If it is late May in northwest Ohio there s about a 50-50 chance that the Start baseball team is marching toward a regional tournament berth.
It s been that way for the 30 years Rich Arbinger has coached the Spartans and this year is no exception as Start (22-2) heads for a Division I regional semifinal at Shelby tomorrow at 2 p.m. against Avon Lake (19-6).
Fourth-ranked Start won its 16th district championship with last Friday s 7-3 victory over St. John s Jesuit.
It was the 14th district title in 30 seasons for Arbinger, whose 683-184 (.788) career record rivals that of any coach in Ohio high school baseball.
Start, gunning for its seventh trip to the state semifinals under Arbinger, has had some family acts take part in the winning tradition.
This year s squad includes a promising sophomore third baseman/pitcher, Jason Boomer Moulton, whose 4-for-4 effort at the plate keyed Start s district final win over St. John s.
Older brother Josh Moulton (now playing at Northern Kentucky University) was the center fielder on the 2003 district championship team. Jason s uncle, Todd Moulton, was a second baseman on the 1987 state runner-up team, and Jason s father, Steve Moulton, was one of three standout pitchers in 1973, one of Start s best pre-Arbinger teams.
The current center fielder is senior Jacob Koechley, cousin of Jason Koechley, who played in the early 1990s.
Arbinger s oldest son, Jason, was a junior standout on the 31-0 state title team of 1994, and his younger son, Mike, played on four straight regional teams (1995-98), including the state runner-up team of 97.
Four Syroka brothers Paul, Tom, Billy and Tim played for Arbinger in the 1980s, the same decade the three Burnett brothers Brian, Mike and Steve also pitched for the Spartans. Most recently, the Arvay brothers pitcher/outfielder Mike (1996-98), shortstop Chris (1998-2000), and shortstop/pitcher Tom (2001-04) spanned nearly a decade as Spartans.
In addition to family ties, this year s senior-dominated group carries the same confident swagger, the trademark resiliency, and a skill level worthy of the Start tradition.
We have a lot of competition [on team] and that helps, Arbinger said. We have 15 players and even some of the kids who aren t playing are pretty good players. I think the competition makes them better.
I don t think there s really anything that separates them. We re district champions, but we ve been district champions a lot of times. You ve got to have good pitching and defense and timely hitting.
Senior Aaron Stewart, a 6-2, 210-pound right-hander, is the pitching ace with a 10-0 record (0.85 ERA) and is batting .469.
One thing about our team is that we don t give up at all, Stewart said. We practice hard and we play like we practice. Everyone gives 100 percent and no one s down on our bench.
Our bench keeps us in the game. That s a big key. If our bench is talking, then our infield s talking. If our infield s talking, then that goes to our outfield.
Senior catcher Mike Nyitrai, a .377 cleanup hitter, kept Start s tourney hopes alive in the sectional final with a dramatic, game-winning, two-run home run in a 5-3 win over Southview.
That was definitely the biggest hit in my life, Nyitrai said. All the pressure s off us now. We re just going to go out and have fun now. We got the monkey off our backs with the district title.
Every year there s close games in the tournament that you ve got to win. You ve got to have a lot of heart in this tournament. It s baseball. Sometimes you have your A-game and sometimes you don t.
Koechley, whose 3-for-3 plate effort helped beat St. Francis 3-2 in the district semifinal, is an able leadoff hitter at .373.
At the beginning of the year we set a goal either a City championship or a district championship, Koechley said. We went out and played the other day and, fortunately for us, we came home with a district championship.
We didn t want to go 0-for-3 against St. John s in district or City championships. So, we went out and said, Let s put up a banner.
It seems like every game somebody s stepped up. I had a good game against St. Francis. Nyitrai had a very good game against Southview, and Boomer stepped up Friday against St. John s. It s more of a team effort than anything.
Following Koechley in the lineup is senior right fielder Kevin Neilly, who is hitting .453.
We ve been working hard all year trying to put something up on that wall over there, Neilly said of the numerous district and state accomplishments painted on the Bowman Park outfield fence. Trying to get another banner to add to the tradition and keep it going.
We re relaxed now, and I think we re starting to hit our high point.
Rounding out the regular lineup are senior first baseman/No. 9 hitter Tom DeClercq; senior outfielder/infielder/pitcher Wade Anderson, a transfer from North Carolina; infielder/pitcher Justin Gillespie; senior outfielder/DH Nick Ervin; and promising freshman second baseman Ricardo Lizcano.
Contact Steve Junga at:firstname.lastname@example.org 419-724-6461.