony Wayne, Maumee an some of those successful Toledo teams,” said Douglas.
Shelby Driving Toward Possible Seed
After a slow start to the season the Shelby Whippets continue to play outstanding baseball after a win over Sandusky on Thursday night.
Shelby bested the Blue Streaks (7-4) in Northern Ohio League play. Coach C.J. Brickman says they have really played well over the last couple of weeks of the season, with their only loss coming to league leader Norwalk. “I think we have won seven of our last eight. Norwalk, we really can’t control what they do now. We can just control what we can control and the games that we have and see how it goes,” said Brickman.
Shelby (11-7,6-2) has been an outstanding offensive team all season, but Brickman says it has been their pitching and defense that has made them into a better team. “We started really slow with our pitching and our defense. Then all of the sudden that was our best aspect. Our team ERA went from like a seven to a four. We are like making one error less in the last seven games and that has been the difference,” he said.
At the beginning of the season Shelby was trying to outscore their opponents. A 17-10 loss to Norwalk is an example. However, no matter what kind of offense you have it is difficult to win those kinds of games consistently. Brickman says it affects your confidence. “It is demoralizing. You come out and score a few runs and you give us five or six earned runs and you have to go back at it. If you do it again it will kill you,” he said.
Shelby will play in a division two sectional tournament at Clyde High School and the tournament draw is Sunday. Brickman thinks they have a chance for a high seed. “We play Galion on Saturday in a doubleheader. If we can take them both hopefully I feel real good about it. I’m just not sure about Clyde’s record. I don’t know what they have done. Besides them I feel like we are a three seed, maybe a two seed possibly because we did beat Bellevue,” Brickman told Swankonsports.com after the win on Thursday over Sandusky.
Ohio Cardinal Conference leader Lexington, streaking Clear Fork, Clyde, in second in the Sandusky Bay Conference, plus Bellevue, Tiffin Columbian and Willard from the Northern Ohio League are also in the sectional.
Wooster Tightens “OCC” Race
Well, the race is on with two weeks left in the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball season.
Wooster (14-3,7-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, beat Lexington (5-2) on Wednesday and moved to with a game of the Minutemen a top the conference standings.
Generals coach Derek Boyd says considering the circumstances and who they were playing it was a huge win for them. “Anytime you beat a team that is ranked fourth in the state, has one loss, especially in the conference, which is so good like we have talked about all year. It’s a huge win, but also to come back after a tough loss at home (Tuesday) night,” said Boyd.
Lexington (16-2,9-1), #1 in our poll, beat Wooster (7-3) on Tuesday night in the first game of the two game series. Boyd says his players played inspired baseball on Wednesday. “We talked after the game (Tuesday) night there are one of two things you can do, you can feel sorry for yourselves or get ready to go back the next day because nobody is going to feel sorry for us,” he said.
With around a .400 team average, the Minuteman have been pounding the baseball. Boyd says his starter Ben Murphy did a tremendous job in limiting the Minutemen. “I can’t say enough about Ben Murphy (Wednesday) he was fantastic for us. He really did a great job of getting ahead in the counts and kind of setting the tone. He scattered a couple of hits and really bearded down at the end of the game and gave us a fantastic outing,” he said.
With lineup that features the likes of Wilkeke, Sterry, Basilone and Bastin, Lexington can produce some big innings. Boyd says Murphy was able to minimize the damage on Wednesday. “That is what happened (Tuesday) night in the seventh inning. You have two teams that are really good that were going toe to toe (Tuesday) night. Unfortunately we got behind in the count against a couple of hitters and they turned their lineup over and you have their two best hitters up at the top,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Those guys had been making us pay and they made us pay again. We talked about avoiding the big inning. We were able to do that (Wednesday). Ben gave up one in the second and one in the fifth and I think that was huge,” he said.
Wooster has series remaining with Mansfield Madison and Orrville as well as a make-up game with Ashland on Saturday. Boyd says it should be a lot of fun these last two weeks. “You have Madison that just beat Ashland twice and we get them next week. I told our guys that well you got yourselves back into it. You were in a tough situation with your backs against the wall on the road against a great team with a pitcher that is having a fantastic year. We had all of things working against us. I am really proud of the way we responded to a tough outing (Tuesday) night,” said Boyd.
Carroll Throws No-Hitter for Northmor
The mark of a good pitcher is one that can be successful when they don’t have their best stuff. If that is true then Northmor’s Zach Carroll is a great pitcher.
He threw a no hitter at the North Union Wildcats on Wednesday night as the Golden Knights beat North Union (3-0) and maintained first place in the blue division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
They lead Marion Pleasant by a game. The Spartans beat River Valley (10-8) on Wednesday.
Northmor coach Buck Workman says Carroll wasn’t as sharp as he has been the rest of the season… really. “The funny thing is this is his fifth or sixth start of year and he has thrown the ball better every time out than he did (Wednesday). He didn’t have his best stuff, but it was one of those nights when we made all of the plays behind him. They hit them right at us. We had a couple of nice plays in there,” he told Swankonsports.com after the game Wednesday, “We had two double plays. We had a nice play at their base by Daniel Donner on a backhand ball. It was just one of those nights. I mean it’s hard to explain. He only struck three guys, that is his lowest total of the year.”
In the majors there is an unwritten rule not to talk about a no-hitter to the pitcher due to superstition. Workman says that is not the case when it comes to high school players. “Apparently at the high school level that went flying out the window. I am sitting their in the bottom of the sixth and I called Wiseman and said how long do you need to get warmed up? He doesn’t have his best stuff and if he gets in trouble I’m bringing you in. He says are you kidding? He has a no hitter going. So, I checked the book and sure enough he had a no hitter going. It didn’t feel like it because he was laboring from start to finish. He just didn’t have his best stuff, but he got through it and got the job done,” said Workman.
Again the Golden Knights (10-5,6-2) won in a close game. Workman says they just handle pressure situations well. “There are times when we are in a one-run ballgame. These guys, the things they are talking about just befuddle me. It just doesn’t bother them. I can’t explain it. They are just loose and that is good to have,” he said.
Northmor hosts Buckeye Valley (6-16,3-4) on Thursday and travels to Cardington (5-9,3-4) on Friday in conference games.
Galion lost a tough game to Wynford on Tuesday night, but there was no pouting for the Tigers. They beat state ranked Bellevue in a non-league game on Wednesday.
The Tigers edged the Redmen (13-3), #4 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, (5-4) on Wednesday.
They had lost to Wynford (3-2) when the Royals pushed across a run in the bottom of the seventh. “Winning cures a lot of sorrows. In 24 hours time we went from very disappointed to a very elated team,” said Galion head coach Phil Jackson.
To be a good team you must win when the pressure is on and Jackson says they were able to do that on Wednesday night. “Sometimes you need those to give yourself some confidence that you can win those types of games, but it still makes time stand still when you are on the winning side, or you have the lead, and they start chipping away at he lead. I tell you it’s nerve racking,” he said.
Bellevue is two games behind Northern Ohio League leader Norwalk, and they play the Truckers on Thursday. Jackson says they were out to prove something. “They are a very good team and we knew that going in. It is no secret they are ranked in the state and have had success up there for quite a few years. We had a little motivation going in there. We wanted to prove ourselves, especially on the heels of what happened at Wynford. We were able to do that and I was very tickled,” said Jackson.
The Tigers (14-3), #4 in our small school poll, have gotten pretty good pitching and they have hit the ball pretty well too. Jackson says their defense must improve. “Maybe this isn’t the model week for us to talk about consistency, but until know we have been a fairly consistent team. One thing, even in the mix in losing that game to Wynford, I think some of our pitching has really been consistent and really been good,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We are struggling to find a right fielder, an outfielder that can get comfortable in that position we will be more consistent. Our hitting has been pretty good, our pitching has been pretty good of late. We are just making some errors in the field we need to clean up.”
Galion returns to North Central Conference play when they meet Lucas on Friday.
Spartans Win Big One
For weeks we have talked about how this has been a better season for Mansfield St. Peter’s, but I’m sure there were some unbelievers. That likely ended this week.
On Tuesday night, the Spartans (7-8) beat Seneca East (13-3), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, (6-5) in a non-league game.
Coach Tim Failor says it was a landmark win. “I am absolutely thrilled for the kids. Of course, I feel good too, but I feel good for the kids. It was a tremendous win. It was great for the program and great for building enthusiasm. We hit a bump in the road the last few games. We hadn’t been hitting the ball. We gave up some runs. Through the first five innings (Tuesday) night I thought it was the same. We scored a lot of runs late. It was a lot of fun,’ said Failor.
A main difference for the Spartans this year is confidence. Failor says they believe they can win in the late innings. “Five of our wins have been come from behind wins. The kids know that they can do that. They just have to believe they are going to do it again and by golly (Tuesday) night they did,” he said. Failor says in previous years they did not have that same confidence. “It is a change from some prior years. In a lot of prior years when we would get down we would be down for the next game and the game after that. This year, they are down after they lose, of course, but it seems like they know they have the ability to win and they just keep playing hard, which is very rewarding,” he said.
Thursday afternoon, St. Peter’s travels to Plymouth to play the Big Red (13-3) in another big game. Failor says they will be ready. “That is going to be an interesting game. I guess that is a good way to say it. They are really playing good baseball. We used our number one (Tuesday) night, so number two has to come through for us at Plymouth, but the kids are excited,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We don’t have a lay down schedule. We are division four, but we play Clear Fork, we play Colonel Crawford, we play Wynford and we play New London. The kids are excited we play good teams that play good baseball.”
The sectional tournament draws will be held on Sunday in the Northwest District. Failor believes they have a good opportunity to earn a bye. “In our sectional, we don’t have the best record, Colonel Crawford does. We have beaten every team in our sectional. We beat Colonel Crawford, we spilt with Buckeye Central, we beat Crestline, we are beating in a suspended game Mansfield Christian. I don’t know how that’s going to go. Now a win against Seneca East, that’s a statement game. That’s a big win, so I hope the drawing goes as well as I hope it goes. I would like get a bye, we will have to see if that happens,” said Failor.
Ashland Needs to Pick it Up
The high school baseball season is short, 27 days to be exact, and you really can’t afford any prolonged slumps.
Unfortunately that is just what the Ashland Arrows are in at this point in the season. After a loss in an Ohio Cardinal Conference game to Mansfield Madison (15-5) on Wednesday evening the Arrows have lost seven of their last eight games.
Coach Rob Lavengood says they haven’t been making good pitches and they have been making a lot of errors and that adds up to losses. “We are definitely going through a pretty rough stretch. We started the year 7-3 and now we have lost seven of our last eight. The old adage is you win games with pitching and defense and we have been struggling quite a bit in those two areas for the past two weeks or so. (Tuesday) and (Wednesday) against Madison was no different. When you give up 24 runs in two days you are not going to win too many games,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night after the loss, “Again it starts on the mound. Our pitchers have really struggled with their location recently. When we have thrown strikes we have caught a lot of the plate and at times we are struggling finding the strike zone. When we fall behind and we are throwing 3-1 pitches and 2-0 pitches the other team is sitting fastball. When we throw strikes they have been hitting it.”
Lavengood says Madison played well, but they didn’t given themselves much of a chance. “You have to give them credit, Madison swung the bats extremely well this week against us, but he have to do a little bit better job on the mound of hitting our spots and working ahead in the count. Then we have to do a better job of making plays behind our pitchers, so they don’t have to throw extra pitches and get extra out every inning,” he said.
It is not a lack of effort for the Arrows. Lavengood says they have just had trouble throwing quality strikes and they have not been making the routine plays in the field. “It’s not like our pitchers are stepping on the mound trying to throw balls. They are working their tail off. They are trying and sometimes the harder you try, the harder it is. There are two things that are frustrating that really put you in a hole and that’s walks and errors. We have really struggled in those areas. We have given too many free passes and we have made too many errors. That is a recipe for disaster when you are trying to win games against good teams,” said Lavengood.
In most cases the Arrows have been scoring enough runs to win, but Lavengood says they have been putting themselves behind the eight ball too many times early in games. “The thing that has really hurt us here recently is we have fallen behind early and not just 1-0 or 2-0 we have fallen behind six, seven, eight to nothing the last couple days. That limits a lot of what you can do on offense. One of the things that I think is a strength of ours offensively is our team speed. Our ability to steal bases, bunt, move some guys over, do some hit and run and do some things to put pressure on the defense. When you are down six, seven, eight to nothing you are not going to sacrifice bunt. You are certainly not going to steal too many bases. If you get thrown out down six or seven that doesn’t make you look very smart, so we have really been limited in what we can do because we have fallen behind big. We have got to get off to better starts our pitchers have to give some quality innings early in the game to give us a chance to do some things offensively and get things rolling and we just haven’t been able to do that. (Tuesday) night against Madison we are down 8-0 after three innings and (Wednesday) we are down 9-0 after three innings. There is not a whole lot you can do to be aggressive offensively when that’s the case,” said Lavengood.
Lexington takes a Two Game Lead
Lexington seems to have all of the answers this year. They rallied to beat Wooster on Tuesday to establish a two game lead in the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball standings.
Trailing 1-0 after four innings, the Minutemen (16-1,9-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, scored three times in the fifth and four in the seventh to secure the win (7-3) over second place Generals.
Coach Jeff Strickler says they were able to take advantage when the situation presented itself. “We didn’t get on the board until the fifth inning. They were ahead 1-0 at that point. We took a 3-1 lead in the top of the fifth. They came back in scored two in the bottom of the fifth on a two-run homer by Daugherty. We were able to get four runs across against Buckingham in the seventh to win it,” he said.
Nick Buckingham has had an outstanding season for the Generals (13-3,6-2), #5 in our coach’s poll. Strickler believes they had a good approach and made him work harder. “It was a huge win. They are a really good team. Buckingham is a really good pitcher. They hit the ball well. The biggest thing about (Tuesday) was I thought our kids did a nice job making Buckingham throw pitches. We were able to get his pitch count up and I think that affected him a little bit later on in the game. We were able to get a couple walks and some timely hits and get some runs scored,” said Strickler.
Wooster will be at Lexington on Wednesday and Strickler knows that will be a big game, but he says they are all huge right now. “They are all big at this point. We have Wooster again (Wednesday). We have Orrville next week and Ashland the week after. We have five very tough baseball games left in our conference schedule. Wooster is going to come over here (Wednesday) and they are going to be looking for some revenge. We have to bring our “A” game in order to win again. We will see what we can do,” he says.
One of the keys to the success of the Minutemen this year is their pitching depth. Strickler thinks that was a factor again on Tuesday. “Zach Temple was our starter (Tuesday). He struggled a little bit at times as far as throwing strikes, but he was able to limit damage in what Wooster was able to do. Evan Lee came in the seventh inning and faced four batters and got the three outs to end the game. Evan did a real nice job coming in from third base to the mound and throwing strikes. It is really nice to have pitchers and guys you can count on. Not just in the pitching spot, but the other eight positions as well. I am having a lot of fun this year coaching this team,” said Strickler.
Ontario Starting to Turn it on
Ontario has won all of its games but one this season, however, their coach has been questioning their approach. His reaction was different after a lopsided win over Bucyrus on Tuesday.
The Warriors (15-1,5-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll, hammered the shorthanded Redmen (15-1) on Tuesday to take first place to themselves in the black division of the North Central Conference. Coach Dan Gorbett says it was one of their better efforts of the season. “Their number two pitcher hurt his thumb so he wasn’t available, so they were struggling to find a pitcher. They were kind of shorthanded (Tuesday) night, so the score was kind of deceiving. That being said, I thought our kids did a nice job of being disciplined at the plate and staying focused. The played a nice game in all facets of the game,” he said.
Wynford beat Galion (3-2) on Tuesday to hand the Tigers their first “NCC” loss. Wynford also has only one loss in the league. Ontario hosts the Royals on Wednesday.
Gorbett says the Warriors need to maintain their focus for these big games coming up on their schedule. “I think we are coming around to where we were last year, at least we are making strides. I have been, I guess you could say, a little frustrated throughout this season with where we are at. I think we are staring to get there. It was a big win (Tuesday). Wynford has just one loss, and is one game behind us. It will be a very tough game, so hopefully we come ready to play,” said Gorbett.
With the record they have it might be difficult for some to understand Gorbett’s frustration, but he knows the Warriors potential. “My standards are very, very high. This is basically the same team we had last year. Even though we were winning some games we weren’t playing up to our capability. We were kind of just getting by. I know that sounds kind of harsh when you have a really good record and you are not quite happy, but it is a process,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “Every game is tough. Baseball is a tough game to play mentally. You are playing a couple of games in a row then it rains and you are fighting all of that. You have prom and graduation coming up. It is a challenge that every baseball coach will tell you they have. Hopefully with our senior leadership we can pull through that and continue winning ball games.”
Ontario gave the ball to three pitchers on Tuesday and Gorbett says they all performed well. “Tyler Beal was strong and we got Wyatt Clemens an inning and Paul Hoam and inning. The hitting was solid. We were solid in all facets of the game, fielding, pitching, hitting and mental preparation. We just did a nice job with being focused and ready to play.”
Madison Holds on to Beat Ashland
Madison finally found some offense and they got past Ashland in Ohio Cardinal Conference play on Tuesday evening.
Frankly, Madison plays a tougher schedule than anyone in the area. The have played Lexington and Sandusky Perkins, numbers #1 and #2 in the Swankonsports.com coach’s poll, twice each, over the last week. Coach Doug Rickert says Tuesday night’s win was huge for them. “We need that. We have had some tough games. We have played everybody really well. We just weren’t hitting the baseball. We are playing much better defensively and we continue to throw the ball well. Last week with the Lexington series and then with Perkins. Friday night we didn’t score and against Perkins we scored three runs total. Quite honestly we were in all of those games. The Perkins loss was in eight innings, it was a 1-1 game and we had plenty of opportunities and couldn’t score. We had opportunities against Lexington. (Tuesday) was swung the bats well,” he said.
The Rams (6-12,4-4) built a big early lead in the game. Rickert says they were able to hang on for dear life in the end. “This was the first time Bo (Cervin) has thrown on three days rest all year. It probably wasn’t his sharpest outing, but he battled through it. We had an 8-0 lead because we did jump on them early and score. He gave up a two-run homer in the fifth. Then we got a little lackluster. I thought we made a couple of errors to give them a run in the fifth. In the seventh inning we have a 9-3 lead. We had left them loaded in the sixth. We go out there in the seventh inning. Bo started and he walked a couple of guys and gave up a hit. We brought in a freshman reliever, Zane Harris, and he gets the first guy to fly out, then he gives up a hit and a three run home run. He was able to strike the four hitter out and get a ground ball to end the game,” said Rickert.
There is still a lot of youth on the Madison squad this season. Rickert is pretty happy with the pitching and the defense, now if the hitting can just come around. “We have got to hit the ball. We have got to score when we get guys on base. It has been weird year. When we get a couple guys hitting, the other guys aren’t, then the others start and the other guys don’t. We seem to get a lot of guys on base. We don’t have a lot of power, so we have to string hits together. We have to get bunts down. We have only hit one home run. I think we have only got about 10 extra base hits. It’s nothing against our kids, we are just a little young yet,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “We have hit some balls hard, but we really don’t drive any in the alleys. I think it is tough on the kids. They have seen good pitcher after good pitcher, not only good pitchers, but good defense against us. When you play good teams you are gong to have better defense. A lot of times we hit the ball hard and it doesn’t go through because they make a nice play.”
With sectional draw on Sunday, Rickert thinks they have a chance to make some noise. “We told these kids this is a huge week. As crazy as it sounds we have Marion on Thursday, we have beaten Ashland, we beat Sandusky 5-0 earlier. If we can beat Marion. We have Norwalk on Saturday along with Brunswick. If we can win a couple of these ball games we can go in there and ask for a two seed because we would have beaten everyone in our sectional except we haven’t played Senior High yet,” he said.
New London Bashes South Central
New London scored nine times in the first three innings and they went on to blast South Central 14-0 in a Firelands Conference baseball game on Tuesday afternoon.
The win keeps the Wildcats (14-3,7-0), #5 in the swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, in first place in the Firelands Conference with a two game lead on Plymouth. The Big Red shutout Crestview (4-0) on Tuesday.
Seneca East swept New London in a doubleheader on Saturday and coach Glen Morse was pleased with how the team responded to those loses.
“We had a little glitch on Saturday with Seneca East in a doubleheader, but we came back (Tuesday) ready to go. We came out firing on all cylinders right from the beginning of the game. I was pleased to see to see the guys rebound from a loss and get out there and get another win in the conference under our belt,” he said.
Senior Dane Held pushed his record to 6-0 by scattering two hits over five innings. Morse says he was outstanding again. “Dane Held has done a heck of a job this year. He was dominating (Tuesday). The first batter he went 3-0 on and then came all of the way back and got the kid. He struck out nine batters in six innings and pretty much controlled that part of the game for us. We didn’t have to field very many balls when you are striking out two out of every three batters. He did a great job,” said Morse.
Six players had two hits for the Wildcats in the victory. Morse believes they have a good mix of speed and power. “We had three or four dribbler base hits. We have pretty good team speed this year. Then we really ripped a few shots to the fence (Tuesday) too and managed to spread it around. We had a bunch of guys with two hits. We got some subs in there and three of four of them got hits. It was good to see all of those guys swinging the bats like that. That is what we strive for,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win.
New London has four more stolen bases on Tuesday and Morse says they continue to be aggressive on the bases. “These are mostly the same guys we had last year. Last year we started becoming a lot more aggressive. We set a school record last year stealing 143 bases. This year I don’t know if we are the same kind of pace as that. We probably won’t get as many games in as we had last year. We are aggressive on the bases. We have some guys that can bunt the ball when we need to and we has some guys with some power that can hit the ball in the gaps and gets some doubles and triples. This might be the best all around athleticism I have had on a baseball team at New London,” said Morse.
Win over Rival Lands Northmor in First Place
Zach Wiseman tossed a shutout and the Northmor Golden Knights scored four times in the top pf the seventh inning and they beat Marion Pleasant to take over first place in the blue division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
Coach Buck Workman termed it a huge win for the team. “Going to their place and being able to come away wit a win was just huge for all of our kids. We did the same thing last year. It was the typical game we play, low scoring and pushing them across to get the job done,” he said.
Workman says that his starting pitcher put together a tremendous effort giving the Golden Knights a chance to win the crucial game against the Spartans (8-6,3-3) on Monday. “Wiseman pitched (Monday) and he was his usual self. He is 5-1 on the year now and his ERA is like 0.62 with 61 k’s and two walks on the year. He is just has been incredible. If we play defense behind him and score a few runs I like our chances to win a ball game,” said Workman.
Northmor is doing things the right way fundamentally and that is what is producing the wins. However, Workman hopes their offensive production begins to improve. “We have to throw strikes and make those plays and so far we have been able to do that. I can’t complain about our defense or our pitching what so ever. If we could just get these bats to go along with those two phases of the game we would be really dynamite,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Monday, “We have five hits (Monday), but we put a couple together in that top of the seventh and pushed all four runs across there with a couple of bunts and put a little pressure on them. It all worked out.”
Over the last two years, Northmor shared the division title in 2012, the Golden Knights have won a high number of close games. Workman says the players know how to execute in pressure situations. “If you look at our scores across the board here this year, and last year for that matter, we have had a lot of one run ballgames that go down to the last inning. Our boys, I think, are accustomed to that now and are not phased by that situation, so I don’t worry about that, it’s just a matter of getting the job done when the time comes,” said Workman.
With rain outs, the Golden Knights (9-5,5-2) still have three “MOAC” games to play this week. Workman knows they must keep their focus. “We have three more league games this week in North Union, Buckeye Valley and Cardington, so it’s not going to get any easier. We are going to have to get a good practice in (Tuesday) and come back and battle for three more league games this week,” he said.
Bucyrus Earns Tough Win
The black division of the North Central Conference is very good and if you don’t play your best you are not going to get a win.
Bucyrus (5-9,2-4) earned its first against a divisional opponent on Monday when they got past Upper Sandusky (3-2) in 10 innings.
Coach Jeff Fisher says they got a tremendous performance from their pitching staff in the game. “We got another quality start out of our ace Eli Tyman. Despite somewhat of a shaky start command wise and we didn’t manage a bunt play very well. He worked out of a couple jams early and really went on cruise control through the sixth inning where he got to the 100 pitch plateau. Another senior in Austin Lutz for the second game in a row has come in and gave us some extended innings as far as long relief is concerned,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Monday night, “He is throwing strikes and giving us a chance to stay in ball games. Neither of those two got the win (Monday) it was Justin Campbell with four pitches in the top of the tenth that got the “W.” Collectively those guys threw strikes and gave us a chance to win.”
Ten innings games can stress a pitching staff. Fisher says they use the 100 pitch limit as a guide, but not as am absolute. “It is not the end all, but is serves as a guide, but after that you are taking into account the conditions weather wise, you take into account how much they have thrown over the long hall, we take into account just their velocity and the quality of their pitches just within the game they are pitching. (Monday) Eli specifically got behind some hitters and labored a bit where previously he was pretty clean. As a coach you try to be fair because you need these guys to pitch in four days and hopefully for three or four more starts. You can’t put all of your eggs in one basket. It is so inexact as far the kid and their mechanics. You are trying to win ballgames at the same time as look at team collectively and the individual most especially,” said Fisher.
With Ontario (14-1,4-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, on Tuesday and Upper again on Wednesday, Fisher knows they will need to play at a top level because all of the teams in the division are tough. “We haven’t seen Wynford, they are on deck here next week, but statistically Galion and Ontario are both swinging it and pitching well. We faced a freshmen lefthander that has the look of a junior or senior (Monday) night from Upper. He held us to really one hit and threw eight innings. The future looks bright there. There is no off night. We are in the mist of a compacted schedule do to the weather and there is no overture to gain a rest. (Tuesday) night we have Ontario. We are going to have to scratch and claw against a state caliber team,” he said.
Buckeye Starting to Find it
Buckeye Central has won its last three games and four of its last six as the young Bucks are starting to understand what it takes to become a good team.
Monday night, they downed Lucas (6-1) in a silver division game in the North Central Conference. Coach Chad Jensen says they are beginning to do the things you need to do to win. “We are doing the little things much better. We are playing better defense and have better situational hitting and having better at bats and throwing strikes more consistently. We played well (Monday) night against Lucas,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday after the win, “We got good pitching and good hitting. We played well over the weekend against South Central. Last week we beat Crestline. We got beat by Galion and Ontario, but those two are outstanding teams. We are getting better. The key is we have to continue to do that and that is really, really important because we have a big week coming up.”
Monday night’s game was played at Buckeye’s old field in downtown New Washington rather than the high school due to poor field conditions at the new field.
Buckeye Central is not a team that is going to pound an opponent with offensive firepower, so Jensen says they have to be very sound in the fundamentals of the game. “You have to do the little things well all of the time. We really stress fundamentals and making the routine play and doing that all of the time. Our kids get tired of constantly doing tons of reps, but we really believe that. You get lots of reps in practice and pre game and that will help in the game. We really have to continue to get better. We are not where we need to be yet, but we are getting there slowly and surely,” said Jensen.
The Bucks play Crestline on Tuesday, Lucas again on Wednesday and Upper Sandusky on Friday in conference games, plus talented Seneca East, #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, in non-conference play on Thursday.
Temperatures are expected to warm into the 80’s this week and Jensen hopes that helps to warm up the bats a little bit. “It has been a cold wet spring so far and we have gotten most of our game in, but it hasn’t been real warm. When it gets warmer kids are looser and move better. We are hoping that helps us. We are still learning how to play varsity baseball. We are still at that point where we are still a little bit inconsistent with the bats. As long as we have good, smart approaches at the plate I think we will continue to improve,” said Jensen.
Colts Get Boost
Clear Fork finally showed what they were made of last Thursday when they drilled Ashland in am Ohio Cardinal Conference game and now they hope they can take that momentum with them into the rest of the season.
Travis Born threw a complete game one-hitter and Chase Baker put the game away with a fifth inning grand slam as the Colts beat the Arrows (7-0) for their first “OCC” win of the year. Coach Rusty Staab says their defense worked in concert with Born. “Travis has been our ace. He has kind of been a Jekyll and Hyde pitcher. Lexington and Madison he was really bad and Wooster and Ashland he was really good. We had a lost of soul searching last week. I think they get in their head “OCC” and they start to fizzle. It’s just a mind set. We got three runs right off the bat in the first with two good bunts. We played good defense and Travis kept the ball down. We made some plays for him. He walked a batter and boom we got a double play. It was one of those things where we knew it was going to happen. We know we are a better team than what we have been playing in the “OCC” and we just needed that game and it came,” said Staab.
Baker had been retired easily in his first two at bats and Staab was considering a pinch hitter. He was glad he didn’t pull the trigger. “It was funny I was thinking of pinch hitting for him because his first two at bats he did not look good and we had their pitcher on the ropes. (Ashland coach) Rob (Lavengood) went out and talked to him. I pulled him down and said he doesn’t want to walk you, the bases are loaded, and you are the number eight hitter. He is going to throw you a meat ball and just sit back and hit it as hard as you can. It made me look smart anyway. The first pitch he put it on the softball field. Usually it is us watching balls from the softball field land on the baseball field. That is probably the first time that has happened since 2010. Hopefully we can build from that momentum and take it into Orrville this week,” said Staab.
Staab feels, the three runs the Colts (7-6,1-6) scored in the bottom of the first inning allowed Born to calm down as he took the hill for the second inning. “Not only did it help him, but it helped our defense. We have two seniors in the infield and I really had some soul searching with them because they haven’t stepped up. They haven’t made the rest of our team better with leadership, but Thursday they did. They talked and kept everybody in the game. They made great plays. Trevor (Carr) made a great play on the slow roller Austin (Baker) threw over to first. He went to the backside of the base and let the runner go across and kept his foot on. It was a great athletic play. Ryan (South) booted a ball earlier, but then he made a sweet double play. That is what we have been waiting to see. Especially after the Fredericktown game when we did everything so well it was like okay this is the team we thought we could be and then we hit a really low spot. I am thinking we are climbing out of it. It is supposed to be a nice week of weather and hopefully we can continue to play like we did last Thursday,” added Staab.
Mason Swank had three hits, including a double, and Ryan South, Born, Austin Baker, and Nick Schoonyan all had two in the win.
Staab says he had a heart to heart discussion with the team last Wednesday and it appears like they were listening. “We had a little talk Wednesday when it rained forever. We were in the locker room and I told the kids I know you are probably tired of hearing about the 2010 team, but if you remember, and you went to their games, Jordan (McCune) and Joe (Staab) would boot a ball, but they would make a double play and end the inning. No one remembers the error they made, they remember the double play they turned and picking the guy off with two outs and killing their momentum and now we have momentum,” he said, “High school sports, especially high school baseball, is all built on momentum. You can get shut down and it takes you two weeks to get going again and that’s when you kind of go for the jugular and we were very fortunate last Thursday in doing that. I think the kids said holy cow we have a lead in the “OCC” and they stated to play and I really hope that’s contagious.”
Clear Fork travels to Orrville on Tuesday and hosts the Red Riders on Wednesday n conference games. Staab hopes they can continue to play well and give themselves a chance to win. “Coach Marshall does a good job. Like I said earlier this year, I’m really not up on the “OCC.” I knew Lexington was loaded and I knew there was talent everywhere, but I know Orrville has some studs. They went pretty far in the tournament last year. Hopefully, we catch them on a low slide and we are on fire and we can kind of roll over them. We know it’s going to be a good game. It’s going to be a big week. We gave them a day off and said it’s the second half of the year let’s regroup. In two weeks we go to the sectional and we see what happens,” he said.
Lady Colts Have to Make Plays
Clear Fork has won more girls’ softball games than they have lost, but they have not been able to put a streak together. They hope that starts to happen last week.
They spilt their fourth consecutive Ohio Cardinal Conference series last week by losing at Ashland on Tuesday (8-6) and beating the Lady Arrows (5-1) at home two says later. They dropped a tough decision to division one Marion Harding (7-6) on Friday and then spilt a doubleheader with Fredericktown on Saturday, winning (12-2) and losing (7-5) in the second game.
It seems the Lady Colts (9-7,4-4) have lost a number of close games, four by two runs or less, three of those in the last week. Coach Jeff Gottfried says they have put themselves in some bad situations. “You like to say the what if game when the games are that close, get a break here and there, get a call here and there, but sometimes it is like you have to control more of things you can control and don’t put yourself in position where it would come down to a single play. We unfortunately have not played well enough to win those games. We have been competitive in a lot of them. We just can’t seem to get off the snide, we win one, we lose one. It is one step forward and one step back. We can’t seem to keep that momentum moving forward. Hopefully this week things start to change for us. The weather is supposed to really get nice for us. Hopefully, we can get things rolling here at the right time of the season,” said Gottfried.
The veteran coach says they have not been picking each other up in some situations and they need to do that on a more consistent basis. “When the pitcher is struggling a little bit to find the strike zone and you get a ground ball hit at you or a fly ball hit at you then you really need to make the play and we unfortunately can’t. Those kinds of mistakes can lead to a two, three run inning. Sometimes we just don’t have the firepower to come back from those things,” he said, “It is the same way with the pitching. When your defense makes a few mistakes we need to have a pitcher that has that bulldog mentality to say fine if my defense can’t make the play behind me then I’ll take care of things myself. We just don’t have that firepower on the mound either. We have to win games as a whole and unfortunately we have lost games as a whole. It’s no finger pointing at one person in particular. It just hasn’t been a great, things are rolling, type of season.”
In some of the loses they have suffered Gottfried say they have just gotten too far behind. “There are three phases to the game offense, defense and pitching and we just haven’t been able to put all three things together at the same time to come away with a win in those games when we do score enough runs. We just can’t have those innings when we give up two hits and walk a batter and the defense makes an error in the same inning. That is when those crooked numbers go up on the scoreboard. You can survive single run innings here and there. When they put those big numbers up it is definitely tough to come back, especially when you have a team that doesn’t have a lot of power. We go base to base with singles and then we try to steal some runs with our speed. We have to keep those crooked numbers from going up on the board. That is what has been happening at times in our loses,” said Gottfried.
Orrville is the “OCC” opponent this week for the Lady Colts. Gottfried says he told his players that if they are going to win the “OCC” title they can afford no more loses. “They have knocked off some good teams. They have been beaten by other teams. We told the girls last week when we got beat Tuesday at Ashland. We came back and got rained out on Wednesday and played them on Thursday at our place. We said this is an absolute must win. We have four losses in the conference and I don’t think we can get a piece of anything by having five loses or more. Our girls understand and know that every game from here on out in the conference is a must win. The schedule is starting to turn for us. We are starting to play some of teams that don’t have the better records in the conference, not that they are not competitive. As I have said everybody is competitive. We are at home on Tuesday and hopefully we can get a win there and then go over to tough place like Orrville and get back to back wins. We will take games on game at time and hopefully get things rolling our way,” said Gottfried.
Lady Rams Just Want to Play
Madison suffered its first loss in the Ohio Cardinal Conference play to Lexington on Tuesday night and they have been excited with the opportunity to get some revenge, but Mother Nature wouldn’t have it.
Their home game with Lexington (12-3,6-1), #3 in the Swankonsports.com softball coach’s poll in the large school division, has been rained out twice this week.
Coach Tim Niswander admits they were anxious to get that game in the books and win it. “We were kind of chomping at the bit (Thursday) night to get back out there. We got rained out (Wednesday) and got rescheduled for (Thursday) and got rain again. (Wednesday) when we got rain the kids got in the gym and we made some adjustments to some things that we thought that we didn’t do as well Tuesday night that we could do better. We were ready to play. Unfortunately once again Mother Nature kind of had the upper hand on us. We have plenty of games to play between now and when we make that game up. I think that will be a huge game as far as the conference champion is concerned,” said Niswander.
Right now, in the “OCC” softball standings Madison and Lexington both have one loss, Orrville has two, Ashland has three and Clear Fork has four. Clear Fork beat Ashland (5-1) and Wooster beat Mansfield Senior (14-3) on Thursday night.
Niswander says none of the contenders are really out of the race in his opinion. “We have to finish a game (Friday) with Orrville. We have two with Ashland next week and obviously the Lexington game that has already gotten rained out. Then we have Wooster after that. When we are looking down the road at our schedule it is no different than I thought at the beginning of the year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “ The team that wins this league is the team that is able to show up and play at the top of their game every single night because if you don’t show up and play your best anybody in that upper half can beat you. I don’t think anybody in that group of Clear Fork, Lex, Madison, Orrville, Ashland is really out of the league picture yet. West Holmes beat Orrville on Tuesday night, so who knows they might get hot at the right time and make a run at it too.”
Madison (8-3,5-1), #2 in Swankonsports.com poll, is scheduled to play Orrville (7-3,4-2) on Friday. Niswander says his team has played some very consistent ball this year. “Our kids have worked really, really hard and they want to be successful. We have gotten good pitching. We have played good defense most of the time. There have been times when we have hit up and down the order and then there have been times when top has carried us and others when the bottom has carried up. We have played pretty well. We have been pretty consistent. I thought Tuesday night against Lex we had some opportunities where we could have won the game, but we just didn’t get a key hit. It’s not like we played poorly, Lex just played really well and they got us that night. We are looking forward to playing them again and hopefully we can turn the tables on them,” said Niswander.
A Win over Shelby Gives Truckers Some Breathing Room
Norwalk now has a two game cushion in the Northern Ohio League baseball standings after a win over second place Shelby on Thursday night.
After giving up a run in the top of the first Michael Finch slammed the door and the Truckers downed the Whippets (8-1) for their 11 straight win overall.
Coach Wes Douglas says did what they had to do to beat a pretty good Shelby squad. “Michael Finch had another great outing for us (Thursday). They did come through with seven hits. They are aggressive at the plate. They put it in play hard down there at Shelby. There pitcher, Justin Lewis, I am a real fan of his after watching him compete,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “He had good stuff and handles himself really well. After giving up a run in the top of the first, we came back and hit him hard for three runs and got the lead. We added on the next couple of innings. The next thing you know we were out of there with an 8-1 win. We are two games up with four to go.”
With their offense in high gear, the Truckers have been able to play from in front a lot this season and Douglas says that makes them more relaxed. “We have had the lead a lot this year and it allows us to run the bases a little more aggressively. If we need to put some bunts down, and get teams on their heels a little bit. It kind of eliminates their running game when they are playing from behind. It was a crappy night out again (Thursday) and everybody was kind of on edge. Once we got that lead we loosened right up and played an error free ballgame and got our 11th straight win,” said Douglas.
With nine players back from a team that shared the league title last season, Douglas says they know what they are doing. “These kids have played a lot of travel ball and got some great coaching down there. Right now I’m not doing a whole lot of coaching to be honest with you. They are just playing and I’m letting them play. They have been fun to watch. We knew we were going to be good. They have lived up to those expectations so far,” he said.
The Truckers (14-2,6-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays a very good Clyde team (9-3) on Friday afternoon.
Yes, Norwalk has good pitching and they swing the bats well, but Douglas says they have been solid at executing even the little things that are part of the game. “There is a guy from Perkins, Ray Neil, that says more baseball games are lost then they are won. He has been around a lot of good baseball teams. I agree with him there, if you don’t beat yourself, and you give yourself an opportunity and you take care of the little things. I hear coach Gray say that on the basketball court all of the time. Baseball might have more little things than any other sport. We talk about them, we practice them, and we preach them. We have four or five coaches in the dugout that are backing me up if I don’t have a chance to get to a player they are getting a little coaching from one of them. It has been a pretty good formula for us so far,” said Douglas.
Depth is a Concern For St. Peter’s
There is no question that Mansfield St. Peter’s is a better baseball team, but they still have some hurdles to clear and they found that out on Monday.
Clear Fork, of the Ohio Cardinal Conference, the best baseball league around here, punished the Spartans (11-1) on Monday in a non-league game. St. Peter’s coach Tim Failor says they were kind of afraid that would happen considering their pitching rotation. “The attitude has remained good. We knew going into the Clear Fork game that we were at the end of our pitching. We threw a young kid that got his baptism under fire. We didn’t want that to happen, but we thought it could and it did,” he said.
After not playing since Monday, the Spartans (6-5) are embarking on a tough part of their schedule. Failor says they better be ready to compete. “We are looking at a weekend where we are going to have to play good baseball. South Central is a good team. We have a doubleheader with Northmor on Saturday and they are a very good team,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We are making up a portion of a suspended game with Mansfield Christian on Monday. We need to win that because they are in our sectional. Then we have Seneca East, which is awesome, on Tuesday. We will be tested coming up here in the next few games. We have to play our best.”
Like with every team pitching depth is a concern for the Spartans. Failor says they are working on developing that depth. “We feel one through three we are pretty darn good. Four is okay. Five needs a lot of work and six needs a lot of work. We need that pitching depth. Every team does. At every level it’s pitching that carries you,” he said.
The offense had been pretty good for the Spartans until the Clear Fork game. Failor says they needed the sticks to step up and that did not happen. “That is what we told our kids about out last game. We may have had a let down in pitching, but we also had a letdown in hitting. Hitting fills a lot of cracks. When you are hitting the baseball that makes up for a lot. It makes up for errors. It makes up for a weakness in pitching,” said Failor.
The weather has been a thorn in the side of most, if not all of the teams in North Central Ohio this year, and Failor says this one has been particularly difficult to do deal with it. “This is ridiculous. What is it out there today 45? It’s the 25th of April. I guess it’s spring in Ohio in all its glory. I hope it turns around soon,” he said.
First Place Lexington at Madison
Lexington has been playing as good a brand of baseball as anyone in the North Central Ohio area this year and that has led to sole possession of first place in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
Veteran coach Jeff Strickler says they have been executing in all elements of the game, including the little things. “The kids are playing very well. We are doing the things that are important to us. We are getting good pitching and playing good defense behind them. Offensively we are having kids hit line drive after line drive and people moving runners around and being aggressive on the bases. We are doing a lot of the little things right. That has added up to the wins.”
Despite the outstanding play the Minutemen have not been able to pull away from the rest of the first in the “OCC.” Ashland and Wooster have just one loss.
Lexington (14-1,7-0), #1 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays a game at Madison (5-9,3-3) on Thursday in a game that was rained out on Wednesday. Strickler says they want the sweep, but they know it won’t be easy. “It doesn’t happen very often for either one of us. We are going to do everything we can to play the baseball we have been playing. As long as we stay focused on what we are doing and play with the intensity we have been playing with I think our chances are pretty good. The kids have a lot of confidence in what they are doing right now and that can only help us,” he said.
Lexington handled Madison (9-3) on Tuesday. However, Strickler knows there aren’t many sweeps in this series. “Coach Rickert over there does a nice job getting those kids ready to play. They play very sound baseball and they have good pitching. (Thursday) we are going to see a good pitcher in Bo. He got us last year and we will see if we can’t turn that around. Madison is always good. It doesn’t matter what their record is they come to play us and we come to play them. It’s a war,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night.
Strickler believes the rain could be a plus in that it gave some of the players some extra rest. He doesn’t believe it will curve their momentum. “Rain is never good, but it’s just one day off and that’s not really going to bother us too much. Some kids can use the rest. Everybody has two games this week. We had a doubleheader last Saturday and this past week we have played a lot of ball games already. We had a good practice inside (Wednesday) and hopefully we can get out and play (Thursday),” said Strickler.
Galion Enjoying Fine Season
There are two schools in the “NCC” black division that have unbeaten records in league play. Yes, one of them is defending champion Ontario. And the other is? That’s right, the Galion Tigers.
Galion (10-2,4-0), #5 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, has been one of the more consistent teams in the area this spring.
First year coach Phil Jackson has been very pleased with what he has seen this season so far. “I am very tickled with the way the kids have come out and performed with a tough spring season and a new system. I couldn’t ask for any more. They have given great effort. We don’t mind having the emphasis be on Ontario and kind of sneak up on people. That’s not by accident that’s for sure,” he said.
Galion plays at Wynford (7-7,2-1) on Thursday in a divisional game. They shut out the Royals (7-0) on Monday. Jackson says they have to stay in the moment. “I have been taught by the sporting career that I have had that you just take one game at a time. I know it’s a cliché, but it’s true. If you look too far ahead with what next week is happening or what Ontario is doing you may overlook somebody else and they get you. The black division has those teams that can sneak up and get you at any time. You really have to be true to one game at a time,” said Jackson.
With 12 runs on Tuesday in a win over Buckeye Central, the Tigers continue to hit the ball well. Jackson says that has been something they have done pretty much every game. “We have been hitting the ball fairly consistently. If I was going to pick one thing that we have been most consistent with it would be our hitting. The pitching has been up and down, even though we have had a senior put on a good performance. We have really been consistent with our hitting and that has led us to our 10-2 record,” said Jackson.
It’s the second year for the mandated B-B core bats and Jackson thinks most players are now pretty used to how they need to use them to be effective. “I have seen a little bit more power this year than I did last year. Last year, there was a big adjustment period with kids not knowing how to swing and what they thought was a great hit before was a routine out. Now it seems like the focus is more on line drives and hitting balls into the gaps. I have seen the power numbers climb up a little more,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I think that is just a natural occurrence. It changes the game a little and makes you be more well rounded in putting the bunts down when you can. We are a pretty aggressive on the base paths.”
Fredericktown Looking Good
Fredericktown continues to show the way in the race for the baseball title in the Mid-Buckeye Conference and they plan to keep it that way.
Despite qualifying for the state tournament in division three last season, the Freddies didn’t win the “MBC,” Utica did.
With rain on Wednesday, the Freddies got a chance to practice and coach Tom Craze says their focus has been good despite the poor weather over the first month of the season. “We had a good practice (Wednesday) and we tried to keep the kids mentally focused. They are used to a rhythm. Baseball in Ohio can be tough sometimes because of the weather. Keeping that focus and concentration is very important. The next two weeks is crunch time because we are trying to squeeze games in and get the conference games in and get ready for the second season. The mental focus out of our players has to be really, really good,” he said.
Fredericktown (13-3,6-0), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball poll in the small school division, plays at Johnstown Monroe on Thursday and hosts Utica Friday in conference games.
They have a number of players back from last year’s state tournament run, but Craze says this is a different year. “It does have some similarities to last year a little bit, but we are looking at this year and the group of kids that we have. The things that we did last year were special. The kids have very high expectations and have been competing hard in the “MBC.” They just want to continue things that they have been doing from last year and carrying right over to this year. To be honest they are doing that. They are working hard and they are wanting to get better and their attitude has been just great,” said Craze.
Craze says they really only have two goals this year and the one that is at hand is to win the conference title. It would be their second in three years. “Last year we fell short to a very, very good Utica ball club. After the season that was one of the very, very big disappointments from the kids was the fact that we did not win the league title. Our goals are really simple and one of them is to win a league championship and the other one is to advance to deep into the tournament. The kid’s minds are set that we still have some unfinished business in the league. There is still a little over two weeks left in our season, so every league game is critical. The “MBC” is just tough. You never know what you are going to get. It’s a balanced league this year and everybody is scratching and clawing for wins,” said Craze.
Unlike fall and winter sports, in the spring the postseason tournament really isn’t post season. That means you have to have pitching depth and Craze believes they have it. “Our pitching right now is outstanding. I couldn’t be more happy about the performance we are getting from top to bottom. Sometimes I scratch my head because I wonder who might be our number one. We have four or five guys that can pitch on any given night,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I am very fortunate to have talent on the mound and good kids that go out and compete hard. It is nice because you don’t have to rely on one guy like we did last year for big games. We can kind of spread the wealth in a sense and save some arms, so they are fresh when they take the mound. This year we have given them maybe and extra day of rest in between starts.”
Plymouth Wants to Keep the Pressure on
After two one-run losses to Firelands Conference leader New London last week, the Plymouth Big Red have responded with three conference wins and hold a five game winning streak.
They beat Norwalk St. Paul on Tuesday (4-1) to push their conference record to 5-2 on the year.
Coach Andrew McFarland says they have adopted the right approach after the New London series. “We know at this point there is no room for error. It’s going to be tough because New London has such a good team. Hopefully somebody might be able to trip them up, but I just don’t know. Glen is going to go out with style this year I guess. I was definitely happy with the way we came back. We played them in a couple of tough games and you can go one of two ways. You can look at it negatively. We played a great team and had a chance to beat them. We could look at it as a bad thing and the season is over or we can look at as an opportunity to learn and grow. We have come back and won every game since,” said McFarland.
In four of the games in the this five game streak, the Big Red (12-3,5-2), #5 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, has scored more runs, including 25 against Mansfield Christian on Saturday. McFarland says they have been using a good approach, most of the time. “Usually when you see 25 runs in a game it is a lot of errors and walks and throwing the ball around, but we has 22 hits in that game as well. We have swung it pretty well. We are hitting about .400 as a team right at the moment. That has probably been our biggest strength,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We have been really hitting the ball hard. We didn’t have quite as good a game (Tuesday). The kids from St. Paul threw a really nice game against us. He kept us off balance. We were still able to get seven hits and four runs, so it’s not like it was terrible and that was probably our worse effort this year.”
In the win against St. Paul on Tuesday, McFarland says they got a super effort on the mound when then needed it. “Senior Dustin Campbell gave us a great start on the mound. We really were scuffling early on. You have games like that. Hats off to the pitcher. He threw a good game. We also didn’t have a good approach at the plate. But he was keeping us in there by throwing all seven. We have been telling the guys all year if you can throw strikes and not give up walks and play good defense it’s easy to keep them under five runs. When you start walking guys, that’s when you run into problems,” said McFarland.
In a meeting of good teams, Plymouth plays at Seneca East (10-2), #4 in our poll, on Thursday. McFarland says this will be a good test for them. “It will be a good challenge. You have to play good teams to really get better. You try to get better every game no matter who you are playing. When your competition is high you are going to raise your level too naturally. I look forward to playing them. They are in our sectional this year along with a tough Sandusky St. Mary’s team. It will be interesting to get a good gauge of where we are at. If we have a chance to make a good run in the tournament that’s not too far off,” he said.
Colonel Crawford Battling
Colonel Crawford is fighting injuries, but it appears this softball team has a lot of fight in it.
After losing a couple of starters, two of their better players, they railed to beat Riverdale (16-6) on Tuesday and keep themselves in the race for the title in the silver division of the North Central Conference.
Those injuries contributed to their only league loss last week to Buckeye Central (14-12) and now Thursday they face one their bigger challenges of the season when they face black division leader Bucyrus (9-3,3-0), #4 in the Swankonsports.com softball coach’s poll in the small school division, in an inter-divisional match up. Hall of Fame coach Chuck Huggins says this is a rivalry game. “I have always said it takes two good teams and two good programs to make a rivalry. That certainly is Bucyrus because they are a very, very good ball team. I said from the beginning of the season that that black division is going to be a monster out there and they aren’t disappointing anybody. They have gotten off to a good start. With it being a Crawford County team and a “NCC” team it’s a going to make it all the more exciting. It’s going to be a good game for the area,” said Huggins.
On the injuries was suffered by one of the area’s top pitchers in Nickyla Gaverick. Huggins says they have done a good job rallying to the cause. “We were nicked up a little bit and had some injuries. One of the main injuries we had was to Nickyla Gaverick. We have talked about how important pitching is and she tuned an ankle and we had to do without here for a couple of games. I told the kids last Monday when we beat Buckeye up there it was a good win and it even made it more so when they came down to our place and bumped us off on Wednesday. We have responded well,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We came back against a very respectable Riverdale team and beat them pretty handily. The other thing I like about this team is they are really buying into what needs to be done in practice to get better.”
Huggins is the only softball coach the Lady Eagles have ever had and there aren’t many roads he hasn’t traveled. He says he likes the approach this year’s team has shown. “Especially the player that holds the ball every single play and that determines a lot of things in a softball game. The other injury was to our starting centerfielder, who has been with us for three years. She tore an “ACL” the other day and just had surgery (Wednesday) and we are going to miss her. It’s just part of the way sports works and that is the cruelty of sports. The kids have really stepped up to the challenge and have really come through. It gives the next person an opportunity and step up and show what they can do also. We have had some younger kids definitely do that,” he said.
On Friday and Saturday the Lady Eagles are in Loudonville for the “Champions Challenge” and Huggins knows the competition will do them good. “With the MVD tournament getting weathered out last week we didn’t get a chance to play Clear Fork. We knew that was going to be a great game for us. We are definitely looking forward to getting over to the champions challenge and playing Convoy Crestview. You know the opponents, win or lose, we are going to play some good competition. We have always felt like to become a better softball team you have to play better competition. We make sure we get some of those games. You don’t get to pick all of your opponents, but you can certainly pick your non-league ones. We like to play those types of teams. I know over the years it has paid dividends come tournament time,” said Huggins.
Shelby on Hot Steak
Don’t look now, but the Shelby Whippets are a factor in the Northern Ohio League baseball race.
The Whippets have won their last four “NOL” games after belting Willard (10-2) on Tuesday night. Coach C.J. Brickman says their pitching and defense have improved and now they are ready to challenge anyone. “We have won four in a row in the league. Our pitching has finally picked up and we aren’t making errors in the field. We have always been able to hit, so with all three phases taken care of we are playing well right now,” said Brickman.
Last season, Shelby finished at the bottom of the league standings, but this year they have found an ace in Justin Lewis. Brickman says he has been the difference. “We have a kid that has emerged as our number one starter in Justin Lewis. He beat Bellevue last Thursday. He beat Tiffin on Monday. He has pitched well for us lately and we are going to ride him right now,” said Brickman.
Shelby (8-6,4-1) plays Norwalk (13-2,5-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, in a league game on Thursday afternoon. The Whippets lost (17-10) to the Truckers in their first meeting. But, Brickman says the Whippets are a different team now. “If you are hot you can stay hot. If you are cold man, it feels like you are never going to get a win. When you are hot you have to ride it as long as you can,” he said.
With the way they have been playing over the last week to 10 days, Brickman says his team is very confident. “It just shows them they are capable, especially getting that big win at Bellevue. That really pumped us up. Since then we have been a different team,” he said.
Ashland Gets Big Win
Ashland broke a three game losing streak and earned a big win over Clear Fork in Ohio Cardinal Conference play on Tuesday night.
The Arrows downed the Colts (10-5) to remain in a share of second place in the “OCC,” game behind Lexington. The Minutemen beat Mansfield Madison (9-3) on Tuesday.
Arrows coach Rob Lavengood says they played better defense than they have for most the season. “(Tuesday) was definitely a good start. We saw some good things that we hadn’t quite seen in the last week. I thought defensively we played much better. We made some nice plays. I thought we had some clutch hitting, especially with two outs and runners in scoring position to be able to put some runs on the board. It was nice to see Tyson Vogel get a complete game victory on the mound,” he said.
Ashland (7-6,5-1) is the defending champion and Lavengood says they need to get on a streak of good play here. “When you get into a grove where you playing with confidence and playing well that can carry into a four, five, six game winning streak. On the flip side if you go through a stretch were you aren’t playing very good baseball and you have a week where you play four or five games you can quickly get yourself into a tough losing streak. Coming into the game we had lost three straight and it was nice to get back on the winning side of things and hopefully that will carry through (Wednesday) when we go down to Clear Fork and hopefully we can get a sweep,” said Lavenood.
If the rain gets out of the area in time, the Arrows will play Clear Fork (6-6,0-6) in the valley. Lavengood says Lexington is a strong team, but this race is far from over. “There are a lot of games still to be played. I think there are a lot of pretty good teams in our conference. Lexington is definitely off to a good start and they are very solid ball club, but they still have some tough games on their schedule,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “Anything can happen, especially when we get into May when everyone starts to get into the sectional tournament and you have to shuffle your pitching staff and you might not be able to throw your one or your two in league games once your get into the tournament. That really challenges your pitching depth. You kind of find out who has solid number three and four starters that might have to pitch in conference games.”
Last season, Ashland was able to win the conference title with basically two pitchers, both whom have graduated. Lavengood says they have used basically four pitchers this season, but they made need more, especially next month. “That was one of our concerns coming into this year that we weren’t sure how deep we were. I think that is still a concern that we have. Fortunately we have been able to mix and match situations and we have only had to throw basically four guys. That might change over the next couple of weeks. Nick Zuecher will have the ball (Wednesday) at Clear Fork. He is really our number two guy. Austin Bouque and Corey Gets have given us pretty solid number three and four guys. Those four guys have really thrown the bulk of our innings. We are still not as deep as I would like, but so far we have been able to use those guys as starters and also for an inning here and a inning there in relief and really not have to go and deeper than that,” said Lavengood.
Wooster Playing Good Ball
Wooster remains in the chase in the Ohio Cardinal Conference after a convincing win over Mansfield Senior at Arlin Field on Tuesday evening.
They beat the Tygers (8-1) to remain a game behind Lexington in the “OCC” standings. Coach Derek Boyd says he was certainly satisfied with the effort. “We are happy to get any win we can get. It’s a situation that we try to take them one at a time. This is such a great league like we have been talking about all year. We can’t afford to take anybody lightly,” he said.
Lexington beat Mansfield Madison (9-3) to remain unbeaten in the “OCC” this year. Wooster is tied with defending champion Ashland for second place a game behind the Minutemen.
Boyd says it started with pitching for them. He says they didn’t give the Tygers any chance to get anything going on Tuesday. “Tommy Huettner was on the hill (Tuesday) night for us. Tommy pitched last year for us and did a nice job out of the bullpen for us. He has had a chance to go out in some conference games and pitch some big games for us,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “Tommy was really good (Tuesday). He ended up with eight strikeouts and only one walk. He really kind of dominated on the mound (Tuesday). That was absolutely something we needed to have.”
Weather permitting, Wooster (9-2,5-1), #5 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school division, plays Mansfield Senior (3-8,1-6) on Wednesday at home. Boyd says they have to keep things rolling. “You are going to have to have two guys that can go out there and maybe three if you get into a little bit of trouble. It is one of those things that we try to preach good pitching and defense. I think that has been a good recipe for us so far,” he said.
The Generals were able to start the week with an outstanding win as they beat previously unbeaten North Canton Hoover (10-6) in non-conference play. Boyd says that really put a smile on their face. “(Monday) night was a nice non-conference win. We had a team come to our place that was 12-0 and ranked 17th in the state. They had a really solid lineup. Our kids were really excited to play them. It has been a little while since we played them. It was a big school and a big opportunity for us. That is kind of why you schedule games like that to kind of see where you are. It was definitely a good win for us to start the week,” said Boyd.
Ontario Needs Extra Innings to Beat Bucyrus
Ability to win close games, especially when you may not be at your best, is sometimes what wins championships.
Ontario did just that as they made two fielding mistakes and hit a batter allowing Bucyrus to send their North Central Conference black division to extra innings Monday night. The Warriors though would respond and tally a run in the eighth to win (5-4) and remain unbeaten in the league.
Coach Dan Gorbett says they almost gave it away, but responded to the pressure and earned the victory. “We were up 4-3 going into the seventh and we just completely botched tow bunt attempts that should have been easy outs then we hit a batter to bring in the tying run. Somehow we found a way to get out of that inning. I told the kids that was our worst inning of the year, but they only scored one run, so that kind of shows something to be able to rebound and get out of that inning with the scored still tied,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “Hopefully, we learned some things (Monday). For us to have those kind of errors is not the team we are. I don’t have an answer for it. It’s two kids that are very, very sure handed. It was just one of those nights.”
Gorbett says he wants to give Bucyrus (3-8,0-3) a lot of credit for how well they played on the Warriors home field. “We left a lot of guys on base. The Bucyrus pitcher did a real nice job making clutch pitches when he had to. They played great defense. There were a couple balls in the outfield that I thought might go somewhere and their centerfielder made great plays. You have to tip your hat to Bucyrus. They played a very good game and took us to the limit there,” he said.
Right now, Ontario (13-1,3-0) shares first place with Galion in the black division. Gorbett knows this is going to be a tough race. “Upper, we beat them twice, and they are a very solid team. Wynford is playing well. Of course, Galion has a really nice team. Every game you have to be ready. You can’t fall asleep on anybody. I don’t like to look ahead. We like to talk about each week as we approach it and keep that same philosophy as we go along. You can’t forget about the teams in the in the small school division either. There are some good teams over there. Colonel Crawford last week gave us all we wanted,” said Gorbett.
New London Knocks off Another Contender
So far this baseball season, New London is 3-0 against contenders in the Firelands Conference.
Dane Held threw a two-hitter and the Wildcats scored six times in the first two innings and went on to blast Crestview (10-2) in conference play on Monday night.
After two wins over Plymouth last week, coach Glen Morse says the win Monday put them in pretty good position. “Both games last week with Plymouth were really tight and nail baiters all the way to the end. In both games they had the tying run on base and we had to come up with a big play on defense in both of those games to hold on to those. Then (Monday) going against Crestview Rob Gross always has his team ready to play, especially against us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We came out and strung some hits together there. I didn’t realize until the end of the game how good of a game that Dane Held has pitched only giving up two hits. We played some defense and managed to get another win out of it against another high quality opponent.”
Morse says the early runs gave a Held a chance to pitch more relaxed and he was able to get some things done. “We went out (Monday) and scored three in the top of the first. Dane managed to throw two pick offs away and they scored two in the bottom of the first to make it a one run game. Then we came back in in the second and scored three more. That gave him a little bit of breathing room. He settled down and did a great job after that,” he said.
New London (12-1,5-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, holds a one game lead on Crestview in the standings. Morse thinks defense has been a big factor for them this spring. “I think one of the biggest improvements from last year has been our defense. Last year, especially at the beginning of the year, we struggled with that and game some games away. This year we have done a really good job of fielding the ball and making good throws and playing smart baseball. I am really proud of the guys for that. We have come through with a lot of clutch hitting this year too. We have made improvements in all of those areas and it has shown up in our record,” said Morse.
With the Wildcats schedule be loaded early in the season, Morse says they have two more tough games to play this week against an excellent Western Reserve team. “That is the biggest job I have as a coach is to keep them going against teams that maybe don’t have those big records. You know, we come right back (Tuesday) and go against Western Reserve, who is 5-1 in the league so far. We play them on Wednesday also. We can’t set back and rest on our laurels we have to come right back out and be ready to go again (Tuesday) afternoon,” he said.
Norwalk beats Big Rival
Norwalk maintained first place in the Northern Ohio League with a victory at Bellevue on Monday night.
In a game that was suspended last week due to rain, the Truckers beat Bellevue (7-1) to be the only school in the “NOL” without a league loss so far this season. Coach Wes Douglas is aware of the significance of the early season win. “To this point it is our biggest win of the season. Shelby is sitting at one loss, Bellevue at two and Tiffin at three. We face Tiffin (Tuesday) and Shelby Thursday, so it was great momentum going into a big week for us,” he said.
It was a six spot in the sixth inning that was the difference for the Truckers (12-2, 4-0), #3 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the large school divison. Douglas says they were able to break open the game. “We got four innings in last week before the rains came. Alex Manner and Michael Finch locked up in a pitcher’s duel,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday night after the win, “In the sixth inning (Monday) night we started out with two walks, an infield grounder moved them to second and third and we put together six straight pretty solid hits to put up a seven run sixth inning. Michael Finch struggled with some control, but he found a way to strike 13 Bellevue hitters even though he walked eight batters.”
Hits had been hard to come by over the first five innings of the game, but Douglas says once they got going it was sort of contagious. “Especially when you see good pitchers like Alex Manner. If somebody shows they can hit the ball hard off him it does carry over. Ethan Rhodes, after we got runners on second and third got a shot down the first base line to give us a 2-0 margin. Momentum and confidence is huge in all sports and it was huge for us (Monday),” said Douglas.
With two more “NOL” games to play this week, Douglas says they have to be able to keep their focus. “This group has been around. I think in the last 70 games they are 58-12. We were expected to win (Monday). We were happy with it, but it wasn’t game seven of the World Series. We will enjoy it (Monday) and get right back after it (Tuesday). I know that is coach speak, but it’s a fact, especially in baseball. It’s a quick turnaround. Everyone knows in baseball it depends on who is on the mound. Thing can change in a hurry. We have Colin Suter set up to go (Tuesday). With him we have a good feeling going in,” said Douglas.
Clear Fork Wants to be Lucky
Clear Fork is a good baseball team, not a great one, but a good one, and one the baseball gods have not been favoring so far this year. They hope that changes this week.
The Colts play defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champion Ashland in their two game “OCC” series this week at Ashland on Tuesday and at home on Wednesday.
Last week, they were handled in back-to-back games by Lexington, the “OCC” leader. In a game that was started at Clear Fork on Tuesday, delayed by rain, and finished on Wednesday at Lex, the Minutemen blasted the Colts (14-0), scoring 11 runs in the third inning. That was followed by a shutout (3-0) led by Lexington started Evan Lee.
Clear Fork coach Rusty Staab says last week was a bad combination for them. “Travis Born did not pitch a good game. He is very capable of pitching better than that, but you have to give Lexington credit. He got flustered. He actually made some decent pitches they just hit it. When we saw the flood gates starting to open we brought in a sophomore just to get some experience. He kind of got lit up by Zach. I think that one was hit so far that I think you need a stewardess on a flight like that. They played great and we played horrible. In the 12 innings we played we never got a runner to third base. I don’t know if it was just our bad hitting or their good pitching or a little of both,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Even Lee pitched a great game. We only lost 3-0. We had an opportunity to score in the first, but Hunter Evans hit a line drive right at the first basemen. If that gets by him it probably scores Ridge (Winand) and we are on the scoreboard and get the goose egg off. That didn’t happen and we had some mental mistakes. When you play a team like Lexington you can’t give them four or five outs an inning. You need some luck and we didn’t have it.”
In baseball, sometimes you are going to make a good pitch and they are just going to hit it anyway. Pitchers have to have short memories and Staab says right now they are reliving things too much. “Travis is our ace. You see good pitchers get over it really quick. They have to have thick skin. They have to have a short memory. They can’t dwell on things. Travis usually does pretty good job of that, but he didn’t last Tuesday. On Wednesday, Austin (Baker) struggled a little bit. He threw 47 pitches in two innings, which isn’t going to help. We had some plays that we could have made and kept the game scoreless, but they scored and once they got the lead Lee was just masterful. He threw first pitch curves and changes ups. He just had us all befuddled,” said Staab.
Ashland (6-6,4-1) has been struggling lately. They will take a three game losing streak into Tuesday, including a loss to Mansfield Senior (3-2) in their last conference game. “We hope they continue to do that. We would like to have some good fortune, but we still need to put the ball in play and that’s what we aren’t doing. We are striking out. We are popping up. We aren’t moving runners. We are bunting terribly. We are running the basses sub par, so it is a big week. Hopefully the weather is so we don’t have to have nine coats on. They are struggling. We know what they are going through. We feel their pain,” said Staab.
The talent is there, but right now the confidence is not for the Colts. “I have a lot of confidence in these guys. They don’t though. They are not stepping up and I hope this week we see the real Clear Fork team because we are capable of beating teams,” said Staab.
Clear Fork Looking to Put Together Streak
Clear fork has played some pretty good softball this spring, at times, but they have not been as consistent as they nee to be.
They trail Lexington and Madison by two games in the Ohio Cardinal Conference standings.
Last week, the lost to Madison (7-0) on Monday, beat Lexington (3-2) in a game finished on Wednesday and then lost to Lady Lex (7-4) in their regularly scheduled game.
Lady Colts coach Jeff Gottfried says Madison was very tough against them. “We got that rained out last week a couple of times, so we went ahead and tried to the get the thing scheduled as soon as we could to basically get it done. It was the same schedule for them. They had three league games too. It wasn’t a thing tat was unfair for either team. We got beat there. They played very well and beat us 7-0,” he said.
Gottfried says they played well in spots against Lexington, but they were unable to get the sweep. “We had to come right back on Tuesday and get back on the horse. We tried to get a game in at out place and got four innings in. The rains came, so that got washed out. So, we had to resume that game on Wednesday at Lexington with us up 3-2 in the fourth inning. We played that game and then had to play the regularly scheduled game, so 10 straight innings. We won the first game against Lex 3-2 and got beat in the second game. Certainly it was a tough stretch with three straight games in the “OCC” The kids were pretty tired,” said Gottfried.
Unlike some prior years, the “OCC” in softball is really balanced. Gottfried does not believe anyone is going to go away and hide. “I don’t think anybody is going to go through the conference unscathed. We spilt with Lex, Madison, and Wooster. We have Ashland coming up this week. I know they have suffered a couple of loses in the conference,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “It was one of those things where you have to keep plugging along and not let one loss turn into the second one. You have to right the ship as quick as you can. We win one and they are able to come back and defeat us. It is just one of those things. You have to keep battling. Hopefully, in the last week you have a chance to have a say so it what happens.”
It is Ashland (6-8,4-2) for the Lady Colts in their “OCC” series this week on Tuesday and Wednesday. Gottfried says the Lady Arrows have some talent too. “They have most of their kids back from a year ago. They have struggled a little bit, but they have also played some good competition. I know they have two nice pitchers, a senior and a sophomore, the same as us. They are going to be competitive. They are well coached as they are going to battle you all of the way to the end. It’s one of those things, every week it’s another quality opponent,” he said.
Gottfried says if they can find a way to win both games this week, it might put them back in the conference race. “We won the first game each time in the “OCC,” sometimes they are home games and sometimes they are road games. We are able to get the first one, but the second one I don’t know if there is a mental letdown or what, I don’t think there is our kids are pretty focused. They don’t expect okay we won the first one we’ll win the second one automatically. These quality opponents we play maybe they find some weaknesses and capitalize on some things and do some things better than you. If you could somehow get two in a row and get some things rolling it would make things easier,” said Gottfried.
Mansfield Senior Making a Move
After a rough start to the season, Mansfield Senior is starting to play some pretty good baseball and the Tygers own a two-game winning streak.
The Tygers (3-6) started the season by losing six of their first seven games, three of those were to Lexington and Ontario, #1 in the large and small school divisions of the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll. First year coach Ron Steward says it was kind of like a baptism under fire. “We had a tough part of our schedule at the beginning of the season. We were playing a lot of young kids and now they are starting to come around a little bit,” he said.
With snow, rain, and cold weather during the preseason and Steward says that didn’t help when it came to the start of the year. “We struggled a little bit defensively because we really hadn’t gotten on the field. We got on the football field a little bit, but that’s turf. We actually didn’t get on the baseball field until the day of our first game,” he said.
The Tygers beat Ashland, the defending Ohio Cardinal Conference champ, (3-2) in a game played on Wednesday. That was after losing a suspended game (8-4) to the Arrows. Steward says they almost won it too. “(Wednesday) we finished a suspended game against Ashland. We were wining 4-3 going into the seventh inning and gave up five runs to lose. I was really worried about coming back and starting the next game, but the youngsters really came through and didn’t let it affect them. They went out and played a really, really solid game,” said Steward.
Mansfield Senior beat Mansfield Christian (4-3) in eight innings on Thursday night. Steward believes the experience they gained against Ashland helped them against the Flames. “We gave up two (Thursday) night in the seventh to go into extra innings. It was the same thing we had done the night before and our kids had been there a little bit, so they didn’t seem too phased. I changed pitchers and they got us out of the inning. They came in and scored a run in the eighth for the win. (Wednesday’s) games really helped us a lot (Thursday),” he said.
St. Peter’s Want to Take it to the Next Level
A win over Wynford on Wednesday night was the fifth of the baseball season for Mansfield St. Peter’s. That is more than they have won in recent whole seasons. Things are looking up for the Spartans.
Coach Tim Failor says they can still be a lot better. He says they are missing some scoring opportunities and if they take advantage there they can become an even more dangerous ball club. “They are getting better, but we still have a ways to go and we are only a third of the way into the season. I am very happy with our progress, I don’t want to sound like I’m not. We do have the tendency to leave too many men on base. They Wynford game we had 17 hits and we scored seven runs. We left a lot of people on base, which is a problem. You have to do your job when you get up to bat with runners in scoring position. Our pitching has been strong. We have won three of our five games in our last at bat, so that is a good sign. They are not giving up,” said Failor.
Clutch hitting can be one of the more difficult aspects of baseball, kind of like free throw shooting in basketball. Failor says they have to be more patient. “I don’t know if it is nervous or anxious, trying too hard, not being patient, wanting to get the key hit and driving the run in, and you forget to have a patient at bat,” he said.
Until next season when they join the Mid-Buckeye Conference, Mansfield St. Peter’s is an independent. Failor says that can be difficult when it comes to rescheduling baseball games. “The season is very compressed and most leagues play two nights a week and then save another night for rainouts,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “It is not difficult to get games scheduled before the season, it is difficult to get games scheduled when you lose a game to weather, against a team that is in a conference because they have to play their conference games and make up their conference games before they play their non-conference schedule. That’s where the pinch comes in. You are libel to get crossed off their schedule so they can get a conference game in.”
Failor says they have already been forced to move some games around this spring. He says it can make a guy feel older. “We have had some bad weather so far this season. The Wynford game from (Wednesday) night was a make-up game from a week ago. We got two innings in against Mansfield Christian, our cross town rival, on Monday, so that is rescheduled to make up the final five innings next Tuesday. We play Mansfield Senior (Friday) night and it looks like we are going to have bad weather. We go to Buckeye Central Saturday and that could be affected by bad weather. Coaches in their sixties get gray real fast,” said Failor.
The Spartans (5-3) host Mansfield Senior (3-6) and winner of their last two, on Friday, weather permitting. Failor looks for a good game. “They are better, we are better, it could be a lot of fun,” he said.
Fredericktown Blitzes Northmor
When Fredericktown is good they can be really, really good and that was the case on Thursday night when they bludgeoned The Northmor Golden Knights in a non-conference game.
The Freddies (11-3), #2 in the Swankonsports.com baseball coach’s poll in the small school division, scored early and often as they hammered Northmor (13-0) on the road.
Coach Tom Craze thought it was one of their better performances of the season. “We really put it all together (Thursday) night against a good Northmor team. We got incredible pitching (Thursday) from Derek Thompson. He was fantastic on the mound. He also hit the ball for us as well. One through nine in the lineup (Thursday) did an outstanding job. I really couldn’t be more proud of these kids. Just a really good non-conference win against a good opponent,” said Craze.
Matt Smith, headed to Coastal Carolina, is one of the best hitters in this part of the state of Ohio. However, Craze says this year they have gotten production throughout the lineup. “He walked three times against Northmor. He gave guys opportunities in front of him and behind him to put the ball in play. We did that and that caused some problems for Northmor. We just did a great job of hitting and protecting Matt. Matt Smith is a special player when he gets a chance to swing the bat,” he said.
Fredericktown has played well this year, but in some cases they have not been at their best, such as a loss to Clear Fork (15-5) and a doubleheader sweep by Highland. Craze says it is perplexing. “The nucleus is back from last year. It’s hard to figure out this team in a sense. Some days they are high and some days they are low. We are still just trying to get that level of consistency mentally at times. Sometimes we get a little lackadaisical and sometimes we are razor sharp,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We are still working on that everyday with these young men. I think this week it has been really good. The mental part of the game has been really good for the kids. I hope we are at that point where we are really digging in on baseball and mentally we are right where we need to be.”
Fredericktown, the Mid-Buckeye Conference leader, meets Danville (7-4,2-2) in a conference game, weather permitting, and Craze says even with win you have to move on. “Baseball is unique where you really have to forget about what happened and move on. We talked to our kids (Thursday) afterwards. We have to pass on the Northmor win, it was a great win, but we have to focus on (Friday) night. Mentally you have to be able to turn the page and focus on the next game and task. We try to do that with our kids right away. It may be a great win and sometimes it may be a loss. You have to get your kids right back to playing. Some weeks you may have four or even five games. You really have to stay consistent,” said Craze.
Ontario Shuts Down Upper
Defending champion Ontario is in a share of first place in the black division of the North Central Conference after another win over Upper Sandusky on Wednesday.
Tyler Beal threw a four hitter and the Warriors (9-1,2-0) beat Upper (7-0) and they share first place in the division with Galion, who beat Bucyrus (13-3) on Wednesday.
In conference games, Ontario has had strong starting pitching. Coach Dan Gorbett says that is what has carried them so far. “Mitch McCrystal and Tyler Beal pitched two outstanding games. It usually does start on the mound. We got great pitching. We had two errors in each game. We need to clean that up. That is a little bit more than we have normally had. Overall, we made some good plays. In two games we picked four guys off base. That was impressive,” said Gorbett.
The last couple of seasons, Ontario has hit over .400 as a team. That has not been the case so far this spring, but Gorbett says they have gotten some key hits. “Our hitting has been timely. It hasn’t been great, but we have been getting the hits when we need them and scoring enough runs to win,” he said.
Even the pitching as bee a little more inconsistent than it was last year. Gorbett says they need to find some other guys that can make their mark on the mound. “Mitch and Tyler are both very good pitchers. Mitch has been a little bit up and down. He had a no hitter against Mansfield Senior, but was not as sharp against Fredericktown. Even though we beat Willard he wasn’t really sharp. He looked really good Monday and really pounded the strike zone. He only threw 90 pitches,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday evening, “Tyler Beal is really off to a great start. He pitched very well against Shelby and Mt. Gilead. (Wednesday) he only gave up four hits and had seven strikeouts and shut them down. I am really pleased with the pitching part. Now, as the games get pilled up here we need our three, four, five and six to step up.”
With some other talented teams in the black division, Gorbett knows they are going to have to be ready every time they take the field. “Galion is off to a good start as is Wynford. Upper is a solid team and I was really pleased we were able to take two from them and we had to play real well to do that. It will be a battle. We have Colonel Crawford, who is the favorite in the silver division. We have to bounce right back and play (Thursday),” he said.
Ontario ran through the conference pretty easily last season, posting an unbeaten “NCC” record. Gorbett knows the other schools remember that. “We talked about that early in the year. Quite frankly, I am more worried about us then what other people are thinking about us. We need to get better and improve. I try not to worry about that other stuff and about what other teams are saying and doing. There are times when we have looked really good and times where it looks like we have a lot of work to do,” said Gorbett.
Defending “OCC” Champs Lose to Mansfield Senior
Ashland coach Rob Lavengood has been harping on the lack of fundamentals and Wednesday it bit them in the butt.
In the first game, a continuation from Tuesday, they beat Mansfield Senior (8-4), but they were stunned in the second game (3-2) at Bud Plank Field. The loss dropped the Arrows (7-4,4-1) from a share of first place in the Ohio Cardinal Conference. Coach Ron Lavengood was disappointed in the effort, especially in the field. “We have been talking over the last few weeks about how we have struggled defensively making plays and having three, four errors every game. It came back to hurt us in the second game (Wednesday). We had five errors and gave up three unearned runs. You have to make plays. We have been struggling and we continue to struggle. We just have to get better. You just can’t afford to force your pitcher to make extra pitches every inning and give the other team four or five outs every inning because you are not making plays. On top of that we just didn’t swing the bats very well. We only had four hits and two runs,” said Lavengood.
Mansfield Senior (2-7,1-4) won its first conference game of the season and Lavengood says the Tygers are clearly better fundamentally than they have been in recent seasons. “You have to give Mansfield a lot of credit. I thought their pitchers threw strikes and I thought defensively they made some plays. They gave themselves a chance to win and that’s what you have to do. You have to tip your hat to them,” he said.
Lavengood says there is no time for pouting. They need to get right back at it because they play a talented Wooster (6-2,3-1) team on Friday on the road. “We have a big one coming up Friday, a makeup game against Wooster on the road from last week. So, we will see how we bounce back. It will be interesting to see how the kids react to the loss (Wednesday). We’ll come in (Thursday) and have a good practice after school if the weather cooperates and lets us get on the field and do some things defensively. Hopefully we can bounce back and get back on the winning track against Wooster,” said Lavengood.
Last year, Ashland won the “OCC” and advanced to the regionals. Two years ago they finished second and lost in the district tournament. Lavengood says they need to develop some leaders. “That is a huge loss. We had some guys that were on the team last year that were three and four year lettermen that had been through the wars for quite a few years. They knew how to go about their business and they knew how to lead by example as well as being vocal leaders on the field. Right now we are trying to search for some of that. We have a few guys that were part of our success the last couple of years at the varsity level, but those guys were able to fly under the radar and follow by example the kids that graduated last year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Now they are being put into those roles where they are the leaders. Hopefully, they are ready to kind of get us through some of the tough times like (Wednesday) and keep us working hard and plugging away and showing some of the younger guys how to go about their business and bounce back from a tough loss.”
Plymouth Loses Tough One
Last year Plymouth won a number of close games and they won the Firelands Conference baseball title along with it. This season, at least at the beginning, it seems to be going in the other direction.
Wednesday night they lost their second one run decision to New London (6-5) this week in a battle between two of the contenders for the title.
Monday night, New London won at Plymouth (4-3) in the first meeting. Plymouth (7-3,2-2) coach Andrew McFarland says in that game they made too many mistakes. “Game one there were definitely things that we could look at in the scorebook that were frustrating. Two of the four runs we gave up in the first game were earned. If we run a play a little bit smarter and communicate a little bit we had a chance to shut them out on Monday night,” he said.
In the second game, McFarland says New London (11-1,4-0) got a big hit and they couldn’t get any timely hits. “(Tuesday) night we got delayed in the bottom half of the first inning. New London has the bases loaded with two out. (Wednesday) night their first batter hits a grand slam to make the game 5-1. After that played a great baseball game, probably one of our best of the year,” he told Swankononsports.com Wednesday night, “We played good defense and threw strikes and chipped away, but we just couldn’t get that big hit. We had a chance to tie and take the lead in both the sixth and seventh and could get the big hit.”
In these two games series among contenders McFarland says you want to win at least one. McFarland says they pretty much have to run the table now. “We all want to have a sweep, of course, but deep down everybody knew we had to get at least one. Now, we are going to need a little help and probably need to win out. I don’t know if we can afford to slip up and expect New London to lose three games because they are a well coached team. They are very sound fundamentally, have good arms and swing the bats. They are a tough ball club,” said McFarland.
A good thing is they have get right back on the beam on Thursday in conference play against Mapleton. McFarland says they must regain their focus. “The first thing I said during our post game meeting was these are disappointing losses because I know that they put a lot into them, but at the same time we can’t hang our heads because there is work to be done. (Thursday) we are right back at it as we go over to Mapleton. We can’t have nay slip ups. It’s a long season though,” he said.
Lexington Playing Excellent Baseball
Lexington is playing as well as any baseball team in North Central Ohio right now. Just ask Clear Fork.
The Minutemen (8-1,3-1) were in the process of taking apart the Colts (14-0) in the fourth inning and then Mother Nature stepped in like a referee in a prize fight before anyone got hurt too badly. The game will be finished prior to Wednesday’s scheduled meeting at Lexington.
Zach Steery and Brody Basilone both hit home runs, Steery’s was a grand slam, as part of an 11 run third inning for the Minutemen. Coach Jeff Strickler says it’s been a good start to the year for them. “They are putting all phases together pretty well at this moment, offense, defense and pitching. You can’t ask for much else,” he said.
Mason Willeke, Sterry, Basilone and Logan Bastin have all been hitting over .400 for the season and Strickler says the rest of the lineup is coming around too. “Our one through four are all batting .400 or better. The five, six, and seven are around the .250 to .300 mark and getting better each week. The bottom of the order they are doing a pretty good job of getting on base, whether it be by walks or moving runners with sacrifices,” said Strickler.
Starter Zack Temple limited Clear Fork to three hits, two by Ridge Windand, over three innings of work on Tuesday. Strickler says he is part if a deep pitching rotation. “We had Zach pitching very well (Tuesday). Along with him you have Brody Basilone. He has pitched a couple games already. His ERA is less than one. He threw a perfect game against Mansfield Senior. We have Evan Lee who is doing very well. He’s a sophomore. Logan Bastin has come in a few times. We have had Adam Johnson, a lefty, a junior, that has picked up some innings on the weekend. We have a lot of depth. Mason Willeke pitches, but we haven’t had to use him as a pitcher yet, which is good,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday evening, “It saves his arm to play short. I think we are a very good team. It’s blessed with a lot of good players. A lot of talented kids. They work really hard and they just love the game of baseball and it’s showing.”
Right now, Lexington shares first in the “OCC” with Ashland. Wooster, Mansfield Madison and Orrville standing a game back. Strickler says their goal is to win the league, but it won’t be easy. “That’s our goal going in. This is one of the premier baseball conferences in the state. You better be ready to play every league game if you want to be able to win this thing. Anybody can win this thing this is probably as wide open a conference race as it has ever been,” he said.
Big “NOL” Game Still Must be Decided
Norwalk and Bellevue got to play four innings Tuesday before Mother Nature stepped in and caused a halt to the proceedings.
The Truckers and Redmen shared the Northern Ohio League title last season, along with Tiffin Columbian, and on Tuesday they played four innings at Bellevue before the storms took over. Norwalk coach Wes Douglas says it was a great pitcher’s duel. “Two defending “NOL” champs and both return quite a bit. We were 22-5 and they were somewhere in that neighborhood. Alex Manner, one of the better pitchers in the area for Bellevue, against Michael Finch. It was 0-0 after four innings (Tuesday). The rains came and it’s a suspended game until Monday. We had two bunt hits. They had a bloop hit. It was a pretty well played game,” said Douglas.
He says there is no question that they had this game with Bellevue circled on the schedule before the season even started. “We are sitting at 9-2 and have played some quality teams. We all knew that this was the one we were pointing at. You talk about one game at a time and all of those good things and you mean it, but you still have an eye looking forward to a game like (Tuesday),” he said.
Both schools have been good in multiple sports over the last several years and Douglas says there is a rivalry between the two. “I think there always has been. There is football and basketball and the two communities are pretty close. The kids know each other pretty well. Andy Dennings has done a nice job over there the last four or five years,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night, “The have quite a tradition of quality, athletic ballplayers that know how to play the game. We won a nice game at our place last year and then we lost over there in ten innings. It has been quite a battle in the 17, 18 years that I have been here.”
The teams have to wait until Monday afternoon to finish things up, but Douglas doesn’t believe that will be much of a factor when it comes to who wins the game. “We haven’t had to do it too many times in my career with this group especially. It looks like both teams will probably be back with the same pitchers. It’s a little bit different, but I think both teams will be ready and it won’t be that big of a challenge,” he said.
Shelby Gets First “NOL” Win
Shelby continues to hit the baseball and with a win on Tuesday night the Whippets are hanging in the Northern Ohio baseball race early on.
Fighting the raindrops on Tuesday, and more importantly the lightning, the Whippets (5-5,1-1) beat Sandusky (8-5) to pick up their first “NOL” win of the year. They lost (17-10) to Norwalk last week.
Coach C.J. Brickman says it was a big win for them in terms of momentum and position. “With the win (Tuesday) it puts us right back into it. The weather was bad the whole game, but in the end we got the win and it feels good,” he said.
When many other games were postponed, or not played at all, due to storms, Shelby and Sandusky finished all seven innings of theirs. Brickman liked the pace of play. “You want to be quick because you want to hit. You don’t want to be in the field when it’s raining. We want to keep the mound dry, so you have to be tough mentally,” Brickman told Swankonsports.com after the win Tuesday.
Pitching has sometimes been a question mark, but Shelby has been hitting the ball all season. Brickman says the bats are carrying them right now. “That is out strength. We can put some runs up. If we can pitch a little better and play the field better I think we can be pretty good,” he said.
Ashland swept a doubleheader from the Whippets on Saturday and Brickman says their defense was shaky. He says it was better against Sandusky. “Over the weekend it got rough, but (Tuesday) we moved some kids into some places where I think they will be successful. It was good (Tuesday), but we need to be more consistent throughout the year,” he said.
Shelby travels to take on the talented Bellevue Redmen in an “NOL” game on Thursday.
New London Stays in Front
New London beat defending Firelands Conference champion Plymouth Monday night to remain in a share of first place in the conference standings.
Dane Held scattered four hits over six and a third innings to get win and added three hits and an RBI as the Wildcats (10-1,3-0) beat Plymouth (4-3) on Monday.
New London beat Plymouth ace Zach Butler and Wildcats coach Glen Morse says there is some satisfaction, especially when you beat a top notch starter like Butler. “When your up against a pitcher of the quality we did (Monday) an you come up with the “W” that does make it better later on when you are looking back on it,” he said.
It’s very early in the season and Morse says things are far from over and he knows Plymouth will come out Tuesday with fire in their eyes. “Like I told the guys after the game in the outfield, I said they are going to come right back at us (Tuesday) and they are going to want to make up for the loss and try to get us right back where they are at 2-1 in the league,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “Hopefully we can come through. We have another good, quality pitcher going for us (Tuesday). I don’t know who they are going to throw, but we are going to be right back at it with two of the top quality teams in the Firelands Conference.”
Right now, New London shares first place with Crestview, who beat Monroeville (16-0) on Monday night.
New London scored the winning run on Monday night on a botched play by Plymouth. Morse says you have to take advantage of those opportunities when they come along. “They came back and tied us at two in the bottom of the fifth inning. In the top of the sixth we got a couple of guys on base with a base hit and a hit by pitch. They moved around on a wild pitch, so they were at second and third. We got another wild pitch that scored the go ahead run. On the flip back the catcher and the pitcher miscommunicated on it and they threw it away. Corey Smith scored the fourth run and that turned out to be the winning run. You have to be ready to go on all of those situations and be aggressive and go after it,” said Morse.
New London has been the conference runner up the last two seasons and Morse says the kids are committed to changing that this spring. “We finished second by one game last year to Plymouth and the year before to Crestview. Two years ago we had a significant lead with four games to go and ended up not finishing it off. A lot of these guys were playing as freshmen and sophomores that year and they are now juniors and seniors and they think it is time for them to finish it off and get their names at the top of the list,” he said.
Wooster and West Holmes in Big Series
Two of the expected contenders in the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball race square off on Tuesday as West Holmes comes to Wooster.
Wooster has won five of its first seven games, including two wins in three “OCC” games so far. Coach Derek Boyd has been excited by the start by the Generals. “They have a lot of experienced players back from a very deep and talented team that went a long way in the tournament last year, so it’s another opportunity for our kids to have a great challenge. We are excited to bring them in on (Tuesday),” he said.
One of the best players in the league this season is Wooster’s Nick Buckingham. He is expected to get the start on Tuesday and Boyd says he has really done the job with the bat in his hands. “Nick has done a lot of good things for us over the last couple of years. He has really had a great start to the season. He is swinging the bat really well and he has a lot of confidence at the plate right now,” he told Swankonsporys.com on Monday, “I think the thong that has impressed me the most not only has he got a lot of hits, but he has gotten a lot of hits when he has been behind in the count. We are not talking about a hit that are just fighting off tough pitches. I mean he is putting the bat on the ball really well. We kind of expected that he was one of our top hitters from a year ago. He is off to a great start at the plate.”
There have been some close games already in the “OCC,” which includes likely seven pretty good teams. Boyd says he have to do the little things right. “That is one of things that you continue to focus on even if you get forced back inside. One thing could cost you a ballgame. We try to stress that to our kids that mentally you have to be thinking from pitch to pitch and out to out about how things need to be done. Those things can cost you, especially against good teams,” he said.
With another game against West Holmes (7-2,1-2) set for Millersburg on Wednesday, Boyd knows they have to get at least one these to stay in the race. “It’s a strong league. This year might work out that whoever wins this thing might have a couple of losses. You are going to have to do everything you can to win. If you are in a situation where you are not winning you are going to be out real quick against these teams,” he says.
Right now, Ashland and Lexington share the conference lead at 3-0 with Wooster, Mansfield Madison and Orrville a game back heading into play on Tuesday.
Galion Gets Shutout Against Bucyrus
Galion won its North Central Conference opener on Monday by downing Bucyrus to share the lead in the black division.
Ontario got past Upper Sandusky (8-2) and Wynford beat Riverdale (11-4) on Monday.
With the win Galion is now (7-2) overall for the year. First year coach Phil Jackson, no not that Phil Jackson, says he has been pretty pleased with the execution that he has seen so far. “We still have quite a bit of growing to do as a team, but the way that the season started with the weather, and taking that into consideration, I am happy with the 7-2 start that was have,” he said.
With a new coach there is always going to be a period of adjustment and Jackson believes that is the reason they are making some of the simple mistakes they have been making. “We have to be better at trusting one another. We have to come to the ball field everyday wanting to be there with the motivation that we are going to get better and then win. We need to work as a group, both coaches and players. It’s anew system,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We have had a longtime coach here with coach Ruth and then prior to that coach Gorbett. I am the first real new coach to come into the system in a while. There is an adjustment period that we are working through. Once we get that established we will get rid of some of the base running errors and some of the mental lapses that we are having and become a better ball club.”
Galion stuffed Bucyrus (6-0) behind the efforts of senior Isaac Huffman on Monday. Jackson says Huffman has come into he one this spring. “I had a senior Isaac Huffman, who has kind of elevated himself to be our number one. He had a four hit shutout Monday night against Bucyrus and he also pitched a shutout against a good Northmor team earlier in the season. He is really coming into his own. He doesn’t give up free passes. He makes hitters work their way on base. He keeps the ball down and works with is off speed stuff. I am very happy with how he has developed from a pitcher that really wasn’t in the picture of being a number one,” said Jackson.
There are a lot of solid teams in the “NCC,” especially in the black division, and Jackson understands that winning a division title will take a special effort. “I came from the Ontario system. I coached there last year. I have tried to instill that same sense of confidence and love of the game over here in Galion. The whole division, top to bottom, they all have talent. They can all win on any given day. I know it sounds cliché, but it’s true. You can not let your guard down at all in any league game no matter your opponent or you are going to be looking up at somebody that hasn’t done that,” he said.
Galion plays Bucyrus (3-4,0-1) again on Wednesday. They play Fremont Ross in a non-conference game on Tuesday.
Northmor Gets Big Win
A win over Marion Elgin on Monday night has moved the Northmor Golden Knights just a half game back in the blue division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference.
They beat Elgin (1-0), while Highland beat Marion Pleasant (4-3, 3-1) in an inter-divisional game in the “MOAC.”
Senior Zach Wiseman tossed the shutout for the Northmor (5-3,2-1) and coach Buck Workman says his stopper had pretty good stuff on Monday. “Zach Wiseman went out there and gave up one hit. He struck out 12 and only walked one, that is actually his first walk other than me calling for an intentional walk here in there. I think he has 42 strikeouts and one walk on the season, so he is pretty good with his control. He always gives us a chance when he is on the mound,” said Workman. The coach says this is not something uncommon when it comes to Wiseman’s control, rather it is something they have come re expect. “His sophomore he went into the last week of the season and only had three walks for the whole year. He is just not going to beat himself by allowing extra base runners. You are going to have to earn it against him. If we play defense like we are capable of we have a chance every time he steps on the mound,” he said.
Northmor doesn’t have the kind of personnel to score a bunch of runs, so they need to be very fundamental in their execution on offense and defense. Workman says they fielded their position very well against Elgin and that has to continue. “(Monday) night was phenomenal in that the defense when he wasn’t striking people out were making plays behind him. Everybody on the field made a play here or there. Some of them were routine, some of them were tough plays. They made every play and that’s what we have to have. We aren’t going to score a lot of runs, by we have to make those plays on defense and throw strikes,” he said.
And it has to be the same on offense. Workman says they were able to scratch across the only run Monday and were able to make it stand up for the win. “The run we scored was a one out walk to Wiseman. He stole second. They threw it into centerfield and he comes to third. We get a bunt single, but he has to stay at third. The next hitter we bunted and they tried to turn two on it and couldn’t get it done. Wiseman walked in with the only run of the game,” he said.
Lady Colts Moving Forward
With a key win last week, the Clear Fork Lady Colts have kept themselves in the Ohio Cardinal Conference race. However, this week offers a tough challenge.
Clear Fork (5-2,2-1) outlasted Mansfield Madison (5-4) in a league game last Tuesday before the rains came. Coach Jeff Gottfried says he was really proud of how his players kept their focus and were able to respond when they hard to. “It was especially big in the way it happened. We got off to a slow start. We fell behind 4-1 at one time going into the sixth. We got a big spurt there and scored four runs. For us that is a pretty big outburst for one inning with our offensive woes that we have kind of had here at the beginning. We played pretty good defense and got some solid pitching when we needed to and were able to squeak one out there. We kind of stole one away from home. Unless you hold ground at home that one doesn’t really mean a whole lot,” said Gottfried.
Clear Fork then swept a doubleheader from Wooster Triway (10-4 and 10-0) on Saturday. Gottfried says he thought it was important to get some younger players on the field. “I think kids are starting to figure out who does what the best as far as their roles are concerned. We were able to play some extra people. The JV’s didn’t have any games, so I was able to bring up a few kids. It gave me some opportunities that I normally don’t have kids for because we don’t have enough bodies. I don’t carry a whole lot on varsity because I want our JV kids to be playing a lot,” he said, “They weren’t playing so I could use some of them for some key situations to run some bases. Another freshman Taylor Cook got a chance to start. We had a couple of kids taking an “ACT” test in the morning. We were able to use a lot of kids in our entire program. Some kids were able to show me some things. Taylor had a good game and she got a chance to play again (Monday) night. It was good to get in 14 straight innings. That was nice.”
They are off to a much better start then they were a year ago, but Gottfried knows they still have some kinks to work out both on offense and defense. “I think consistency in all areas. I think at times we show very good defense and at other times we will make two or three errors in about four plays and that’s not good. You can not have one error follow another error. Our pitching has to get more consistent. Morgan Arnett had a great outing Saturday in the second game of a doubleheader. She only gave up two hits in five innings against Triway. She pitched very, very well. You have to get ahead in the count. Ellen (Jones) at times has thrown well, but at other times she has fallen behind in the count. She is going to get hit pretty hard if she has to bring the ball down the middle. Offensively we still haven’t found our grove yet. We still have a couple of kids struggling. Taylor Kline is having a great season so far. Anna Meyers is swinging the bat real well. We are trying to figure out what is best for our order and what each kid’s strengths are, so that is still a work in progress. A lot of that has to do with the opposing teams pitcher and how good they are as well,” said Gottfried.
The Lady Colts play their biggest rival this week in a two game set with Lexington (8-2,3-0) on Tuesday and Wednesday. Lady Lex leads the “OCC” standings. Gottfried says they are looking forward to it. “It’s a big week absolutely in the “OCC.” Lex I don’t know if they have even lost yet. I know they are undefeated in the conference. They are certainly a solid program every year with coach Hamman over there doing a nice job. Once we get done with those we have Northwestern coming to town and they are a solid team, solid program. We are just looking to get better every single day. If that produces a win that would be great,” he said.
Improvement is the Key for the Colts
So far this young baseball season, the Clear Fork Colts have won all of their non-conference games and lost all of their Ohio Cardinal Conference games.
Last week, Madison got a four hitter from Bo Curvin and beat the Colts (9-1) on Tuesday. Their second game was washed out and moved to May 21. In cold temperatures on Friday and Saturday, the Colts shut out Crestview (7-0) behind Austin Baker and beat Hillsdale (9-5) on Saturday.
Rusty Staab, back this year as the Clear Fork baseball coach, thinks there has been improvement, but he knows there is room for a lot more. “I think we are definitely moving in the right direction. The goal of the coach is to get them to be better by the end of the year. It’s an older group, mainly juniors and seniors, so I don’t think its gong to take the whole year. I am hoping they start catching on. I think the work ethic is there. The weather hasn’t been there. We all have to play in it, it’s not like it’s just us. If we can get some consistent weather where we can constantly be on a field and if they learn from their mistakes we should be there. Unfortunately in the “OCC” if you get swept a couple of weeks you are out. That is what has happened to us so far,” said Staab.
Going into play this week, Lexington and Ashland are the league co-leaders, but outside of Mansfield Senior everyone has been competitive. Staab says really they are good enough to beat anyone in the league. “I don’t know if we can win it, but I think we can be spoilers. We are 0-3 right now and our next two weeks Lexington is 3-0 in the “OCC” and next week we have Ashland who is 3-0. Who knows what is going to be happening the next four weeks. Our goal is to get better each game. We can’t put wins and loses on that because we could play great and get beat and although we all want to win I’m going to be happy because we are playing better,” he said.
As was the case in football, not so much in hoops, there is tremendous balance in the league. Staab is disappointed they didn’t play better against Madison, but he believes the race to the top spot in the league has just begun. “A couple of weeks ago I said four losses is going to win the “OCC” and it might be five. We got beat by Madison and coach Rickert gave us a lot of complements. It was like everything they did was great. They had a least three hits that were great pitches that they scrubbed it down the third base line and we basically had to pick up and throw back to the pitcher. We hit some rockets. I am not saying we should have beaten them, but we should have played better and it should have been a better game. In the second game against Wooster we were in the game. It’s going to be a very competitive league and that’s what everybody said at the beginning of the year, so it looks like it’s going to that all of the way down to the wire,” he said.
The Colts (5-3,0-3) play at home against Lexington (8-1,3-0) on Tuesday and at Lexington on Wednesday. Staab admits games against the Minutemen get them a little more excited. “I would definitely hope so. It was when I used to coach. A lot of the kids play summer ball together. They have known each other for a long time. For a Tuesday and Wednesday for one week out of the high school season we despise each other. The kids know a lot of the other kids. I know a lot of the Lexington kids have come down to “Hittsville” for the hitting leagues. They are good kids they just wear purple. Yes, there is still a rivalry,” said Staab.
Ontario Has Been Mailing it in
Ontario is a good baseball team. There is a little question about that, but their coach says they have not been a team that given its best effort in every game.
The Warriors have won six of the seven games they have played so far, including wins over Willard (5-4) on Monday and Mansfield St. Peter’s (14-2) on Tuesday. Sounds like a good resume, but coach Dan Gorbett knows they can be a better. “Our focus and our intensity was not there early. A loss to Fredericktown I think woke us up. We really played well Saturday in all phases of the game, mentally, emotionally, physically and I was really, really happy. Then Monday we came out flat again against Willard. We acted like we didn’t want to be there, just a very uninspiring performance. We were bale to hang in there and rally and we did win. We scored two in the bottom of the sixth to beat Willard. Then we came back against St. Pete’s on Tuesday and played well,” said Gorbett.
The talent is there, but Gorbett says the focus, especially mentally and physically, has been there and that has to change. “We just have to get that emotional and mental part of the game on track. We just have no consistency at all so far. I am a little bit worried because baseball, especially if you get backed up by rain outs you have to ready to go every day. As I told the kids last year that was our strength. I can’t remember a game last year that we were not ready to go. We were always focused and we have to get to that point pretty fast because the league starts Monday,” he said.
Ontario’s only loss came last week to Fredericktown (11-1) and Gorbett says it is not the loss that bothers him. “Fredericktown is a good game. They are a very good team. My disappointment wasn’t that we lost to them, it was our approach to it. They are one of the best teams on our schedule. They were a final four team. We should have been excited. It should have been a good game. We just went through the motions. Even if we were ready and played our best game I don’t know if we would have beat them. I just wish we would have competed better. When you give your best effort and you lose that’s one thing,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “When you are just not there mentally and emotionally that was troublesome. I believe they realized that after the game that they were not ready to go. Saturday, we were just a whole different team against Shelby. Unfortunately against Willard we slipped back into the same thing. It’s was like let’s roll out the ball and we will automatically win attitude. That just can’t happen. There are too many good teams that can beat us. We have to come ready to play everyday.”
Gorbett, a hall of fame coach, believes the leadership a team gets from its seniors is very important. He says this year that leadership has been sometimes shaky. “If you have ever been to my banquet that is all I talk about is senior leadership. I think it is huge on a team. I have stressed that with our team that emotions and being ready as a team starts at the top. Most guys have to approach it that this is my senior year. This my last year playing baseball and I have to come ready to play. That has been up and down. Our senior leadership has been inconsistent. I do think that is a big key. Those guys coming together and being ready to play everyday,” he said.
Ontario, the defending champion, begins league play with two North Central Conference black division games against Upper Sandusky on Monday and Tuesday. Gorbett says they will need that focus on all next week. “Because of rainouts we play Monday, Wednesday, Thursday. We have Colonel Crawford, from the small school division, on Thursday. You can’t take a day off. That is the bottom line. I always tell the kids if you have a bad Monday in basketball or football the coaches make you run more, they yell at you and you go home, you didn’t lose a game. If you have a bad Monday in baseball you just lost a game. Teams have bad practices and nobody knows about it. In baseball there are a lot of seasons when you only get to practice maybe once every two weeks outside because it is either raining and you are inside or you are playing a game,” said Gorbett.
Fredericktown Starts Well
It was a good start to the Mid-Buckeye Conference season for the Fredericktown Freddies this week. Two wins have pointed them towards a possible conference title, something they have listed as part of their goals.
They beat Centerburg (16-6) on Monday and followed that up with a (11-1) win over Utica on Tuesday. Coach Tom Craze says they played some outstanding baseball. “We were coming off a rough weekend against Highland. We started our league play on Monday and were able to jump on Centerburg. The next day we had to play the defending league champions in Utica and won that game 11-1, so our kids were outstanding. The kids were outstanding. We kind of got some focus back after the doubleheader with Highland on Saturday. Monday and Tuesday they just played outstanding,” said Craze.
In four of their games this season Fredericktown (5-3,2-0) has scored more than 10 runs. Craze says senior Matt Smith has led the charge. “Leading our hitting right now is Matt Smith. He is almost hitting .700 right now. He is just having an incredible year so far. This week we have had one through nine really hit the baseball. Against Centerburg we had 14 hits and against Utica we had 16 hits. We are putting the ball in play. We have gotten timely hitting. We have gotten outstanding pitching as well. To start the conference 2-0, I couldn’t be more happy,” said Craze.
Smith is a three time All-Ohio player and Craze is certain he will be a fine player at the next level. “Matt is going to Western Carolina to play and the Southern Conference is very, very good. He is going to be a fine division one baseball player. I am excited to see him play at the next level,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “He works so hard at baseball and I think the thing that sets Matt apart is this is a kid that truly loves the game and he will do anything to get better everyday. He is an outstanding young man. He is gifted and has a lot of talent.”
Fredericktown in scheduled to play their third “MBC” game of the week on Friday at Loudonville, weather permitting. Craze says they should be fresh. “We are fortunate to have a couple of days here when we had some rest. We had some bumps and bruises that we had to take care of. Now we have a schedule where we go Friday to Loudonville for an “MBC” game. It’s going to be to be hard, going to be difficult. Saturday we have a doubleheader with Cardington. Then next week we play everyday of the week. We are going to have a stretch here when there won’t be much time for practice, not much time for rest. Our focus is going to have to be really, really good here,” he said.
Norwalk Getting Things Going
Norwalk is one of the favorites in the Northern Ohio League baseball race and with a win in their first game they are on their way to proving that is the case.
Veteran coach Wes Douglas says it was important for them to get off to a good start against Shelby. The Truckers were able to pull away late and win (17-10) going away in a game that was played Tuesday at Shelby. “Especially with “NOL” right now and only six teams in it and only a 10 game season to decide the league championship, so every game is a must game. On the road at Shelby we were able to get the lead and they fought back and we were finally able to put them away,” he said.
After a bit of a slow start with bats, Douglas says from the top to the bottom of the lineup they starting to hit the ball with some pop. “The first few games even though we were winning I still saw some flaws at the plate. We lacked some consistency. The kids have bought into some things we have been working on in practice mentally as much as physically. We are averaging close to 12 runs a game. They last three games I think we scored 11, 17, and 17. We have been driving the ball. We have been scoring runs off the middle of pitching rotations, against their threes, fours and fives, but that is what we were throwing out there ourselves. I couldn’t be happier with our one through nine right now,” said Douglas.
When a batter gets in the box he has to have the right approach. Douglas says you have to know the pitcher you are facing. “I think a lot of it depends on the pitcher. If it is somebody you know is not going to throw it buy you we can definitely be a little more patient and wait on your pitch in your zone. We have gotten better at that. In my tenure here I think I have learned a lot by listening to guys on TV and from the successful coaches here,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “If you have a hard thrower you have to be a little more aggressive and get your swing started a little bit sooner. If those guys are on now you are just hoping to put it in play. Maybe we can get some guys on and move some runners around and try to make something happen. These guys that are mid 70’s or so you can be more patient and I think our guys have bought into that.”
As far as the pitching goes, Douglas says they are still trying to find some guys that can find the strike zone behind their top two guys. “Our number one Colin Suter struggled with the strike zone on the road at Shelby in a win the other night. Michael Finch as an ERA under one. He was 5-0 last year and is off to a 2-0 start. He is our lefty on the mound. They are really 1 and 1-A. When they are both throwing strikes they are going to be tough to beat and give us a chance to win. One our trademarks here in my tenure here is we have always been pretty good at three, four, five, six, and seven. We are still trying to develop those guys and we might not be as strong as we have been in the past. We are starting to see some signs of them coming around. Next week we play Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday in the league now. You just can’t go with one and two you better have somebody else that can throw strikes and hold runners and field their position and give you a chance to play behind them,” said Douglas.
Norwalk was to play Sandusky on Thursday, but Mother Nature got in the way and that has made things more complicated. “The game that was rained out (Thursday) against Sandusky the first available date was next Wednesday, so that is just the way it works. I think everybody else would be in a similar boat because they are going to be throwing back to back games too. You better have as many arms ready and guys ready to throw strikes for you. You just take what’s on the schedule and do the best you can,” he said.
New London Facing Big Week
After the first week of the play in the Firelands Conference, New London shares the lead in the baseball standings with Plymouth and Crestview, all three are 2-0.
The Wildcats blistered Mapleton in two games on Monday (18-8) and Tuesday (15-1) to put themselves in good position. Coach Glen Morse says they hit the ball pretty well, totaling 30 hits against the Mounties. “On Tuesday we even beat a pretty good pitcher in Colton Hickey from Mapleton. He put the ball over the plate and we hit hard up the middle a bunch of times and just kept running the bases. We were very pleased with that. Dane Held has pitched the last two games for us and got complete games out of them and pretty much shut them down. We have done really well so far,” said Morse.
New London (9-1,2-0) has some depth this year. Morse says they have a lot of guys that can hit the ball. “We probably go 14 deep in quality high school hitters in division three, so we are going to put some runs up, even against good pitching. My biggest problem with them so far this year has been finding playing time for all of those guys to keep them sharp so they are ready to go if something happens injury wise,” he said.
Held is clearly the Wildcats number one pitcher, but Morse says they have some guys to go behind him. “We go probably seven deep this year of pretty decent pitchers. There have been years in the past where we have had one real good pitcher and two or three okay pitchers and then we fall off a lot, but this year we go pretty deep and that is showing up over the first two weeks of the season. We have played 10 games over the first 11 days of the season. We have come out of that healthy and with everybody throwing well. We are looking pretty good right now,” said Morse.
If the weather permits, New London will play Colonel Crawford on Friday and a double header against Black River on Saturday in non-conference play. Morse says these are important games too. “We want to win every game that we play. There are no throw away games in our minds down here in New London. Quality programs like Colonel Crawford has been over the years. Black River we play on Saturday. Those are games that you want to get in if you can. The main thing right now, before tournament starts, is to get those league games in and be healthy for them. With the way we are set up right now with the number of baseball players we have here we want to play everything we can,” he said.
Maybe the most critical week of the season for the Wildcats will be next week when they play both Plymouth and Crestview. Morse knows that will determine a lot. “Monday and Tuesday we play Plymouth and we play Crestview at the end of the week, so we are going to find out how we stack up against those two teams next week. We look forward to those games,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “Last year, we lost three games early in the year in the conference and we played form behind all year and came up a little short when it came time to end the season. I think this year our upperclassmen are pretty focused on going out there every league game and putting fourth a good effort and seeing if we can come out of this with a league championship.”
Northmor Leaning How to Win
Northmor is trying to teach some younger players how to be winners and so far that has been about a 50/50 proposition.
The Golden Knights (4-3,1-1) play at home against Marion Pleasant (4-1,2-0) in a big game in the blue division of the Mid-Ohio Athletic Conference on Friday, weather permitting. That may be the biggest factor.
Coach Buck Workman says the rain the past couple of days has kind of killed their momentum. “It is very frustrating. Two years ago you just couldn’t get into rhythm at all. We have finally had a couple of decent weeks here, it was a little chilly, but at least we were able to get outside and get into a little bit of a rhythm. It looks like our bats are starting to come around just a little bit. Now we don’t know how long we are going to be inside. It’s back to square one,” he said.
In games last week against Ontario, Galion, and River Valley, the Knights were able to score only two runs. Workman says they have to get those bats going a little bit. “No question that scoring runs is going to be our biggest issue. We have went through that battle already. There were three games in a row when we scored a grand total of two runs,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We are seeing good pitching too, but we have to score more than two runs if we are going to be successful. The Mt. Gilead game that we played on Monday it seemed like we hit the ball a lot better, but now we are back to this rain stuff, so hopefully we can keep that going when we get back on the field.”
Pleasant is the dominate athletic school in the “MOAC” and Workman says they are going to have to scratch and claw and get some runs across the plate. “Pleasant is always up there at the top. They have a good tradition in baseball along with a lot of other sports. I think we can play with them if we do what we are supposed to do like take care of the baseball and throw strikes and score a few runs. I think we have the pitching to keep us in the game, so we just have to break through and score a couple of runs and I think we have a shot,” he said.
Last season, the Golden Knights shared the division title and advanced to district play. Workman says they are going to have to gain the right kind of experience. “That is something we have talked about as a group that we have to figure out how to win. We have a bunch of young kids. We have a few holdovers from last year that know what it’s all about. They get into the crucial situations and they can handle it. It’s these young kids that we have, sometimes we are starting three freshmen and two or three sophomores. With those guys it is all new to them. The seniors we had last year those situations didn’t bother them. They kind of thrived on them. We have to get these young kids to buy into that. Hopefully they can start coming through and gaining confidence in those situations,” said Workman.
Madison Finding Itself
After a down season last spring, the Madison Rams are rounding into form again and they are going to make some noise this year in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
Coach Doug Rickert says they are hitting the ball pretty well and they are getting some good efforts on the mound, they just aren’t making the plays in the field and that has cost them sometimes. “We are better than we were last year as far as our offense. We are throwing the ball better than we did last year. We just aren’t playing very good defensively. The other night we finally played a game without any errors and that makes a big difference,” he said.
Being on the more successful baseball coaches over the last 15 years in North Central Ohio, Rickert knows what he speaks. He says they have hit it well, but the Rams (2-4,2-1) have been unlucky. “I think what happens sometimes with us and I get a little frustrated because we are still very, very young, but a lot these kids played last year and we should be doing better. I still think we allow one mistake to lead to two mistakes. We have had a couple of ballgames where we have hit the ball real well right at somebody. On the flip side they seem to bloop one somewhere and it falls,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night, “The other night we hit a couple of shots again that didn’t go anywhere in the wind or we hit it right at somebody. It gets frustrating for the kids. You keep telling them that things are going to turn around, but until they do, they don’t feel as confident as you do. Right now, I think we have a pretty nice baseball team. We are young, but pretty good. We just can’t make mistakes. We are not good enough yet to make mistakes and rebound from them.”
Wednesday was a wash out do to persistent thunderstorms across the area. Rickert says Wednesday could have been a big day for them. “This was going to be an interesting day because we thought if we could possibly take two from Clear Fork we would be sitting at 3-1. West Holmes was playing Lexington and Ashland was playing Wooster. If West Holmes won and Wooster was able to beat Ashland there was going to be four teams up there at 3-1. It would have made for a very interesting week. These games will be played in the near future, either this week or later. If we don’t play Clear Fork this week we have a very tough doubleheader with New Albany at their place this weekend and then we have Orrville next week. It isn’t going to get any easier for us,” Rickert.
Clear Fork (3-3,0-3) is winless in the “OCC,” but Rickert feels they are dangerous, especially when they step into that batter’s box. “I think they swing bats as well as anybody. Bo Cervin for us pitched a heck of a baseball game. He has had two outings in the conference where he has been phenomenal. I think Bo is one of the better pitchers in the league. He gave up four hits and struck out eight. When you have Winand and they have Born to hit the ball, they have some newcomers and they have Swank back and some guys that can still hit the baseball. The Baker brothers are good baseball players. They are a good team. Wooster is one of the favorites to win the league and they lose a tough one 11-6 against one their better pitchers. The second night Born loses in eight innings 4-2. They just made some mistakes against us. They made some errors and we put the ball in play a lot more than they did and they kicked around a little bit and we were able to score in every inning. Rusty is so good at playing small ball against you sometimes, but when you get down four or five runs it makes it more difficult to do that,” said Rickert.
Ashland Sits on Top
Well, it is so far so good for Ashland, kind of.
The Arrows (4-2,3-0) are the co-leaders in the Ohio Cardinal Conference along with Lexington. They have played well at times, but not nearly as consistent as they would like.
Like everyone else pretty much, including the Indians, Ashland was rained out of Wednesday night and coach Rob Lavengood says they wanted to play because they had good momentum. “It is doubly disappointing when you are coming off a nice win like we had a Tuesday. We had a nice win against Wooster 4-2 Tuesday night. The kids were excited about playing (Wednesday). It is just unfortunate that we got rained out. We are supposed to play on Thursday night, but that probably isn’t going to happen. Who knows when that game is going to get made up. I think our kids are just kind of anxious to get back on the field and build off a win from Tuesday,” said Lavengood.
Although the game is scheduled now for Thursday things don’t look to promising after heavy rains most of Wednesday. Lavengood says he is hoping this is not a repeat of 2011. “We saw that two years ago. We had just an awful spring. We got some games backed up at the end of the season where we had to play three, four conference games within a short period of time. We end up losing a couple of them and losing conference championship. Now, last year we had a great spring and I don’t think we had to make up any of our conference games,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We were fortunate enough to have two really good pitchers and we were able to keep them on schedule and win a conference championship. You are kind of at the mercy of the weather when you are talking about baseball in springtime in Ohio. If you run into bad weather you are hoping your kids can adjust to the situation and themselves in a position to be successful when it comes time to play those games.”
Lavengood knows there are some things that need to be improved if they are going to continue to win. The first thing is better defense. “We have done what we have had to do to win. We have kind of been a little up and down. We started the season off by playing three pretty solid games. Then we stumbled over the weekend and then really (Tuesday) night despite winning 4-2 and getting a big win against Wooster defensively we were awful. We were lucky to win. We had eight errors. Tyson Vogel pitched one heck of game and only game up three hits. He was able to get us out of jams the whole game because of how well he pitched. We didn’t play very good defense at all. That is something we have to become better at because eventually those errors are going to hurt you and they are going to cost you games,” he said.
If the weather clears up and Ashland plays Wooster (4-1,2-1) on Thursday, Lavengood knows they will be playing a a very strong Wooster team, led by Nick Buckingham. “They have a nice team. Buckingham pitched against us (Tuesday) night and he pitched very well. He had eight strikeouts and only gave up five hits. He has a very good curveball to go with a pretty good fastball. We were able to scratch across four runs and manufacture some things by bunting and moving runners. We were happy to get out of there with a win. Wooster has a nice team and that was their first loss. They are definitely going to have some say in the “OCC” before it is all said and done,” said Lavengood.
Plymouth is Where They Want to Be
Plymouth won the Firelands Conference baseball title a year ago and right now they are in share of first place in the conference standings after two games.
The Big Red, New London and Crestview all have 2-0 conference records after action on Monday and Tuesday.
Plymouth (6-1.2-0) blasted Monroeville in back-to-back conference games this week by scores of 18-1 and 17-7. Coach Andrew McFarland says those first two conference games were important to them. “We have a combination of a good group coming back, but also some guys that need to gain some confidence too. Wins are going to help with that. I still think that is one thing we can improve on that as a group believing that we are a pretty good team and that we have the ability to do some good things this year,” said McFarland.
When it comes to the Firelands Conference, McFarland knows the pressure is on them. “As far as the conference goes. You have to win every game in the conference or things are going to be tough in the end. We just try to go game by game and a 2-0 start is important in the conference,” he says.
Plymouth has been able to score runs in bunches early in the season and McFarland says he knew they at least had that potential. “I felt like coming into the season that we probably swung the bats in the cages as good as we ever have just as far as squaring the ball up and driving the baseball. Game one against Wynford we struggled. We didn’t get any scrimmages in and I could tell and it was a 25 degree wind chill that day and that didn’t help either. Since then for the most part everybody in the lineup has kind of taken their turn. We have a couple of guys off to good starts, hitting .500 or above. That doesn’t hurt at all,” said McFarland.
Plymouth has its number one starter back from last year in Zach Butler. Right now, McFarland says they are trying to find some guys to go around him. “Our pitching hasn’t been bad. Zach Butler, who is our number one, is throwing the ball really well. The biggest thing is we need somebody to step up and be our number two starter. We had an injury in our rotation and hopefully he will be coming back in the next week of so, which will help. We just have to throw strikes. Early on we were just walking too many guys. If we pound the strike zone and play defense like we are capable the pitching will be fine,” said McFarland.
New London (9-1,2-0) is right around the corner for the Big Red next week and McFarland knows that title race is going to dogfight. “We told our guys even before the season started, especially after winning the conference last year we are going to have that target on our backs. Everybody is going to want to dethrone us,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “New London is going to be really tough. We play them next Monday, so that will be a great game. I think Western has the ability to beat some teams. Mapleton come sneak up on some guys. Crestview has a good program there. You can’t forget about St. Paul either. We have to get four starters that we can get out there. I think we will hit the ball, at least I hope so.”
Buckeye Central Making Progress
Buckeye Central seems to be a team that is moving forward as their younger kids gain needed experience.
The Bucks have two wins in their first eight games, but their coach believes they are making strides in the right direction.
Wynford beat the Bucks (5-4) in a non-conference game between “NCC” members on Monday. Coach Chad Jensen says they just couldn’t hold on. “We lost to a very good Wynford team on Monday. They are an outstanding team and have some excellent veteran players. We were ahead 4-3 in the bottom of the seventh. We were ahead the whole game and Wynford chipped away and scored a couple on us in the bottom of the seventh to win it. Our kids stepped up and continue to get better,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “They made plays in the ballgame that kept us in that game. We got excellent pitching from our senior Bryce Christie. We had some clutch hits early in the ballgame. Our kids continue to get better. It’s unfortunate that we lost. We can definitely see the positives.”
Sometimes lessons learned through experience can be tough. Jensen thinks Monday was a good example. Wynford just knew what they had to do to win. “I was talking to my assistant coach after we lost and there have been many times when we had veteran teams and Wynford would be a lot like we are now, young and inexperienced. They would be ahead of us and we would steal it from them in the seventh being a veteran team. This time the tables were turned. John Amicone does a great job over there. We respect Wynford a lot. It was a situation where they made plays with some of their veteran guys. We can learn from it,” said Jensen.
On Thursday, weather permitting, and it looks like it probably won’t, the Bucks play host to Northmor (4-3) in a non-conference game. Jensen says he looks forward to game against the Golden Knights. “We have a lot of respect for Buck Workman and Northmor and that is why we play them. He has done a great job down there. They are consistent year after year. He gets the most out of his kids. He is one of the best coaches in the area. I really enjoy coaching against Buck. We always have really good ballgames. We love to play unfortunately it doesn’t look very good with the weather, but hopefully if we don’t play we can reschedule them,” he said.
Clear Fork Faces Tough Lady Rams
This could be an important week for the Lady Colts softball team. If Clear Fork wants to reclaim the Ohio Cardinal Conference title they will need to beat Madison at least once.
They play the Lady Rams (5-1,2-0) in game Tuesday at Madison and on Wednesday at Clear Fork. Madison beat West Holmes in their conference games last week, while Clear Fork spilt with Wooster. Anna Meyers had four hits and two doubles as the Lady Colts beat Wooster (19-7) on Tuesday and the Lady Generals responded with a (10-4) win in the valley on Wednesday.
On Friday, the Colts lost to Shelby (3-3) of the Northern Ohio League in a tightly contested game (4-3) at Clear Fork. Coach Jeff Gottfried says he saw some good things. “The progression from the beginning of the week until the end of the week was better. The effort was there. I can’t fault the kids on that. We had them down 3-2 going into the sixth inning. We had two outs in the sixth and couldn’t get that third out. They had a girl pinch hit and she drove a two run single to put them ahead 4-3. We just couldn’t get that tying run in in the bottom of the sixth or the bottom of the seventh,” he said, “I thought our defense was solid. We just couldn’t come up with enough key hits at the right times to win. Shelby is certainly a solid team, so it was a good measuring stick for us and I thought we played pretty decent.”
Clear Fork spilt with Madison in the regular season last year and then beat them in the division two tournament. Gottfried knows it will be a test. “Every week in the “OCC” no matter who you run into they are going to be good. It is something we look forward to each week. It is nice that you can focus on one team. Madison is out of the gates real strong. They are 2-0. It is still early in the season. You certainly can’t afford a couple of setbacks and have chance to stay in the race. We are 1-1 in the conference and hopefully we get a chance to get even with some teams here,” he said.
Madison has given up only nine runs all season in six games. Gottfried knows they have to get good pitching and defense if they are going to win. “We are a team that is not going to score a bunch of runs ourselves. We can’t give up a bunch on the defensive side of the ball. They have a senior in the circle. Paige Carper has thrown very well. She has thrown for them since she was a freshman. She has held us down over the years. I expect it to be a low scoring ball game for us to have a chance to win. We are hoping to get on the board early and do what we can to hand on to it. It will be a tough task ahead of us,” said Gottfried.
With one loss in “OCC” play already two more may not eliminate the Lady Colts, but it will put them on the edge. Gottfried says there is a lot of depth in the conference. “There have been years where if you lose two games you know you are out of it. This year I don’t think there is any doubt that the team that wins it could have three or even four loses. You have to king of hold serve and home or is you win one on the road do you best to hold on at home. After winning on the road last week we got beat at home. It is very competitive. There are only a couple of teams that don’t have a chance to fight for the title. I think quite possibly five and even six different schools might have a say who wins the thing,” said Gottfried.
Clear Fork Must Become More Fundamental
There have been more good things than not over the first five baseball games for the Clear Fork Colts, but there are still a lot of elements of the game that must get better too.
Last week, the Colts (3-2,0-2) lost both of their Ohio Cardinal Conference game to the Wooster Generals. Losing at Wooster (11-6) on Tuesday and (4-2) in eight innings at home on Wednesday.
Coach Rusty Staab says they especially had a chance to win the game at home. “First of all it was really, really cold. Tuesday, it was so cold up at Wooster. They had to play in it too. We had 13 free bases in the first four innings. We walked nine and beanned four, something like that. We were in the game at 8-6 and then the wheels fell off and we ended up losing 11-6. We came back Wednesday and it was still cold at our place. We have the game. It is 2-1, seventh inning, two outs, full count, and there is a very questionable call. He ended up walking. I thought it was a strikeout. He ended getting two second base, a base hit, and the game is tied. That was a tough one. That was a win that gotten taken away. Wooster is a good team and good teams capitalize on little things,” said Staab.
Clear Fork swept a doubleheader from Lucas on Saturday, winning 10-0 and 11-2. Staab says they got solid pitching. “We had a couple of nice long practices Thursday and Friday just because our base running is terrible and our defense is struggling. We played a young Lucas team, who is very well coached by Travis Fox. He played on the Madison big teams back in the day. I had a nice talk with him and he said Lucas kids have to buy into what he is doing if they are going to be good. They didn’t play bad. They just struggled at the plate. Our pitchers pitched really well. Austin Baker and Hunter Evans pitched really well. I told them you have to pitch that way against the “OCC” teams and then we can contend. We can’t count on Travis Born to go out and pitch one run, two run ballgames every time you guys have to steps up too. Hopefully they are going to accept the challenge,” said Staab.
The Colts have some depth on the mound and the ability to hit the ball. However, it is the little things that are killing them right now. Staab hopes that will come with experience. “I think it is just the fact that these kids just haven’t played enough. We have a program right now where a lot of the kids take their glove and flick it in the closet at the end of May and look for it in February. That philosophy has to chance. They have to play summer ball. They have to play something baseball wise. The only way that you are going to learn to run bases is to have experience and listen. Make a mistake and learn from it. What is happening is the kids don’t know why they are making a mistake, so they are not learning from it. They don’t understand why they shouldn’t go on a ground ball past the pitcher when you are a runner on third. They don’t know how to run a first and third situation with one out or with two outs. It just they haven’t played enough ball. Back in the day the boys that won state they made those mistakes when they were nine and ten then by the time they were 12 or 13 they are playing ball the way it is suppose to be played and now you can go to the next level. We aren’t even close to that right now,” he said, “The kids are great kids and hopefully they learn from the mistakes they are making because we are making a lot of them. Two of them cost us runs. Even in the Fredericktown game we had a couple of base running mistakes, but everything was going right when we score 15 runs. These kids are like, we won what is the big deal? Well, you still made mistakes and the mistakes on Wednesday cost us a run, which could have been the winning run. Having these kids have this mentally is taking some time.”
It is Madison for Clear Fork in their two game “OCC” series this week. The Rams (1-3,1-1) have played a tough schedule so far. They spilt their “OCC” games last week with preseason favorite West Holmes and lost non-conference games to Mt. Vernon and Fredericktown. Staab knows that Madison, like the rest of the league, will be a challenge. “Doug and I have known each other for a long time. The philosophy at Madison is starting to get back to the philosophy they had in the 90’s and the early days of the new millennium. He is a lot happier this year with the attitude over there. They were still young, so they are going to play really well at times and probably make some mistakes at times like us, like a lot of teams in the “OCC.” The ones that don’t make mistakes are going to probably win it. The most experience teams that play under pressure are going to win the “OCC.” That is why it is going to be such a fun spring,” he said.
Back to Basics For Clear Fork
There is a standard of excellence in the Clear fork softball program and players are expected maintain that level. That is why the Lady Colts are one of the top four or five programs covered by this website.
So far this year, Clear Fork has been pretty good in winning two of their first three, but their coach says they still need to get a lot better.
Jeff Gottfried says they did some good things this week on the diamond. “It’s early and we only got two scrimmages in and then right into the games. They were Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, back to back to back. You don’t get a whole lot of opportunity if some doesn’t go well to fix it without any practice time. We played pretty decent against Lucas on Monday. We got off to a slow start to begin the game then got rolling a little bit. They are a pretty good small school team. Wooster is obviously big school and lots of kids to chose from there. (Tuesday) night we beat them 17-9, but the game was a lot closer than that. We had two huge eight run innings, otherwise they outscored us inning by inning. They were able to come back and get us (Wednesday). They played real well against us and beat us here at home,” said Gottfried.
Constantly striving to improve is what the good teams do and Gottfried says that will be their assignment all season. “We are still kind of searching things out. We have some kids that are battling through injuries to try and get healed up and ready to go. It is a day by day process. It doesn’t get easier for us. We are playing Shelby on Friday. They are an excellent ball club. Don’t fool yourself that they are 0-3 out of the gate. They have played two state perennial teams in Lima Bath and River Valley. We will have our hands full on (Friday). We will take it day by day and see how it goes,” said Gottfried.
It’s been cold the first week of the season and Gottfried says the player’s concentration has been lacking. He says that must improve. “We need to get a little more consistent with pitch selection at the plate. Our selection has not been real good. We haven’t seen the live pitching. We are in week one. Some of our discipline isn’t real good there. Defensively we have made some mistakes. Those are mistakes that traditionally in the past we have not made. I don’t want to make excuses, but it has been cold,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We are trying to play with batting gloves on to try and keep ourselves warm. It is purely a lack of concentration to me. I know the elements are bad, but when I get that ball I have to make sure I make a good quality throw. I just think some of the things we are doing we are kind of taking for granted. We are going to try and get back on that focus and doing things fundamentally correct like Lady Colts are used to be doing.”
Shelby (0-3) will be at Clear Fork on Friday evening. Gottfried says that will be another test and one they need to be ready for. “That is where our schedule is at. That is were our program is. I was talking to a fellow teacher (Thursday). They were kind of asking what the schedule was coming up. I just basically told them where we are this week and where we are the following week. They just looked at me and said you don’t have any easy ones do you? I said no, we just don’t. We want to challenge our kids and get them to the level that our program is used to being. You don’t get that way by scheduling soft. Our first 15 to 20 ballgames are tough. Whether it is the conference games against the bigger schools that we play or the non-conference games the teams that we play are very good opponents and Shelby is one of them. Other than a new coach, that is about all they have that is new. The rest of the team is back. They are a team that won 23 ballgames a year ago,” said Gottfried.
Fredericktown Belts Warriors
In a game between two of the area baseball powers it was all Fredericktown on Thursday afternoon.
The Freddies (3-1) belted Ontario (11-1) in a non-conference match-up between two schools expected to make a long run come tournament time. Fredericktown won 23 games and advanced to the state semis last year. Ontario finished 25-1 was AP division three poll champion. Both return quite a bit of talent from last year.
Fredericktown coach Tom Craze says it was a great win for them. “It was a really good, quality win against a very good opponent in Ontario. Dan does a great job with those kids up there. Fortunately for us we had great pitching from Nash Cunningham and put the ball in play and executed defensively as well,” he said.
Craze says Ontario (2-1) is really a very fundamental team and you have to execute all of the plays against them in order to be successful. “Offensively and defensively (Thursday) we were really solid. When you are playing Ontario and as well coached as they are, and as hard nosed as those kids are, you have to come out and be ready every inning and (Thursday) was no exception,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “We put the ball in play and made the routine plays in the field and got outstanding pitching. (Thursday) we got all three.”
Fredericktown was able to reduce their strikeouts on Thursday and Craze believes putting pressure on the other team’s defense is really a big part of high school baseball. “We talk about putting the pressure back on the defense when we are at the plate. We want to be aggressive and make solid contact. With quality at bats sometimes it goes misunderstood a quality at bat could be moving runners up or getting a walk it is not always getting a single or a base hit. If we are moving runners we are taking advantage of opportunities at the plate puts the pressure back on the defense. That is a real key for our kids,” said Craze.
With the players returning, Fredericktown has beefed up its schedule including a game with Ohio Cardinal Conference power Mansfield Madison on Friday. “Our schedule is not easy. It’s very difficult. Friday night we go to Mansfield Madison. Coach Rickert ahs those guys playing hard. Saturday we have a doubleheader with Highland. Then we jump right in to “MBC” play on Monday and Tuesday. A win could go a long way for our kids psyche. We have to buckle down and go back to work on Friday,” he said.
Bucyrus Working to Get Better
Bucyrus very much wants to return to its place at the top of the North Central Conference baseball standings. They are showing sings they have that potential, they just have to continue to improve.
After losing to New London, of the Firelands Conference, (8-4) on Thursday night, the Redmen are now 2-2 on the year.
Coach Jeff Fisher says they have done some good things, but they definitely have some things to work on too. “We got off to a good start with our young club. We had a good ballgame at Carey. We run ruled them scoring more than 10 runs in five innings. It helps the pitch count. Monday, we came back here for our home opener against South Central and won a good ball game there. On Tuesday night, we had one bad inning with a couple of errors. We left 13 runners on base. Our offense sort of froze like the temperatures. We are looking for consistency. Using the Crestview game as a measuring stick we might be 2-2, but we have a lot of work to do,” said Fisher.
Crestview beat Bucyrus (7-3) on Tuesday and Fisher says it was really a big inning that cost them and that can’t continue to happen. “We had a fantastic start. Preston Ford comes out and strikes out the side in the first inning. He had really good command and he is somebody in the past that has not. We thought the skies had opened up on our behalf. We led off the inning with a walk and we just didn’t make the plays behind him,” he told Swankonsports.com, “They get a hit and there it is. There percentages say a team that scores more in one inning than the other team does in the entire game. It happens more than you think and that is the key to winning baseball games even in the age of these quasi wood bats we are using now.”
League action in the “NCC” does not start until April 15. Fisher says that gives them some time find out who should be playing where. “Ultimately you want to get established not only lineup wise, but most especially pitching rotation wise so when it gets to that league rhythm and you are playing that same school twice and that Friday being against the small school division like we have it here in the “NCC.” It is important that the guys establish their roles. These early games give you the opportunity to get reps and develop a resume so to speak. We need the weather to break so we can get those innings,” said Fisher.
St. Peter’s is Better
Mansfield St. Peter’s has long strived to produce a consistently strong baseball team. The biggest concern over the years has been numbers with the program because upperclassmen sometimes don’t go out because they are afraid they won’t win.
That is changing, at least a little bit.
The Spartans (0-2) have lost to Mt. Gilead (3-0) and New London (14-4) in their first two games.
Coach Tim Failor, also the school’s athletic director, says they have been battling hard and he expects that will continue. “We did not get a scrimmage in. We played tough for 12 innings and we had to play tough for 14. We lost the first game 3-0. We had seven hits, but they were scattered. We went up to New London and they are a very good club. We played with them for five innings. It was 7-4 and the pitching blew up a little bit. We have had our baptism of fire,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We have Colonel Crawford on Friday at Crawford and we have Monroeville Saturday for a doubleheader at home. We think the season is going to be fine. We think we are going to be competitive. We have good pitching. Right now we have too many outs in our batting order and we’ve got to shore that up. Hitting eventually catches up with hitting. I am looking forward to a fun season.”
Failor believes they are clearly better than they were a year ago and it’s because of the leadership they have seen from their seniors. “We are better than last year. We have more seniors than we have had before. At St. Pete’s, and all division four schools, numbers is always a battle. We have more seniors than we have had in a long time and those seniors want to play the game. It’s just a matter to get the younger players to want to play the game with as much hunger and we’ll get there,” he said.
Still wins are going to have to be earned with great effort. Failor knows his players are going to have to have great effort. “They have to stay focused. They can’t break down because they lost a game or they let the other team score a run or somebody kicked the ball around. We try to teach if you lose focus, you lose the game no matter what the score is. The mental attitude is real important. It keeps you in the game. It keeps you focused. That’s what drives you, that’s when you work hard, when you are in the proper frame of mind,” said Failor.
Norwalk Wins in Extra Innings
Norwalk rallied to beat Oak Harbor on Wednesday evening and Truckers look like they are ready to be a factor in the Northern Ohio League again this year.
The Truckers scored three times in the ninth inning on Wednesday night to beat Oak Harbor (7-4) in a non-conference game. Coach Wes Douglas says they made the big plays in the late going. “We are still trying to find our hitting stroke a little bit. We were up 4-2 and they got it to 4-4. They had the bases loaded with one out in the bottom of the eighth and we worked our way out of that jam. We then broke it open with three runs on the ninth. It was a great complex over there at Oak Harbor (Wednesday). It was a pretty good ball game. We haven’t played at home yet. We are finally home on Saturday with Perkins and Ashland at our place,” said Douglas.
Norwalk (3-1) plays at Mansfield Christian on Thursday.
Norwalk returns a number of players from last year’s “NOL” tri-champions. Douglas thinks that big game experience helped them beat Oak Harbor. “I think our experience was a factor. I think they return two starters. We had a little bit more experience through the lineup (Wednesday). Our guys have seen success on the baseball field, the football field, the basketball court, the wrestling mat, and I think that all does work in our favor when things are on the line. A win is always a win. We can always find things that we can work on. We are happy where we are at right now,” he said.
For some reason, Douglas says they often times have played better in big games on the road then at home. “We have always thought in big games we have preformed better on the road. I don’t know if it’s because you are not waiting around as long. I’m not exactly sure what it is. Maybe there aren’t as many parents or as big a crowd to distract a little bit. I don’t think it is as big as basketball. It’s always nice to have that last at bat,” he said.
Last spring Norwalk shared the title in the Northern Ohio League with Bellevue and Tiffin Columbian. Douglas thinks if they can start to get more hits they can be right there again. “I would like to think so. Our bats, I don’t know if we are pressing a little bit or what at the plate. I think our pitching is going to be okay and our defense is going to be okay. They say the bats are the last thing to catch up. We are hoping that is true. We continue to work at it everyday and we will find a way to put it in play and hopefully force the action. So far, not to bad,” said Douglas.
Buckeye Central Focused on Improvement
Buckeye Central is the defending silver division champion in the North Central Conference. When it comes to the defense of that title don’t count them out just yet.
Buckeye lost to New Riegel (14-7) in non-conference play on Wednesday.
The Bucks (1-3) feature a much younger line up than they have over the last several years. Coach Chad Jensen is confident they will be much better in May than they are right now. “There is no doubt that we are learning on the fly. I’ll tell you we got better (Wednesday) night. The score may not show that. We got shut out by Seneca East on Monday. We got a good day of practice on (Tuesday). We go over to New Riegel and they are a veteran team with 11 letter winners,” he told Swankonsports.com Wednesday night. “You know, we were up for a while and hung with them. We hit the ball as well as we did all year. We communicated better on defense. We got bunts down. We did make some mistakes, no doubt about it. We are coming along. We are getting better. It’s baby steps, but we continue to improve. That’s all we can ask.”
Jensen says there are a number of aspects of the game in which they need to show improvement if they are going to start winning games more consistently. “I know this seems real general, but it’s everything. How to hold runners in the middle infield. How to communicate cuts and to protect with two strikes. How to advance a runner and getting good leads from second base and throwing strikes, swinging at good pitches and understanding fastball counts. I could go on and on, but there are a lot of things that quite frankly we have taken for granted with the veteran teams we have had the last couple of years and now we are kind of re-teaching that stuff. That’s okay because they are getting it. We will take some lumps, but hopefully we will continue to improve,” said Jensen.
With a young team like this Jensen says they are searching for what would be their best lineup by going with a lot of different combinations. “We have played four games and we have switched lineups every game and I generally don’t do that. In the past I have started a lineup and kind of stuck with it for a while. We have had different kids start in different positions every game. That will be the same (Thursday). We are just trying to see. We have four freshmen on our roster and four sophomores and only five juniors and seniors. There was one point in the game (Wednesday) when we had a freshman in left, a sophomore in center and a freshman in right. We are definitely taking some lumps. We are going to be okay. Our kids work hard and they always have. They listen and they are coachable,” said Jensen.
Growth Important for Colonel Crawford
It’s been a perfect start to the season for the Colonel Crawford Lady Eagles softball team. They have won all four of their games so far this year. However, there is still progress to be made.
Crawford (4-0) beat Plymouth (7-0) in a non-conference softball game on Wednesday evening. Still, coach Chuck Huggins can see a number of areas where improvement can be improved. “It is always nice to get off to a good start. It certainly beats the alternative. I’m optimistically positive. It’s a goof feeling that I know that we aren’t even close to being as good of a ball team as we can be. We pitched a shutout (Wednesday). Nickyla had a no hitter. That is always our number one goal every night is to try and get that shutout. It came our way (Wednesday), but there are still a lot of things that I see that we need to clean up,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win on Wednesday, “What it takes is just getting out there and getting innings in, getting used to each other and know who is going to be where. You can practice it in the gym all you want, but when the umpire says play ball and it’s live it makes a whole lot of difference. You can not emulate game speed and you can not emulate game situations. You can practice them, but it is still different when the game actually takes place.”
A key to this year for Crawford is the pitching of senior Nickyla Gaverick. One of the best in the area. Huggins says she is a kid that is always in the moment. “She is certainly in control. Nickyla Garverick is just one of those kids that doesn’t have time to really, really work on the game of softball in the off season because she is a very sought out talent in our school with her volleyball abilities and her basketball abilities. We don’t want to stretch her out too thin and tired her out. When she walks into the gym after a season of volleyball and a season of basketball and she is throwing strikes at about 60-62 MPH. We looked at each other and she is probably the only kid in our school that could do that. She just has that kind of athletic ability. Nothing rattles her. It doesn’t matter what the score is, it doesn’t matter what the count is, she is just completely in control out there. She is really, really starting to settle in now and get her off speed pitches to bite,” said Huggins.
Colonel Crawford plays South Central on Thursday and Seneca East in a doubleheader on Saturday. Huggins says this an important time of the year for them because they are trying to figure out what their best lineup is. “I am just a firm believer. I can never think of a year in all my years of coaching that the lineup has looked the same opening day as it does come district, or regional, or state tournament time. We are fortunate enough that success has bread success in our program and kids are right there fighting for positions and that’s good. I really try to take these non-league games and look at our kids to see exactly what we have and give everybody a good fair shot at it, just let them play it out on the field. We mix up the lineups and the batting orders and we even do that sometimes in league games too. I just think it is more fair and it gives the kids a big opportunity to step in and help our program,” said Huggins.
New London Doing Some Good Things
New London has won three of its first four baseball games this year, including Wednesday against Mansfield St. Peter’s, and their coach says they are making some progress.
Dane Held had two hits and three RBI as the Wildcats took out St. Peter’s (14-4) on Wednesday afternoon. Coach Glen Morse says overall they have played pretty well in their first four games. “Considering how cold it’s been and how little time we had outside, everybody else hasn’t been outside either, three of the four games we have played fairly well. When we played Edison on Monday we made enough little mistakes to kind of hand that game away. Mansfield St. Peter’s is a much improved team this year. We made two errors in the first inning and they jumped up on us 4-0 before we even got to bat. We came back from that and battled through it. We scored 14 and they didn’t score any more and we got the “W,” said Morse.
Can the Wildcats (3-1) be better? Sure and Morse says most notably those improvements can be found in their defense and their approach at the plate. “I think we still need to work on our fielding as far as being consistent in what we are doing. There are certain situations when we are at the plate were we are not being aggressive enough or we are not going to the plate with a plan in our mind of what we want to accomplish. The way the weather looks for the rest of the week we are going to get four more games in before Sunday. We will have plenty of time to work on that before we begin league play on Monday against Mapleton,” said Morse.
New London will play eight games, weather permitting, before they begin conference play and Morse says that gives them time to look at who can play varsity baseball. “We are getting some younger guys in, getting them a few innings here and there at different spots and getting some at bats with some younger guys. I don’t like calling it preseason I like to win no matter whether it is a league game or early in the season kind of stuff. You have to get a look at those guys, especially when you have a lot of talented guys, so you can figure out who the best guys are for you in crunch time coming up,” he said.
Many times it is the little things that win and lose games, especially among good teams, and Morse says that is something that experience has taught him. “St. Pete’s (Wednesday) made a couple of diving catches in the outfield. If they don’t make those we probably end this game an inning earlier. We made a couple of errors too. Good teams take advantage of the other team’s mistakes and capitalize on them. You have to work all of that stuff out right now before you start getting into the ones that really count in the conference and you start getting into tournament,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday night.
Ontario Downs Northmor
Ontario was the Associated Press division three baseball poll champion last year and they are poised to have another outstanding year this spring.
They beat Northmor (13-1) in a non-conference game on Tuesday afternoon. Coach Dan Gorbett was impressed by how his pitchers were able to keep their focus in the tough weather conditions. “It was very, very cold and windy. It was a tough day to pitch and Tyler Beal pitched an outstanding game. He lost his control a little bit there in the third or fourth inning, but under the conditions he did very well,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday evening, “Sophomore Paul Holman and junior Kyle Pesiledge came in and each pitched an inning and looked very good. We got three pitchers some work (Tuesday) and they all did well under tough conditions. I was very pleased with our pitching.”
Gorbett feels that to be successful on days like Tuesday you have to have some pretty good intestinal fortitude. “It was really cold. I mean it was cold for everybody and you can’t use that as an excuse, so when they are able to go out there and throw strikes and play ball as if it were 50 or 60. It takes something inside too. You have to have some tough kids to be able to do that,” he said.
The Warriors (2-0) scored 13 runs, but they had only four hits. Gorbett says they took advantage of situations. “Their pitchers had control problems. They had like eight walks and I think every single one of those scored too. We only had four hits (Tuesday) night, but they had four or five errors and all of those walks. That has kind of been our strength. We don’t make mistakes. They had a slow roller, a walk, and an error in the first inning. They had the bases loaded and we got a double play and got out of it. That could have been a big inning for them. After that we played nearly flawless ball,” said Gorbett.
On Thursday, Ontario pays a visit to Fredericktown (2-1) in a match-up between two of the better division three teams in the northern part of the state. Gorbett says they look forward to the challenge. “It’s a good test we are going to find out exactly where we are at Thursday because they are a very good team. I know Clear Fork took it to them and they are a good team, but they are still tough. It will be a good challenge for us,” said Gorbett.
Crestview Battles Back
Crestview bounced back on Tuesday to even their record with a win over the Bucyrus Redmen in non-conference play and they got a good effort on the mound.
After losing (17-9) to Norwalk on Monday, the Cougars (1-1) rallied to beat Bucyrus (7-3) on Tuesday. Coach Rob Gross says it was a win they needed from a confidence standpoint. “My assistant coaches and I were just talking (Tuesday) night on the way home is the one thing we can say about them is they are resilient. We had a big inning to fight back against Norwalk on Monday night. It was a 12-8 game before they kind of pulled away. (Tuesday) night Bucyrus had a lead 1-0 going into the fourth inning. We score five runs in the top of the fourth and we were able to add a few more after that. It’s certainly nicer to be 1-1 instead of 0-2,” said Gross.
It has bee a little role reversal for the Cougars in their first two games because Gross felt they would need to rely on their pitching, at least early in the season, but they have come out and hit the ball well. “I have told everybody that the strength is our pitching and I still believe that. I was concerned with some of those younger guys adapting to the varsity level. With some freshmen and even JV guys moving up I didn’t know how we would be hitting the ball. In the first two games I can’t complain about 16 runs and maybe 16, 17 hits, so far in the first two games. It would be nice if we could continue that, so all of the pressure is not on our pitchers all of the time,” said Gross.
Now what about the pitching? Any concerns there? Gross says no. “My number one pitcher Anthony Wolford pitched Monday. We knew going in that Norwalk was a very solid team. I start my number one against them every year because to me that is what should happen. He didn’t throw bad. You know, three and a third innings. He had 5 k’s. It’s a 2-1 game going into the third inning. Unfortunately there is a rough top of the third inning for him. My other guys came in and did a decent job,” he told Swankonsports.com Tuesday evening, “(Tuesday) my number two guy Dustin came in and threw five great innings. He gave up two runs. Then I had another young lefty that pitched for the first time on the varsity and threw two innings giving up only one run there in the seventh. Some of it is, and I’m sure every coach would say, that weather is pretty brutal. I know it’s harder for pitchers to throw in this weather.”
Crestview plays Loudonville on Thursday, Black River on Friday and a doubleheader with Hillsdale on Saturday. Gross says they would like to get on a roll. “When I talked to the guys after the game they were excited to get that first win. I don’t know as much about Loudonville. I know they graduated some guys, but we play Thursday, Friday and a double on Saturday. I have already heard our guys saying we want to be 5-1 at the end of the week. That’s a great goal. You hope something like that happens and we can take that into conference play next week. It would nice to get on a roll going into conference play next week,” said Gross.
Shelby Wins Opener
Shelby rattled the scoreboard on opening day as they blasted Mansfield Christian in their opener on Tuesday afternoon.
The Whippets (1-0) scored early and often in beating the Flames (17-8) in a game that’s scored more closely resembled a football game.
Coach C.J. Brickman says they didn’t exactly tear the cover off the ball, but they took advantage of some situations. “We scored 17 runs, but it was deceiving because we only had 14 hits and 13 of them were singles. I still think we can hit the ball a lot better. It is nice to score 17 runs. It makes the night go a lot better,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday night after the win.
The wind chill was in the 20’s at Shelby and Brickman says you have to have good focus and they were able to do that against the Flames (0-3) on Tuesday. “There is no reason to complain after you win, especially this early in the season when it is cold. You have to get that victory early and feel good about yourself going into the next day,” he said. He adds what makes it even more difficult is having to come in and pitch after playing in the field. “Especially on our field, the wind is blowing, it’s cold, and the kids are standing out there on defense. If I have to bring a reliever in, they do cool off, especially if they are in the field for five, ten minutes. The weather is a big factor,” said Brickman.
Shelby travels to Wynford for another non-conference game on Wednesday. Brickman says they have to sort of forget what happened on Tuesday and move on to the next assignment. “You also have to kind of forget. You are playing a new team. Everybody comes to the plate 0-for-0. You have to leave the game from yesterday alone and start a new day, so you have to have a short memory,” said Brickman.
Ashland Gets Big Win to Start the Season
Ashland, the defending Ohio Cardinal Conference, lost many of their players to graduation, but they are not going to give up their conference title without a fight and it looks like they have plenty of fight in them too.
The Arrows (1-0) beat Cleveland St. Ignatius (6-5) on Monday in a non-conference game. Coach Rob Lavengood says that win gave them an immediate blast of confidence heading into the conference schedule. “It makes us feel really good. You always want to get the season off to a good start with a win. We got a quality win against a quality opponent and that makes it even better. On top of that it was the 1,000 win in Ashland High School history for baseball. That makes it even a little bit sweeter. It was a big win and I’m excited for our kids. It was definitely a good way to get the season started,” said Lavengood.
High schools sports are often times games of momentum. Lavengood says they got two kinds of momentum on Monday. “You can talk about momentum in a season and you can talk about momentum even in a game. We saw that (Monday). We were able to jump out to a 4-0 lead after one inning. That allowed our kids to settle in and play with confidence. It allowed our pitchers to pitch with a lead. They were able to pitch with confidence and that just makes a big difference,” he told Swankonsports.com after the win, “It was nice to get out a good lead. We saw some really good things from some guys (Monday) that make us fell a little bit better about our team coming into the season. Hopefully this is a win that gives our kids a lot of confidence as we head into our conference opener (Tuesday) against Orrville.”
Last year when Ashland won the “OCC” title and advanced to the regional final they had the habit of scoring early. Lavengood hopes they can do the same kind of thing a bunch of times this year. “We had some pretty good pitchers last year, but we also put them in some pretty good positions where we were able in many games to score early and then settle in and pitch with a lead. It is an awful lot easier as a pitcher when you are up 2-0, 3-0, 4-0 in the first or second inning, so you can just settle in and be aggressive on the mound and throw strikes and go after the other team. You can pitch to contact and use your defense behind you. That carried right into our game (Monday) because our pitchers got the chance to pitch with the lead right form the start,” said Lavngood.
Defense of the league title begins on Tuesday when the Arrows host the Orrville Red Riders. Lavengood knows this will be a key conference game against a good team. “Orrville should be good. They have a good team coming back. They have their top two pitchers back from last year. They have played a lot of young guys the last two years. Those guys are juniors and senior this year. We are going to have a good test (Tuesday) in our conference opener and we are excited heading into (Tuesday) after a win (Monday). I will have my ace on the mound in Tyson Vogel, so hopefully he has a good start. Hopefully our guys play well again and give ourselves and opportunity to get our first conference win,” he said.
Wooster in the Mix
Wooster won their first game of the spring and the Generals appear to be one of a number teams that are going to be fighting for the baseball title in the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
Wooster beat Galion (11-0) in non-conference action on Monday. They play Clear Fork in “OCC” games in Tuesday at home and Wednesday on the road.
Coach Derek Boyd says the warmer weather this past weekend certainly helped get them ready for the opening week of the season. “It’s been rough with the weather and things like that, but it’s picked up a little bit with the weekend temperatures getting a little warmer the past weekend and that really helped us out. We were able to scrimmage Thursday and Friday and get a nice workout in on Saturday,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “I don’t want to say I feel a lot better, but I feel better than I did last week. I mean just getting the opportunity to get out on the field instead of being in the gym.”
It was a great start on Monday, but Boyd says they still have a lot of work to do before they reach their potential. “I don’t know that I would ever really feel totally confident, but I feel better. I think we are still going to be sorting some things out. That is kind of the interesting thing about the first couple weeks of the season. We feel good about the number of arms right now that we have. We will have to see how the quality works out over the next week or two,” he said.
Right now, you could pick any of up to seven teams to win the “OCC.” Boyd says they have to be ready for this opening series against Clear Fork. “We have told our guys that we try to spend our time focusing on what we need to do to get better because this is pretty rugged league. I don’t feel as though you go into any series thinking that this something that we should win. Week in and week out we know we have to be ready to play. There are lots of good teams in this league,” said Boyd.
Orrville Has Quiet Confidence
With West Holmes, Lexington, Ashland, and Madison in the conference Orrville can kind of slip by unnoticed. That would be a mistake for the rest of the Ohio Cardinal Conference.
Orrville is going to be a very good baseball team. They proved that with a win (6-0) over Dalton, of the Wayne County Athletic League, on Saturday afternoon. Coach Scott Marshall says it was a good start for the Red Riders. “It always feels good to get out that first day and win, better off to get a shut out. Overall I thought we did well seeing that was the first time we were outside on the field,” he said.
Pitching is going to keep the Riders in most games. They have their top two pitchers back and Marshall says they were able to add some guys to their staff too. “We return our top two guys. Both were extremely successful. We do have about three or four more guys that we feel pretty good about. Our pitching depth is looking pretty strong,” said Marshall.
You have to have some offense too and Marshall believes that they are going to be able to score some runs. “It is early yet, but I’m confident that we will swing the bats extremely well. I do feel our strength is pitching and defense. It is niece to have 10 letter winners back. We have lots of varsity experience,” he said.
Orrville will get an early test in the “OCC” this week with a two game series against defending conference champion Ashland. They are on the road on Tuesday and at home on Wednesday. Ashland, a division one regional finalist last spring, beat Cleveland St. Ignatius (6-5) in their opener on Monday. Marshall says the Arrows are going to be strong against this season. “I know they graduated a lot of guys from that exceptional team last year. They are a much bigger school. They are going to have guys that are going to be talented this year. They are the champs until somebody knocks them off. We can’t take anybody lightly. We have to be ready every night,” Marshall told Swankonsports.com on Monday.
Plymouth Can Hit the Ball
Plymouth won the Firelands Conference title by winning a number of one run games last year. They did the little things. This season they might be able to have more room for error.
They didn’t play last Saturday or Monday, so the Big Red opens the season on Tuesday at Wynford in non-conference play.
Coach Andrew McFarland says they are ready to prove what they are made of. “We are really excited. We are glad the weather has taken a turn for the better. I can’t wait to get out (Tuesday) and see what we have. That’s a big question mark. I think everybody wonders what’s going to happen the first day out and the first week or two. We are excited to get the season started,” he said.
Plymouth is going to hit the field, weather permitting on Tuesday, by not facing anyone but themselves this spring. McFarland says they have had no scrimmages so far. “We had a couple of scrimmages scheduled for earlier in the week when it was still about 30 degrees and snowing. We didn’t end up making those up mainly because late in the week then you are only a couple of days away from starting. Much like the other teams we have a game Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and a doubleheader Saturday, so I wanted to have as many arms ready as we could. Instead of scrimmaging we just got out Thursday and Saturday and had an inter squad for a good couple of hours. We had all of our pitchers throwing to all of our hitters. It good for our pitchers to have someone standing in the box against them,” said McFarland.
Starting pitching, and depth, is important in high school baseball. McFarland says they have a lot of guys that can take the mound. “I think that it should be a plus. We only lose one pitcher from last year that really threw many innings in Craig Miller. Some younger guys, some sophomores, I think are ready to step up and pitch a little bit. We have our one, two and probably four back from last year,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We had an injury to Brad Aldridge, who was going to be our starting catcher. He was going to be our fourth starter this year. We will lose him for a while, which hurts our depth there. I think we have seven or eight guys we can march out to the mound, which I have some faith in.”
However, it is the hitting that might carry the day for the Big Red. McFarland says this is the best hitting team he has had in his three years at Plymouth. “That is probably the thing that I am most happy with than any year I have been here. The way we have swung the bats in just the couple of days that we have been outside. We have really driven the ball much better. We are more likely to stay behind it. We are willing to go the other way rather than trying to pull everything. I think if we do that we can be a dangerous team because we are going to be athletic, more so than the last couple of years on the base paths. We will have some speed and definitely have some guys that can swing the bats well. To be honest I think that is our biggest strength right now,” said McFarland.
Clear Fork Starts Strong; Torches Freddies
Clear Fork played one of the better baseball teams in the area on Saturday and they did pretty well thank you.
They crushed the Fredericktown Freddies (15-5) on Saturday afternoon in their season opener. Fredericktown qualified the division three state semi-finals last year and return most of their talent. Coach Rusty Staab says they played well in all aspects of the game. “We are extremely happy. That was the first time we were actually on a field. Usually we get four scrimmages in or at least three and we didn’t get anything in. We were very fortunate (Saturday). We hit the snot out of the ball. There are still a lot of things we need to work on. Ryan South played a great shortstop. We made some timely plays on defense. Travis Born pitched really well. Trevor (Carr) struggled, but he is a senior and he really got out of it in the top of the fifth. They scored a couple of runs and were coming back in the game. We banged out 15 hits. I think we had six doubles. Nash (Cunningham) that was the first game he pitched. We kind of lit of their staff. They are a good team, but we just caught them on a bad day,” said Staab.
With 15 hits you are going to score some runs. Staab says they spent a lot of time hitting in the off season. He thinks there will be a lot of days like Saturday. “We might have had one strikeout (Saturday). They had a couple innings where they struggled, but we put the ball in play. You tell the kids if you put the ball in play and make them field it you never know what’s going to happen. We spent a lot of time hitting this winter. We have seen a lot of pitching. We haven seen a lot of different angles from righties and lefties. I don’t think anybody anyone will surprise us,” he told Swankonsports.com, “Of course, I say that and we will probably go out and get smoked by Wooster. We have some strong kids. We have some kids that hit really well with two strikes. There were a lot of seeing eye balls. We did have some fortunate hits where they just got through the infield. We blooped a couple in. I know that was frustrating for Nash, but then Hunter (Evans) would come up and crush a double or Ridge (Winand) would come up and smash a triple. It was a great offensive day for us on (Saturday).”
Clear Fork got some clutch hitting on Saturday. Stabb says when they got runners in scoring position, no matter what they means, they where able to score them. “That is exactly what we did (Saturday). Form the defensive standpoint you always say you want to stop the bleeding, but from the offensive side you want to keep in going. You want the momentum to continue. It was fun. It was good for our first day out. We have a lot of work to do. We made a lot of base running mistakes and some miscues in the outfield on cut offs. We are going to plug away and hopefully the weather cooperates,” he said.
Ohio Cardinal Conference play for the Colts begins this week when they host Wooster on Tuesday and travel to Wooster on Wednesday, weather permitting. Staab says the “OCC” is going to be a bear. “They are very good. They have some good seniors. I think its going to be a good match up. Everybody in the “OCC” is going to be competitive this year. I think Senior High has some good pitching. They have some youngsters coming up. I think anybody can beat anybody. I really do. You are going to have to play their “A” game. That’s why the “OCC” is such a great conference. Whoever is going to win the “OCC” is going to have three or four losses,” said Staab.
Madison Looking Like Contender
It was a non-Madison like year on the baseball field spring year, but this season looks like it could be a return to tradition.
Coach Doug Rickert took the team to the Dayton area for scrimmage action last weekend. He was impressed by what he saw from his still young team. ‘Fortunately we got to go down south and play three games down in Dayton. We played Friday and two Saturday. We went 2-1 and played pretty good baseball. We threw the ball well. It was just nice to get outside. It was really the first time we had been on the field. We made a couple of mistakes, but it didn’t lead to the crazy innings that it did last year. We threw the ball much better and we swung the bat better. We looked like a whole different team,” said Rickert.
The Madison coach says the guys he is counting on, especially in conference games, were in pretty good form last weekend on the mound.. “We have two guys back that have been throwing since they were freshmen and they are juniors now. Both of them threw the ball well. Bo Covin threw two innings and struck out six and Lampert threw four innings and struck out four. We looked good. Ackerman threw the ball well. Josh Smith threw the ball well. Our top four did exactly what we wanted them to do. Some of our younger guys, some our newer guys, struggled a little bit, but that is to be expected,” he said.
As far as hitting goes, Rickert says the group of guys that will form the top part of the Rams lineup looked liked they were ready for the season to start. “We didn’t strike out. We moved the baseball. We got guys on second and third we were able to move the baseball and get a run home. That is stuff we didn’t do last year. Our top five hitters hit the ball extremely well. I think our on base percentage in our top five was around .550. We need to hit the ball a little better in the bottom of our order,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “The top of the order with Ackerman, who led off. We had a junior in the two hole, another junior in the three hole and a sophomore in the four hole, and a freshmen in the five hole. All five of those guys hit the heck out of the ball. The encouraging thing is those guys are all back again. It was really encouraging to see how our young kids hit. We hit much better than we did last year.”
Madison begins the “OCC” portion of their schedule next week against conference preseason choice West Holmes. Rickert says they have to be a good fundamental team if they are going to beat the good teams on their schedule. “We still have to play better defense. I mean we still don’t have that one guy that is going to go out there and strike out 15, 16 guys, so we have to play really good defense. We have to get bunts down. We have to do all of the little things. It sounds clique because all of the coaches talk about them. There is not a lot of margin for error. We don’t have a lot of depth. I think our team is really good, but I don’t think we have a lot of depth. We don’t have anybody right now that has shown they come from the JV and step in. We have to avoid injuries and the guys that are here have to produce,” said Rickert.
This May be the Year For Lexington
Lexington has a real chance to come out on top in the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball race this season. They return almost all of their players from a 10-18 team from a year ago.
This has been a season the Minutemen have been building toward for the last couple of years. Coach Jeff Strickler likes what he has seen so far, although like most coaches, he would have liked to have been outside a whole lot more during spring training. “I am pretty happy with were we are at. I am not very happy as far as not being able to scrimmage anybody yet or being outside on our field. I guess everybody is in the same boat as far as that goes,” he told Swankonsports.com on Thursday, “We have a lot of kids back from last year and there is a lot of good talent in that group. We have some good kids coming up behind them, so we are looking forward to this group.”
This is a baseball team that has the potential to score a lot of runs. Strickler says they just need a little bit more consistency throughout the lineup this spring. “We have two kids back from last year in Willeke and Stary that hit around .450 or so and several other .300 hitters with Baston and Basalone. If we can get a couple of other kids to get their batting averages up in the 300’s we will be pretty good offensively,” he said.
Hitting aside, Strickler believe the real strength of the ball club lies on the pitcher’s mound. He thinks they have great depth. “Pitching can be a real strong point for us this year. We have all of our pitchers back from last year. Temple and Basalone were our one, two last year and they are back. James Watkins is back. We have Mason Willeke. Right now, I have six pitchers that I’m not afraid to use,” he said.
Yes, the bad weather has affected everyone this year, but some more than others. Strickler believes with their experience they have a chance to survive it more easily. “A lot of it is knowing what to do, learn how to keep you focus, learn what you need to do on certain plays and what is expected of you as a player. It definitely helps in a situation like this where we haven’t been able to go up against anybody else,” said Strickler.
Ashland Has Some Steps to Make
Ashland is the school that holds the trophy for baseball champion of the Ohio Cardinal Conference and they have the mind to defend it, but it won’t be easy.
West Holmes, Lexington, perhaps Madison, Orrville, Wooster and Clear Fork have good teams.
Pitching will likely be the key to Ashland’s success. They are attempting to replace their top three pitchers for last year when they reached the regional final. Coach Rob Lavengood says they have been able to get some scrimmages in the books. “We are still trying to figure that out. We haven’t had a chance to be outside on the baseball field yet. There are still lots of things we need to figure out once that happens. We do have football turf and we were able to get a couple of scrimmages in there. We saw some good things and we saw some things that we still have to work on. We are still a work in progress. We still have some question marks to find out the answers to those as we head into next week as we open up our season, so we will see what happens,” he said.
Lavengood says he wants his pitchers to throw strikes and get ahead in the count. He says that is the most important thing. “That is what my pitchers have heard form me over the last week and through the two scrimmages we were able to have. Saturday we scrimmaged a very good Cleveland St. Ignatius team and our pitchers didn’t give up a lot of hits, but our ball to strike ratio was one to one and we put guys on by walking guys. The most important thing is throwing strikes. Our pitchers hear it all of time that the most important pitch is strike one. You have to work ahead in the count to give yourself a chance to be successful and right now that is something we have to improve on,” said Lavengood.
Ashland will have a different sort of offense this year, one with less power and more speed. Lavengood says they have a lot of work to do. “It is still a work in progress. Lots of times pitching is ahead of hitting at this point of the season and that is kind of what we have seen so far. Our bats need to com around a little bit. Some guys are swinging the bats fairly well and other guys are struggling a little bit. We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to swing the bats outside in situational type things. We are going to have to get ready soon,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “We open up the season in less than a week and that’s when the games start to count. Hopefully the fact that we were able to get a couple of scrimmages in already and maybe another one later this week that our guys are going to get some of the rust off and get a chance to see live pitching. That will give them a chance to have some successful at bats when we start playing games next week.”
Ashland plays its first two Ohio Cardinal Conference games next Tuesday and Wednesday against the Orrville Red Riders. Lavengood says they better be ready. “That is going to be a very important match up in the conference. Orrville is going to have a very good team this year. They are going to have their top two pitchers back. They were extremely young last year, so I think they are going to have a solid team. To jump right into the conference schedule with them as your first game, if that is when we open hopefully our guys are going to be ready to go. I think it was that much more important that we were able to get a couple of scrimmages this week to get ready for the opener,” said Lavengood.
Plymouth Trying to Overcome Injuries
Just as the Plymouth Big Red was to begin defense of their Firelands Conference baseball title they suffered a key injury and how they respond to that might go a long way in determining how good they could be this spring.
Like everybody else Plymouth has been dealing with the weather and it does have coach Andrew McFarland a little concerned. “The biggest thing right now is the weather. The biggest concern for me right now is we really haven’t been outside much. We have been on our field just one day and other than that out in the parking lot a couple of times. That has been tough and it has worn on us mentally. I think everybody else in the area in pretty much in the same boat,” he said.
Catcher Bret Aldridge has suffered an injury that may cost him the season. McFarland says they are now looking for someone that can catch and someone that can step in to that starting rotation. “As far as the team goes we are just coming in every day and working hard and getting better. One concern is we have lost our projected starting catcher for the majority of the season, possibly pitching too. He was going to be our fourth starter. That’s tough as we are looking for somebody that can step up and be the guy behind the plate and that fourth starter,” he said.
With the way the weather has not been cooperating so far, McFarland says they have to be ready to hit the field in top form. “We have been warning the guys just because of way the weather was that this could be one of those springs were we are only going to be in the gym and the first time we step on the field it could be a game. We have tried to put pressure on them to make sure they are staying focused every single day,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “It does get draining, even on the coaching staff, being in the gym. We need to find a way to compete with ourselves whether it be in the batting cage or getting up on the mound and just make it game speed. We need to make it as real as possible so if it is day one when we step on the field that we are ready to go.”
McFarland knows the catcher is a key position and they must find someone that can fill the role. “We lost a great catch this year in Jay Dove graduating, so there were already big shoes to fill. Bret Aldridge was slated to be our starting catcher. He is a senior, but he hasn’t caught much the last several years. He has been a middle infielder, but he caught a little bit in the summer. He just looked really comfortable behind the plate. We were all set and I was confident he could be that guy and then he goes down. So, now the competition is between a sophomore and a junior, neither of which has any varsity experience. They are just kind of behind. We have tried to spend as much time as possible with them with receiving especially giving our pitcher a good target and making sure they are a vocal leader and all of those things that catchers have to do,” said McFarland.
Colonel Crawford Fine Tuning
Colonel Crawford is always in a position where they are reloading not rebuilding and the Lady Eagles are always a factor in the North Central Conference softball race.
Veteran coach Chuck Huggins says although they haven’t been able to get on the field as much as they would have liked they are trying to make sure they are prepared for every possible situation. “You never know. There are always those unknowns, those uncertainties out there. Myself as a veteran coach I still like to make sure I have a checklist and make sure we have everything covered before we get to that first game, but you never know. There are always those things out there that you are not very familiar with. We got back outside (Tuesday) night even. We were on the black top. We didn’t get a chance to get on the field of course with all of the snow,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “Everybody is in the same situation as we are. We have to deal with Mother Nature and the snow and the weather. I can remember years like this in the past where we had to deal with the same things. When they say play ball on Saturday for our opener against Western Reserve. We will be there and be ready.”
Fundamentals are very important in girls’ softball, especially in the small ball game. Huggins says they work on those a lot. “We really broke things down on black top (Tuesday) for them. We did a lot of good drills and then we got together and did some situational work to help the younger kids learn the game and to make sure our upperclassmen and continuing to get better. Just working on all of the little plays that you run when you need to stop a run or you need to manufacture a run. It was just good for the young kids to see how much there is out there in the game that they still have to learn. It was good for the veterans to go over things and keep sharp in there skills and be reminded from last year and the years before about what we want to get done,” said Huggins.
Bunting may seem easy on its face, but Huggins, who has taught a lot of players the skill, says it’s not. “It is a very complex skill to do it correctly, especially against top notch pitching because those pitchers know where to pitch the kids to keep them from making good contact or to be able to control where the bunt goes. Those are the kind of things that we are trying to teach our kids on offense as to what we need to do to manufacture runs and get that bunt laid down. On the same terms that runner is just every bit as important. If you are trying to get a runner over and they are not at the top of there game they could get thrown out. A lot of things could happen if you don’t execute the short game,” he said.
Colonel Crawford has won more titles in the “NCC” than anybody, but this year Huggins thinks everything is up for grabs. “I made the comment and I mean this sincerely. Our silver division is wide open. There are legitimately four teams that could win it. Of course, you always start with Crestline, Buckeye Central had a nice young team last year and Lucas tied with us last year for the “NCC” championship. There are four teams right there and Riverdale is always that unknown team because they are out west and we really don’t get a chance to see them. I know it doesn’t affect us, but we still have to play the black division teams one time. That division is a monster. They are going to have a heck of a time. It is going to be fun to watch who comes out in the big division also,” said Huggins.
Finding Pitching the Goal For Wooster
Again the Ohio Cardinal Conference appears to have some pretty good baseball teams and if the Wooster Generals are to be among them they need to have pitching.
Last Friday and Saturday the Generals were able to get outside and coach Derek Boyd says they found where their weaknesses where and now they are addressing them. “We had a chance to get out Friday and Saturday and play a little bit, so we were excited about that. We thought we got a chance to see some things both good and bad, particularly Saturday. We are just hoping for a break in the weather this week so we can hopefully keep moving forward before Monday,” he said.
Boyd says they have a lot of guys that has some pitching experience, but not in big games. He says at the high school level you have to throw strikes. “I definitely think going back to Saturday we need to be a little bit better on the mound to start with. We really emphasize pitching. In the league we compete in and the schedule we are trying to play if we don’t throw enough strikes and we don’t throw ahead in the count we are going to struggle a little bit,” he told Swankonsports.com on Wednesday, “I think there are a lot of good teams out there. Scoring runs is always going to be a premium. We try to put a lot of emphasis on throwing strikes and playing good defense. We saw some good things Saturday from some guys and we saw some things that we need to get better at too.”
Baseball is a game of consistency. You might play six games in a week. Boyd says a schedule like that has it’s advantages. “That is one of the great things about baseball is you get a lot of opportunities to play. We try to schedule a lot of games early just in case we have some bad weather we can make them up later. The one thing that we always talk about is tomorrow is a new day and you don’t have to set around a week. If you are playing a football game and you have a bad night on Friday you have to wait a week and stew about that. We try to use that as a positive. Let’s learn from it and put it behind us. The sun will come out tomorrow and let’s get after it tomorrow. That’s what is great about baseball,” said Boyd.
Wooster is set to open its season in non-conference play at Galion on Monday. That will be followed by two Ohio Cardinal Conference games with Clear Fork on Tuesday and Wednesday. Boyd Knows they will need to be ready for those “OCC” games. “It’s great to have Rusty (Staab) back. He obviously was a fantastic coach before. He is going to make them a lot better. Jeremy (Riddle) was very successful in his time leading Clear Fork, but I remember Rusty from my days over at Madison. He’s a great coach and we expect to have a great challenge from them next week,” he said.
Mansfield Senior Trying to Make Progress
Almost everything about the Mansfield Senior baseball team is new this year. The Tygers new coach feels the mix could have them being competitive in an Ohio Cardinal Conference that features a team that made the state semis and another the regional finals.
With a team searching for consistent success not being out on the diamond is a concern. Coach Roy Steward says the weather has mixed up their plans again this week. “We were supposed to have a scrimmage (Tuesday) and (Wednesday) and that doesn’t look like that is going to happen and a game Saturday,” he said.
Mansfield Senior is scheduled to host Ontario on Saturday at Arlin Field and then Willard on Monday. Those are followed by their “OCC” openers against Lexington.
You can do a lot of fundamental things inside a gym, but Steward says one thing you can’t do is field a high fly ball. “It’s hard for the outfielders to get work. There is only so much you can do in the gym. We got out in the parking lot a couple of times when it was tolerable,” said Stewart.
There is no argument that hitting is different when you get outside. Stewart says they are trying to make the transition as easy as they can. “I like to do a lot of live batting practice then I do off the machine. Still you are sitting in a cage and it’s a lot different feeling then being outside,” he said.
Frankly, it has been a number of years since Mansfield Senior has been competitive in their league in baseball. Stewart is not predicting an “OCC” title, but he believes they have the chance to be competitive. “From what I know and what I have seen the last couple of years and what I’ve heard it looks like West Holmes is going to be pretty strong. Ashland is usually pretty strong. After that I don’t know a whole lot about Wooster or Orrville. I think we should be able to hold our own this year,” Stewart told Swankonsports.com.
Buckeye Looking Better
Buckeye Central was a very experienced baseball team the last two years and that resulted in a lot of success. This year they are going to be counting on a lot of younger players in a spring that is going to be a process.
Coach Chad Jensen has been impressed with the process he has seen in a spring that has been trying due to the cold and wet weather. “We are really improving a lot. We have a great group of kids that are really coachable. They want to get better. We improve every day. There is no doubt about it,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “It is really just our lack of field time that is the biggest thing we are going to have. We are going to have to grow on the fly. It’s going to be on the job training for us. We are definitely looking forward to getting the season going.”
Because the rain and snow it has been almost impossible to get out on the field. Jensen says there first game situation is likely to be a real game. “We have been on the field three times and we have tried to get as much as we can. It’s going to be learning on the fly. Our pregame infield is going to be a practice for us. That is how we are going to approach it. Every game is going to be about getting better and just seeing where we are,” he said.
The Bucks have a lack of experience in almost every position, but Jensen says that is no more apparent then on the pitcher’s mound. “We don’t have a lot of experience, but we do have kids that can throw strikes. We have kids that have worked hard at it and have really gotten better as the spring has progressed. I think we have some arms that we can throw out there. I wouldn’t say we have an ace, but I think we have a handful of kids that can come our there and throw well on a given day. With our lack of experience we are going to see who emerges as the one and the two. Right now, we don’t really know, we only return 12 innings from last year out of 199,” said Jensen.
Buckeye is scheduled to play Tiffin Calvert in a doubleheader on Saturday. Jensen, of course, isn’t sure, but he thinks they have a chance to play. He thinks the design of their new field helps. “I’d say it is pretty difficult to tell. It really depends on whether we get any more precipitation. I think if it doesn’t snow anymore. If it doesn’t rain anymore I think our field could be playable. The biggest thing that concerns me is it’s going to get cold at night. It freezes and it thralls, which causes that moister. We are optimistic. We are planning on playing on Saturday. I would say we have as good a shot as any with our field being all grass with dirt pits,” said Jensen.
New London Wants Title
New London was the favorite to win the Firelands Conference baseball title last spring, but they were surprised by Plymouth.
They are committed to getting that title this spring.
Coach Glen Morse, who doesn’t quite date back to the days of Willie, Mickey and the Duke, but almost, says if everything comes together this could be a very good year for the Wildcats. “We have high hopes this year. I have got probably five guys that have started for two years and another couple that started for us last year. We only had one senior starter off last year’s team that was 20-8. We are cautiously optimistic here going into the season if we can ever get outside,” he said.
New London earned more baseball titles in the Firelands over the last 20 years then anyone else and Morse says that is their first goal again this year. “That is our number one goal to win the conference. Plymouth did surprise us early last year and we ended up losing three league games the first two weeks of the season and then took care of business after that. I know Plymouth has two quality pitchers coming back,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “I’m not sure about the rest of their team as to what they have coming back. I have listed them and Crestview and us as the top three teams in the league this year as far as guys coming back and that kind of stuff. I will be a tough one and it will probably go down to the last week just like it has the last couple of years.”
New London travels to Lucas to open the season on Saturday. They play their first Firelands Conference games against Mapleton on April 8 and 9. Morse says they need a much better start to year than last and he is confident they can get it. “Part of our problem last year was the basketball team went all of the way to the regionals and those guys didn’t get a chance to get any baseball work in until that was done. We stated playing games about three of four days after they were playing basketball. The weather, as great as it was last year, we had lots of games the first couple of weeks, so it took a while for our pitching to settle down and our fielding and stuff. This year we have had them for three weeks now. If we can get outside and get the other stuff accomplished that will help us out. We have talked significantly about making sure we make the plays and getting off to a good start this year,” said Morse.
Bucyrus Looking to Bounce Back
Bucyrus is one of the traditional North Central Conference baseball powers, but they stumbled a bit last year winning only six games. This year they expect to be back in the hunt.
Coach Jeff Fisher says they are still going to be a very young baseball team that is going to have to continue to grow. “I think it the honeymoon period for the group as we migrate into a new season. Last year we dealt with some bumps and bruises to six wins, so we are expecting greater output this year from the young pups here. We are young, we have basically one position player that we expect to be in the lineup everyday and everybody else at the senior level we consider pitchers. With that experience that we gained last year we hope to grow and benefit from to be much more competitive than a year ago,” said Fisher.
The Redmen are supposed to open their season this Saturday at Carey in non-conference play, if the weather permits. Fisher says they need a good start and this weather we have been having won’t help. “I think it is important to get off to a good start. Typically by this point in preseason we have had a couple of scrimmages and even an inter-squad game in the fold and kind of know where we stand role wise. I think we may play game one with a new lineup and not even know what we have as a coaching staff. There are a lot of questions here in the preseason that have got to be answered before the “NCC” season starts up,” said Fisher.
The weather has been a torn in almost everybody’s side this spring training. Fisher says they must be sure their fundamentals are sound. “This reminds me of my colligate days when we were practicing indoors and then we are on a bus to Florida and it was the first time out when we play our first game. Those teams down south had basically four weeks in play already. What I do remember from that experience though is that the fundamentals that we worked on while indoors certainly benefited us more so from an offensive standpoint. With the sore arms and stuff it took a little bit more time to recuperate between games. These are high school kids, so we have to be creative in the activities that we do and make certain we are ready when that call comes to play,” he said.
Ontario is the defending champion in the black division and Buckeye Central in the silver. Fisher thinks the Warriors are going to be hard to beat again this spring. “I think in the small school division I think Crawford has some horses there that could lead to consistency on the win side. I know that Riverdale has an arm that they are confident that they can go out and win games with. When you are thinking of Buckeye as traditional winners in that division they are going through a similar transformation much like we did a year ago where you have a bunch of young pups, where you kind of have to find yourself,” he told Swankonsports.com on Tuesday, “They are athletic none the less. In the big school division I think it is wide open beyond Ontario, who is by far the most dynamic. I think they have a state ranked type team, much like last year with their two horses coming back in McCrystal and Beal and the shortstop in Holman. Gorbett will have those kids ready to go. It is going to be up to rest of us to try and knock them off their pedestals.”
Lexington With a Solid Battery
Perhaps a lot has changed about softball. It is more offensive in nature, and the depth of talent is more, but one thing that has not changed is if you are going to field a good team you better have strong pitching and Lexington has that.
Lady Lex begins its season with two against Norwalk on Saturday and then against Ohio Cardinal Conference foe Mansfield Senior next week.
Coach Mike Hamman says they have been putting in the right kind of effort, but he would really like to take his team out onto the real diamond. “I can tell you I like the work ethic. The kids are working hard. We need to get outside here because the season is rapidly approaching here,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday. With five inches of snow on the ground on Monday, Hamman and the rest of the spring sport coaches in North Central Ohio are holding their breath.
Lexington was 15-13 a year ago and lost in the district tournament to Sandusky Perkins. Hamman says he has a strong group back, especially at pitcher and catcher. “We have five seniors, a couple of sophomores, that are going to be playing for us. Then we have a couple of freshmen that will be playing for us. We have our pitcher-catcher back in Abby Schro and Morgan Ziegler is our catcher. We start there and then we go out from there. Jordan Holder is a senior and Caitlin Spore is a senior. We are counting on big things from them four,” said Hamman.
The veteran Lexington coach knows they are strong inside the circle, but he says they have to be able to put together some depth if they are going to compete in the always tough “OCC” this spring. “I think you start with your pitcher and catcher and then you go out form there. You want to be strong up the middle. In the way the game is played today you really can’t have a weak player at any position. Every position is important. We are working really hard to put a solid 10, 12 girls on the field and be able to compete with anybody we play on our schedule,” said Hamman.
Whippets Need Pitching Depth
Shelby is trying to go from worst to first in the Northern Ohio League this year and if they are going to do that it will be their hitting that leads the way.
While many coaches are talking about wanting to get outside, Whippets manager C.J. Brickman says they were out under the blue skies last week, even though it was cold. “We did get an opportunity to go outside all of last week. We just went out in the cold. We did play a scrimmage,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “When we did outside I saw our arms getting a little stronger. We are getting used to making that throw from short to first. I see them grow a little bit as we are able to get outside more.”
Shelby struggled once they got past their top pitchers last year and Brickman hopes they can avoid that again this season. “I would say we have three good starters and one bullpen guy. We don’t have a lot of experience, so after those top four guys it’s a concern about who to bring in. We play 11 games in the first two weeks and we need more than four arms. That is our main concern right now,” said Brickman.
With bats making solid contact with ball behind him, Brickman says he believes they are going to be able to put some runs on the board this year because they have hitters throughout the lineup. “I think that’s our strength. In our first scrimmage we tore the cover off the ball. We have some big strong kids,” he said.
To be in contention in the league this year Brickman says they are gong to have to beat some very good teams. He doesn’t want to pick one favorite for the league title. “Every year you can count on Norwalk being tough. Bellevue is always tough. Every “NOL” game is always tough. There is never an easy one. We never go into one and think we have it locked up. You have to show up every day or you are going to get beat,” said Brickman.
Shelby is slated to play Mansfield Christian in its first game on April 2.
West Holmes is “OCC” Favorite
West Holmes finished second in the Ohio Cardinal Conference baseball standings last season and advanced to the state semi-finals in division two. They are expected to have a fine season again this spring, if spring, in fact, ever gets here.
They have the core of their team returning to the diamond, but coach Kurt McDowell says they have some sports to fill and they do have some injury concerns on the pitching mound. “We are very hopeful. We lost a catcher, a centerfielder, a leftfielder, and a “DH” to graduation. Our pitching is back. Right now we have Snyder, who carried us pretty much through the tournament because Baird was hurt, now he is hurt. Baird is 100 percent,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “We are kind of playing Snyder by ear to see how things go here. Hopefully, we have a good nucleus back and we can do something again this year.”
Most of the rest of the coaches in the Ohio Cardinal Conference have identified West Holmes as the league favorite based on their returning talent. McDowell says they know they are under a little bit of pressure. “Anytime you have a good tournament run like that and the core of your players back everybody wants to be the team to step up and knock you off and play their best game when they play you. We have to be mentally prepared as well as physically every time we step on the field this year,” he said.
McDowell is confident is his group, but he understands they have to find the right combination in their pitching rotation because the “OCC” is tough. “Right now our biggest concern would be the second pitcher in our rotation with Snyder being down. We have Levi Jones, a sophomore that played third last year, and Scott Troyer, an infielder-outfielder, battling for that two spot till we see how Snyder ends up. So that is probably our biggest concern at the moment,” said McDowell.
Colts Are Pretty Good Guys
Good chemistry can never be over emphasized in high school athletics and the Clear Fork Colts baseball team looks like they have plenty of it this spring.
The Colts are due to open the season, weather permitting, at home on Saturday, against Fredericktown in a doubleheader, a team that advanced to the state semi-finals last year and returns most of its talent.
Enter the weather, which has been not much better than one would expect in North Dakota at this time of year. Coach Rusty Staab says it’s been a sharp contrast to last year and he just hopes they can get on the field before Saturday. “Jeremy (Riddle), our coach that resigned after last year, was never was afraid to tell me this past week and the week before what the temperature was a year ago when we are looking outside and seeing our ball field frozen. Jeremy would be telling me last year it was 78 degrees. Yeah, we had a little bit of rain, but it was 68 and dried up in an hour. It has been tough, the good news is it’s tough for everybody. We had a long practice on Saturday knowing that was the last time we were going to the field in a week or so,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “It’s just difficult because when you go over stuff in the gym, you go over your bunt coverage and your pick offs and your cut offs and all that stuff and then it’s a completely different world when you do it outside. That’s why we scrimmage people. That’s why we want to go out and make the mistakes and do the things you do in scrimmages. Usually there is going to be a scrimmage or two when you just don’t do anything wrong. There will be another scrimmage or two when you can’t do anything right. It’s always important to get the scrimmages in, but I have a feeling that most of Ohio, at least Central Ohio, there first games are going to be their first games of the year.”
Fundamentals are going to be very important this year to all of the teams in high school baseball. It is the second year for than mandatory “BB” core bats. Staab says that is going to bring small ball more into play. “Every year they would try to limit the bats. Some company would come out with some 500 dollar bat that you can’t help but hit a home run with. Pretty soon it would get to the point where we were back at it again. The OHSAA just basically said that these bats as basically dead, go ahead and use them, and nobody is going to get hurt. Yes, if you play defense and your pitchers throw strikes, you can bunt and have some people that can run that’s really the deal. I mean there are still going to be home runs hit, but not as many. I know that back in 2010 with the boys that won the state was probably the last year where you could you could still use composites, the bats where you could mis hit one still 350 feet, but after 2010 they have just dropped. The bats do make a big difference and everybody is going to be bunting more, everybody is going to be doing more hit and run, and run and hit, and stealing. All teams are going to be playing small ball, at least they should,” said Staab.
Clear Fork should have depth on the pitching mound and some guys that can hit, but Staab says more than that they believe in each other. “I think first of all they have a great work ethic. I know in about 15 minutes they are going to be calling what’s going on today? Is Hitsville open, blah, blah, blah. The biggest thing is they get along, they are great kids, which is probably the main reason I took this job because I have seen these kids since seventh grade. They are never in trouble, knock on wood I’ll get five calls now this week. The kids are great kids, they do well in classroom, they do well together. My biggest concern is our defense just because we haven’t been able to get out. Ridge Winand, Ryan South, Travis Born, Hunter Evans, Mason Swank, Austin and Chase Baker, Ryan Sharpe is a new kid. He is a junior, but he has been working his butt off. We are going to be strong offensively, we have strong pitching, the biggest thing is going to our defense,” said Staab.
Lady Colts Know What They Have to do
Clear Fork is one of thee of four most consistent girls’ softball programs in North Central Ohio with two trips to state final four in the last four years.
Last year, they go off to a slow start, but then put a long winning streak together and reached the regional semi-finals. This year expectations will be high again as they being their season next Monday against Lucas, followed by Ohio Cardinal Conference match-ups with Wooster.
Let’s hope the weather will cooperate. So far, it hasn’t. Coach Jeff Gottfried says it has kept them inside. “We have been inside now for three, four weeks trying to work on some basic things. It’s still more of the same. There is some grumbling, I know the kids are tied of being in there they want to get outside and do some things. We just tell them that everybody else is in the same boat. You just kind of laugh about it because there is not a whole lot you can control that’s for sure,” he told Swankonsports.com on Monday, “You can try and put a tarp on the field, but when it’s still soaking wet underneath of it that still doesn’t do any good. You just take it day by day and remind yourself that it gives you the opportunity to do some basic things. Fine tune those skills that you can do inside and when the weather breaks everybody will be ready to go.”
There has been an injury concern with pitcher Ellen Jones. Gottfried says they are being careful with her knowing that they have some depth inside the circle. “It is progressing a little bit. She has a little bit of a foot injury, actually it was up in her hip. We are just kind of baby stepping it. She wants to go right now. The doctor gave her a release to go full go. We are looking big picture. We are supposed to have scrimmages this week. We were hoping to get her an inning or two every scrimmage we had. If we don’t have those scrimmages that just gives her more time to rest and heal. We are doing fine, it’s just one of those things. It’s an aggravating thing. It’s a strength issue. She needs to do some exercises to build things up. The rest of our staff has come along and I am really pleased with where we are at even though we haven’t been outside at all,” said Gottfried.
As the result of their success, Clear Fork players expect to win. Gottfried believes that attitude will make them ready when the season does begin. “We have told them it is not one of those things where when the weather breaks and we have three weeks to get ready. No, when that weather breaks and we actually get on the field, guess what, it is probably going to be game number one. It’s going to be our first ground ball. That’s what I mean about the fundamental things. You try to build some confidence and understanding that we are doing things the right way, it’s just a matter of mother nature and everybody’s going to be in the same boat. We do have them mentality that we do want to be ready to go. More so than any other year you just can’t be late coming out of the shoot otherwise you are going to be in a hole real quick,” said Gottfried.
SwankonSports.com Basketball All-Star Teams
Boys’ Large School Division
Player of the Year: Keon Johnson, Mansfield Senior
Coach of the Year: Dave Hirschy, Willard
F Jeff Thomas Jr. Norwalk
F Donovyon Benson Jr. Mansfield Senior
C Jake Fetheroff Sr. Norwalk
G Keon Johnson Sr. Mansfield Senior
G Ben Haraway Jr. Norwalk
G Mason Willeke Sr. Lexington
F Jordon Tomlinson Sr. Buckeye Valley
F Nic Williams Jr. Sandusky Perkins
C Robert Jones Jr. Mansfield Senior
G Ridge Winand Jr. Clear Fork
G Brady Arnold Jr. West Holmes
G Jalen Santoro Sr. Bellevue
F Derek Gray Jr. Clyde
F Grant Fenner Sr. Shelby
C Hayden Adams Sr. Willard
G Matt Cok Sr. Willard
G Isaac White So. Ashland
G Brandon Smith Sr. Sandusky Perkins
Boys’ Small School Division
Player of the Year: Brandyn Reinhart, New Riegel
Coach of the Year: Eric Hoover, Old Fort
F Brandyn Reinhart Sr. New Riegel
F Ryan Logan Sr. Fredericktown
C Cameron Mack Jr. Ontario
G Dane Held Sr. New London
G Conner McCreary Jr. Colonel Crawford
G Aaron Casey Sr. Huron
F Chase Moyer Sr. Dalton
F Dalton Perry Sr. Old Fort
C Ben Hahler Sr. Seneca East
G Denarius Harris Jr. San. St. Mary’s
G Kevin Boose Sr. Western Reserve
G Nate Good Jr. Western Reserve
F Justin Meek Sr. Carey
F Wyatt Clemens Sr. Ontario
C Tyrell Edmiston So. Plymouth
G Cade Kaple Jr. Buckeye Central
G Aaron Driftmeyer Sr. Huron
G Hunter Perry Jr. Old Fort
Girls’ Large School Division
Player of the Year: Laina Snyder, West Holmes
Coach of the Year: Lisa Patterson, West Holmes
F Claire Ballard Sr. Wooster
F Amanda Cahill Jr. Clyde
C Laina Snyder Jr. West Holmes
G Emma Hostetler Sr. Shelby
G Carly Santoro So. Bellevue
G Rachelle Morrison Sr. West Holmes
F Alexis Stoops Jr. Ashland
F Dierra Bluestar Sr. Mansfield Senior
C Tiffany Colston Jr. Port Clinton
G Gabby Cicolani Sr. Wooster
G Imani Vickers Sr. Mansfield Senior
G Emily Molnar Jr. West Holmes
F Breanne Michaels Jr. Clyde
F Hope Thorbahan Jr. Port Clinton
C Devon Murray Sr. Shelby
G Paiten Strother Jr. West Holmes
G Payton Beachy Sr. Galion
G Sarah Cainie Sr. Wooster
Girls’ Small School Division
Player of the Year: Hannah Plybon, Orrville
Coach of the Year: Mark Alberts Sr., Orrville
F Kylie Frizell Sr. Smithville
F Nickyla Garverick Sr. Colonel Crawford
C Taylor Graboski Jr. Upper Sandusky
G Hannah Plybon Sr. Orrville
G Randa Payne Sr. Mans. St. Peter’s
G Maggie DaVault Sr. Orrville
F Regina Hochstetler Jr. Berlin Hiland
F Paige Brady Sr. Wynford
C Bre Nauman Sr. North Union
G Theresa Jackson Sr. Western Reserve
G Megan McKeen Sr. Northwestern
G Natalie Carpenter Sr. Johnstown
F Hannah Tong Sr. Carey
F Emily Williams Jr. Fredericktown
C Masen Jamison Jr. North Union
G Renee Stimpert Fr. Crestview
G Kara Scherger So. New Riegel
G Bri Staats Sr. Danville
Please End the Madness
There is an allusion out there that pubic service is an easy job and everyone could do it, however, that is far from the case. Instead it’s a difficult job that should be reserved for those that have the right combination of intelligence, common sense and the willingness to take input and sort out the good from the bad.
In short, public service is not meant for everybody and that includes positions on the local board of education where those individuals are trusted to make decisions that affect the entire community.
This past week, two members of the Clear Fork School Board proved that they are not up to the task.
Some decisions that face a school board member are as tough as beating a full court press all by yourself, meanwhile others are like a slam dunk.
On Thursday night, the school board had one of those easy ones, but instead it was fumbled out of bounds and once again we are left dealing with an embarrassing situation. The girls’ basketball team is left without a coach and a qualified candidate left questioning her future.
A group of parents filed complaints ranging from Brielle Sautter’s inexperience as a coach to accusations of excessive yelling during basketball practice. It had also come to my attention that many of the girls that played last year were not planning on going out for the team if Brielle was hired as the coach. However, that does not appear to be true as 21 of the 22 returning players have signed up to participate in summer programs.
With Mike Delaney agreeing to become Brielle’s assistant coach I believe that answers the question of experience. Plus, there have been many young coaches that have led their programs to success. You need not look any further than Clear Fork for that evidence. How old was Brittany Bechtel when she took the girls’ soccer position? How old was Jeff Gottfried when he was hired to lead the Lady Colts girls’ softball program? All he has done is lead them to two state final four appearances. How about Dan Sparks? Do you remember him taking a football program in the late 1980’s and leading the Colts to new heights? He was in his mid-20’s.
Personally I did not attend a girls’ basketball practice this season, but of course there was yelling. At least I hope there was. If you think this is the last time these girls will be yelled at when they don’t execute something correctly, you are living in a dream world. When I attended Clear Fork High School and was a manager in the boys’ basketball program I got chewed out a few times. You know what? I deserved it… and I am better for it. Did I like it when Harold Marshall was in my face asking me where his suit coat was? No, I didn’t, but my parents didn’t run to the school and asked that he be fired either.
When faced with differing opinions I always side with those people I trust. Les Hauenstein has been as important to the educational process in the Clear Fork district as anyone I can think of. He took the girls’ head coaching job, for a second time, when nobody wanted the position. He only gave it up because he believed Brielle was ready to accept the responsibility of that position. I trust Les and his judgment. Les also told me that there was only one complaint from a parent to him this past season and that related to playing time.
Leadership is about making tough decisions. It is important to understand that the best decisions are sometimes not the most popular ones. I believe High School Principal Brian Brown and Athletic Administrator Don Thogmartin went through the process correctly and came up with a candidate that would lead the program with enthusiasm. Hiring personnel is not a popularity contest, rather it should be based on the qualifications of the candidate and the recommendations of administrators the board has hired to screen candidates.
Additionally, who do you think is going to be interested in this job? I cover nine conferences in an area from Lake Erie to Delaware and Wooster to Findlay. Sorry to say Clear Fork is not a job that experienced coaches are excited about applying for. As a graduate that isn’t easy to say, but that is a fact.
If this were the first time that board members Julie Doup and Troy Reed had shown this lack of leadership perhaps we could look the other way, but that is far from the case. In the recent past they have been part of a board that has made poor personnel decisions, left the teaching staff questioning the academic atmosphere, and led an ineffective levy campaign last fall where residents were left not knowing the facts.
I believe it is time for Mr. Reed and Mrs. Doup to do a little self assessment as to their future as members of the board of education and again attempt to do the right thing.
Birie Steps Down
Sources from inside the Galion boys’ basketball program say that head coach, Tim Birie, has stepped down after Tuesday night’s loss to Crestview ended their season.
This was Birie’s third season as the Tigers coach after stops at Mansfield St. Peter’s, Columbus Bishop Hartley, Fredericktown and Crestline. Galion had been wildly inconsistent this season in winning just seven games, but playing very well at times. They were one of just two schools to beat Norwalk this season. The Truckers shared the Northern Ohio League title.
A source, which did not want to be identified, told Swankonsports.com Wednesday morning that Birie spoke to the players after the 56-to-52 loss to Crestview and explained that he would not be back for another season as their coach. Birie led the Tigers to a regional tournament appearance two years ago and was division two district coach of the year. He, like football coach, Chris Hawkins, does not teach in the Galion School District. Birie teaches in the Fredericktown Schools, while Hawkins, who has also lead Galion’s football program out of the doldrums, teaches in the Willard Schools.
There has been no official reaction from the Galion School District. Next year Galion will join the North Central Conference after a 67-year relationship with the Northern Ohio League. Birie had been one of the leaders in moving Galion in that direction. l